There are, of course, many ways the Bush administration brings to mind the movie "Animal House" — except even the movie didn't have a character named "Brownie."
But right now, the Bush administration has adopted as its battle cry the best-known line of the movie. Deep into a messy war whose original justifications have crumbled away, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are bellowing that it's not their fault, because many Democrats believed the administration's warnings about Iraq.In other words, the Bush message is — as Otter once cheerfully explained to Flounder after leading him to disaster — "You screwed up. You trusted us."
We gave you all the intelligence we had, says the president, and you bought it, so don't blame us.
Except, of course, that's not quite true either. At this rate, this (White) House will never get off double super-secret probation.
Throughout 2002, administration officials said things that the intelligence did not support, and ignored contradictory evidence.
Sept. 11, 2002, Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all went on television to declare that aluminum tubes bound for Saddam were clearly ingredients to make nuclear weapons. Rice warned, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Nobody mentioned that experts from the Energy and State Departments insisted — as it turned out, rightly — that the tubes wouldn't work for that.
But don't say they were deceptive. Say they were, um, selective.
Shortly afterward, the Senate Intelligence Committee received a new CIA assessment of Saddam's danger, repeating the administration's warnings. Buried in it was a footnote reading, "This information comes from a source known to fabricate in the past."
Well, no source is perfect.
Since then, we've learned about a source named "Curveball," an alcoholic fabricator who — to the astonishment of the Germans, who knew all about him — was accepted by the Bushies as a major source on Iraq, although they felt no need to talk about him publicly.
Actually, "Curveball" may have been in "Animal House."
Some unsettling intelligence was buried deep in material sent to the Intelligence Committee, but still classified and not quotable. As Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., told The New Republic in June 2003 — at a time when the war seemed to be going well — "The most frustrating thing to find is when you have credible evidence on the intelligence committee that is directly contradictory to statements made by the administration."
Well, there may be something more frustrating.
In September, former Secretary of State Colin Powell looked back on his famous speech to the United Nations in February 2003, declaring that Saddam posed an imminent danger, listing threats that turned out not to be real.
"Of course it's a blot," he told Barbara Walters. "I'm the one who presented it to the world. and (it) will always be part of my record. It was painful. It is painful now." The problem, he explained, was "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at the time that some of those sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied on, and didn't speak up."
Maybe because the vice president, in making several highly unusual visits to CIA headquarters, had made it clear what kind of intelligence he did and didn't want.
As James Kuhnhenn and Jonathan S. Landay of Knight-Ridder wrote this week, "In accusing Iraq-war critics of 'rewriting history,' Bush, Cheney and other senior administrative officials are tinkering with the truth themselves."
Still, they firmly and angrily tell critics it was their own fault: "You screwed up. You trusted us." So far, Otter's words don't seem to work as a battle cry. Maybe they'll be better as a campaign slogan.
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