Even as Vice President Dick Cheney accuses his critics of "corrupt and shameless" revisionism, he shamelessly revises the history of the Bush administration's use and misuse of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.
In a speech last week, Mr. Cheney said it was "utterly false" that prewar intelligence was "distorted, hyped or fabricated" by President George W. Bush. Then he claimed that, "We operated on the best available intelligence gathered over a period of years....."
But Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney clearly did not operate on the best available intelligence. They ignored questions that had been raised about the intelligence, accepted information that would support war and invented connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the CIA ignored warnings from U.S. and foreign agents that the main source of information about Saddam's biological weapons was a "fabricator." Curveball, the aptly named informant, claimed to have seen a plant that made mobile biological weapons labs. Before the war began, U.N. weapons inspectors inspected the plant and discovered that the physical characteristics of the plant did not match Curveball's description. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector, said as much to the Security Council on March 7. But that didn't stop Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney from continuing to make the claim part of the rationale for going to war.
Nor were those the only Bush administration intelligence claims that were disputed or disproved before the fighting began. The administration claimed that Iraq was using aluminum tubing for nuclear bomb-making; the United Nations and experts at the U.S. Energy Department disagreed, concluding the tubing was for rockets. Mr. Bush claimed that Saddam was buying uranium from Africa for his nuclear program; the United Nations found that documents of uranium purchases from Niger were forged. The administration claimed that unmanned aerial vehicles could be use to deliver weapons of mass destruction; the U.S. Air Force thought they were for reconnaissance.
The most blatant example of Mr. Cheney hyping available intelligence was his repeated attempts to link Saddam to al-Qaida. Mr. Cheney claimed that Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague - a claim that already had been discredited when he made it. The Times reports that Mr. Cheney and his now indicted aide, I. Lewis Libby, tried to get this claim into Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations in February, 2003. Mr. Powell refused.
Mr. Powell's scruples didn't stop the veep or other hawks, though. Former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, whose Office of Special Plans edited intelligence to support the war effort, also pushed the Saddam-al-Qaida connection - evidence be damned.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney should cool their rhetoric. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has suggested that the White House simply acknowledge its past mistakes, then sit down with members of both parties and hammer out a pragmatic exit plan. It's a thoroughly likable - and thoroughly unlikely - idea grounded in an indisputable maxim: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
© 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch