It's too bad I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is likely to be the only Bush-Cheney confidant prosecuted for an aversion to the truth. There are plenty of unindicted liars walking the halls of the Bush White House.
Not a week goes by without a Bush administration spokesperson uttering a sentence or two that stretches credibility to the breaking point. Clearly, though, the most outrageous fabrications and most scurrilous falsehoods of the past six years were told in defense of the decision to invade Iraq.
Mr. Libby's defenders have pointed out, ad nauseam, that he was not charged with outing former CIA agent Valerie Plame - the incident that led to Mr. Libby's indictment. He was convicted on four counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice.
Still, his trial exposed the shameless scheming and skulduggery by which a debased administration sought one simple end: hiding the truth about the run-up to the war in Iraq. They were willing to do whatever it took to discredit Ms. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, because he called them on 16 words in a presidential speech. As Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Mr. Libby was a central player in the smear campaign.
You may recall those 16 words, uttered by President Bush during the State of the Union address Jan. 28, 2003: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." In October 2002, the CIA had warned Stephen Hadley, then Condoleezza Rice's assistant at the National Security Council, against including those words in a presidential speech because the claim looked shaky.
Bush administration apologists have tried mightily to make the case that the White House made an honest mistake about Mr. Hussein's capabilities with weapons of mass destruction. They point out that most intelligence experts, here and abroad, believed that Iraq had amassed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. That may be true. But it's also beside the point.
The Bush team knew they never could have sold American voters on an invasion of Iraq just because Mr. Hussein had illicit weapons. So they decided to distort and dissemble. The fabrications used to justify the invasion were those linking Iraq to al-Qaida, those claiming Mr. Hussein had unmanned drones that could be used to attack American cities, and those declaring that Mr. Hussein was "actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons," as Mr. Cheney put it.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell accepted the assignment of giving an all-important speech at the United Nations in February 2003. Mr. Bush chose him because the president knew Mr. Powell had more credibility than the rest of them. Mr. Powell knew he was being used. He also knew better than to believe the text of his speech.
In February 2001, Mr. Powell told reporters at a press conference in Cairo that sanctions had worked to contain Mr. Hussein. Still, Mr. Powell dutifully followed orders and laid out a sham case against Mr. Hussein, replete with liters of anthrax, tons of chemical agents and the nonsense about unmanned drones being used against American cities. He also repeated the Bush administration's favorite tall tale: a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.
By the time of the invasion, most Americans supported the war. Of course, most Americans believed Mr. Hussein had been actively involved in 9/11 - which is exactly what Mr. Bush had intended.
Among a dwindling group of voters, Mr. Bush is still revered as an upright and moral man, still credited with having the values and virtues that any decent person should respect. But morality encompasses more than sexual fidelity, more than sobriety after years of reckless drinking. It also encompasses honor, integrity and candor - especially in an enterprise such as war.
Mr. Bush took the nation to war on a web of lies, sacrificing the lives of men and women who took him at his word. There is precious little honor or integrity in that.
Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.
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