Hail, The Misleader
The Bush administration's apologists don't like to ruminate on the avalanche of false statements that the president and his team used to goad the nation into war. Too bad. Citizens are duty-bound to examine that shameful record.
Careful followers of political events know that the president and his top aides steadily and continuously made false statements about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and the alleged alliance between al-Qaida, which attacked the United States, and Iraq, which did not.
A just-released report from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit group that practices honest and careful investigative journalism, concludes that Bush, Vice President Cheney and six other top officials made 935 false statements as they argued for an invasion of Iraq.
President Bush was the most frequent misleader, the report finds. Between 2001 and 2003, he made 232 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and another 28 false statements about Iraq's supposed link to al-Qaida terrorists.
(Under the report's methodology, the 935 assertions counted as "false statements" made direct and explicit assertions about "weapons of mass destruction" or Iraq's supposed ties to al-Qaida. "Indirect false statements" -- more numerous than direct false statements and not included in the count of 935 -- included toxic and false innuendo, such as the suggestion that Iraq was sponsoring terrorist organizations.)
The Center for Public Integrity not only lists false statements in a searchable database (see www.publicintegrity.org/WarCard/) but also contrasts false statements with what the administration's own experts knew about the hollow case for war.
For instance, in September 2002, Cheney said: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
As the CPI report notes, former CIA Director George Tenet later noted that Cheney's assertions went well beyond the CIA's expert assessment.
As the CPI report makes plain, there was a direct correlation between the Bush administration's false statements (many of them widely known to be false then) and the public's support for war.
In the six months after Cheney's false statement that there was "no doubt" about weapons of mass destruction, the Bush team' dramatically increased the number of direct and indirect false statements. Correspondingly, there was a doubling in the percentage of citizens who said Bush had "clearly" explained the case for war.
In February 2003, just weeks before the invasion, 85 percent of Americans believed an outright falsehood -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Neither they, the press nor Congress (whose solemn duty it is to declare war and keep presidential power in check) exercised their obligation to subject the president's rhetoric to rigorous scrutiny.
In February 2003, Sen. Robert Byrd eloquently summarized the widening gap between public discourse and verifiable fact: "On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.
"Yet, this chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
"We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events."
So far, citizens have shown precious little desire to reflect on the White House's campaign of falsehoods and its dire consequences for the health of our democracy and the security of the nation. Official deception of this ravaging magnitude must be fully studied, debated, understood and never, ever repeated.
Clint Talbott, for the editorial board
© 2008 The Daily Camera