In the face of overwhelming evidence, it's astounding that people such as James Kirchick, in "," continue to defend the president against accusations that he intentionally misled and outright lied to the American people in making the case for war with Iraq.
Consider first the implications of the famous Downing Street memo from July 23, 2002. Briefing Tony Blair about his recent talks with Washington, Britain's top intelligence officer stated that U.S. "military action was now seen as inevitable. ... But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
A month later, in August 2002, the administration set up the White House Iraq Group, designed solely to sell the public on the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. In essence, it was a marketing campaign to sell the war by escalating the rhetoric and misleading the public. And lying.
And boy, did they. Here are statements from the administration in 2002 as they beat the drums for war. Dick Cheney said: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use ... against us." Condoleezza Rice: "We do know that [Hussein] is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon." Donald Rumsfeld: "[Hussein's] regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons."
These statements were designed to cultivate in Americans fear of Iraq's imminent threat, the keystone of Bush's push to war. They were grossly and intentionally misleading, suggesting that the administration possessed incontrovertible facts on which were drawn these definitive conclusions. In reality, the facts were known to be ambiguous at best. Absolutely no intelligence existed at the time that would allow anyone to reach such concrete conclusions.
And Bush advisors aren't the only ones. His assertion on Oct. 7, 2002, that Iraq posed an imminent threat was beaten into the nation's psyche: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof." Yet the president possessed directly opposing information from the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate, released days earlier. Prepared by the CIA with input from 16 U.S. intelligence agencies: "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional CBW [chemical and biological weapons] against the United States."
The declassified summary of the NIE -- released by the administration for public and media review shortly after the full report -- was another lie in that it was grotesquely altered. The above point was not included. Also missing were several forceful statements from other intelligence agencies disputing the CIA's horribly overblown and inaccurate assessments. Finally, in at least half a dozen instances, conclusions were altered to make Iraq's threat more compelling. Language was added or omitted that changed CIA opinions to incontrovertible facts
Conclusion: The public document was rigged to support the push for war. The president intentionally misled the public. The intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy.
Another example is the now infamous nuclear reference from Bush's 2003 State of the Union address: "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Not only was this refuted twice in early 2002 -- by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and by French intelligence -- but the CIA's National Intelligence Council investigated and told the White House four days before the address that "the Niger [Africa] story is baseless and should be laid to rest." So the administration knew the claim was false, used it anyway and when caught, issued a collective "oops." Although these speeches are vetted by Bush staffers, State, Defense, National Security and the CIA, it just slipped through. Riiiiight.
Two weeks before the war, the president echoed statements made in January's State of the Union: "I've got a good evidence to believe that. [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction," and "Iraqi operatives continue to hide biological and chemical agents to avoid detection by inspectors." Ah yes, the mobile labs. And your evidence was from whom, sir? Curveball? The now fully discredited Iraqi chemical engineer who defected in 1999 and claimed to have worked in the labs? In 2002, German intelligence -- who debriefed Curveball -- told the CIA that the guy was "crazy" and "a fabricator."
Yet in his push for war, Bush chose to voice the Iraqi defector's claims over proof offered by U.N. weapons inspectors who, with eyes and ears on the ground, represented the best possible intelligence. From November 2002 to March 2003, they were granted unprecedented freedom and conducted more than 700 no-notice inspections all over Iraq and found nothing. No mobile labs, no underground storage facilities, nothing. This should have been great news, but not for a president looking to go to war. Indeed, U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix flat out accused Bush and Blair of lying when he stated: "The Americans and British created facts where there were no facts at all. ... The Americans needed [to find] weapons of mass destruction to justify war." So Bush was creating facts to justify war.
If there remains any equivocation of Bush's propensity to lie, consider the Jan. 31, 2003, meeting between Bush and Blair. In a summary, Blair foreign policy advisor David Manning wrote that there was tension between the two over finding some justification for the war. In fact, Bush was so concerned about the failure of the weapons inspectors to find WMD that the president floated three possible ways to "provoke a confrontation" with Hussein. So here's your president very publicly using self-defense to sell a war while quite privately discussing how to provoke one -- with an allegedly dangerous foe who poses an imminent threat. Either Bush lied or he put us at grave risk. Or both.
Space constraints don't allow for a refutation of all the lies the president told about Iraq's threat, their weapons and their link to Osama bin Laden. However, consider this final point: Our government spent nearly tens of millions of dollars to try to impeach a president for lying about consensual sex between two adults. Compare that to this abomination: George W. Bush knowingly lied to the American people in selling his case for a war that has directly led to the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans. They are deaths brought about by his lies, deceit and deception. It is an American atrocity of monumental proportion, followed closely by the heinous fact that no one has held him accountable. Where is the outrage?
Cy Bolton is a former news anchor and military affairs reporter. His coverage of defense-related issues and conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East has appeared on NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, CNN and affiliates across the country.
Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times