In what's been called George W. Bush's first exit interview, the outgoing President continues a lie that he first unveiled several months after launching the Iraq War, justifying the invasion by claiming that Saddam Hussein didn't let the U.N. inspectors in.
Like previous times when President Bush has used this lie, it went unchallenged by the journalist who heard the false claim, in this case ABC News anchor Charles Gibson.
According to the text of the ABC News interview, which was released Dec. 1, Gibson asked Bush, "If the [U.S.] intelligence had been right [and revealed no Iraq WMD], would there have been an Iraq War?"
Bush answered, "Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld."
Of course, the historical record is clear: Hussein did let U.N. arms inspectors into Iraq in the fall of 2002 to search any site of their choosing. Their travels around Iraq in white vans were recorded daily by the international news media, as they found no evidence that Iraq had WMD stockpiles, even at sites targeted by U.S. intelligence.
Hussein and his government also declared publicly that they didn't possess WMD, including providing the United Nations a 12,000-page declaration on Dec. 7, 2002, explaining how Iraq's stocks of chemical and biological weapons had been destroyed in the 1990s.
However, still set on invading, Bush forced the U.N. inspectors to leave Iraq in March 2003, a departure that was followed within days by his "shock and awe" attack on Iraq, beginning March 19.
Several months later, with Hussein's government ousted and with the U.S. military coming up empty in its search for WMD caches, Bush began his historical revisionism by insisting publicly that he had no choice but to invade because Hussein supposedly had barred U.N. inspectors.
On July 14, 2003, Bush told reporters:
"We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."
Facing no contradiction from the White House press corps, Bush continued repeating this lie again and again in varied forms.
On Jan. 27, 2004, for example, Bush said, "We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution - 1441 - unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in."
Color of Truth
As the months and years went by, Bush's lie and its unchallenged retelling took on the color of truth.
At a March 21, 2006, news conference, Bush again blamed the war on Hussein's defiance of U.N. demands for unfettered inspections.
"I was hoping to solve this [Iraq] problem diplomatically," Bush said. "The world said, ‘Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences.' ... We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did."
At a press conference on May 24, 2007, Bush offered a short-hand version, even inviting the journalists to remember the invented history.
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"As you might remember back then, we tried the diplomatic route: [U.N. Resolution] 1441 was a unanimous vote in the Security Council that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. So the choice was his [Hussein's] to make. And he made a choice that has subsequently caused him to lose his life."
In the frequent repetition of this claim, Bush never acknowledged the fact that Hussein did comply with Resolution 1441 by declaring accurately that he had disposed of his WMD stockpiles and by permitting U.N. inspectors to examine any site of their choosing.
Prominent Washington journalists even have repeated Bush's lie as their own. For instance, in a July 2004 interview, ABC's veteran newsman Ted Koppel used it to explain why he - Koppel - thought the invasion of Iraq was justified.
"It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, ‘All right, U.N., come on in, check it out," Koppel told Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now."
In the real history, Hussein did tell the U.N. to "come on in, check it out." But faux reality had become the trademark of the Bush presidency -- and its supporters in the press corps.
The Washington conventional wisdom eventually embraced another fake belief, that Hussein provoked the war by misleading people into believing that he still possessed WMD.
In line with this bogus version of history, "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley asked FBI interrogator George Piro, who had debriefed Hussein in prison, why the dictator kept pretending that he had WMD even as U.S. troops massed on Iraq's borders, when a simple announcement that the WMD was gone would have prevented the war.
"For a man who drew America into two wars and countless military engagements, we never knew what Saddam Hussein was thinking," Pelley said in introducing the segment on the interrogation of Hussein about his WMD stockpiles, which aired Jan. 27, 2008. "Why did he choose war with the United States?"
This "60 Minutes" segment never mentioned the fact that Hussein and his government did disclose that it had eliminated its WMD. Instead Pelley pressed Piro on the question of why Hussein supposedly was hiding that fact:
"Why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?"
After Piro mentioned Hussein's lingering fear of neighboring Iran, Pelley felt he was close to an answer to the mystery: "He believed that he couldn't survive without the perception that he had weapons of mass destruction?"
But, still, Pelley puzzled over why Hussein's continued in his miscalculation. Pelley asked:
"As the U.S. marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn't he stop it then? And say, ‘Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction,' I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?"
It apparently never matters to the major U.S. news media (nor to President Bush) that Hussein and the Iraq government did declare that they had no WMD and did let the U.N. inspectors in to check.
Now, with the new ABC News interview, it looks as if that pattern - of Bush lying about the circumstances of the Iraq War and the Washington press corps nodding along - will continue until Bush's last days in office.