consortiumnews.com

Lying -- a Bush Family Value

By Robert Parry
July 18, 2003

In most cases, it wouldn’t matter much that a 40-year-old long-time heavy drinker refused to admit to his alcoholism, nor that years later, he continued to play word games when asked about his cocaine use. Doctors might say that denial isn’t good for a person’s recovery, but that wouldn’t affect the rest of us.

The difference in this case is that the substance abuser somehow became president of the United States. And by hiding his earlier problems, George W. Bush learned what is becoming a dangerous lesson – that his family and political connections can protect him from the truth.

Politicians with less powerful friends may pay dearly for their little lies or perceived exaggerations, as Bill Clinton and Al Gore learned. But the Bushes are not like lesser-born men. The Bushes have asserted themselves as a kind of American royalty. When the rare question about their truthfulness penetrates the outer defenses, aides step in to spin the facts, or a cowed news media minimizes the offense, or if necessary, some subordinate takes the fall.

Meanwhile, the American people are supposed to bend over backward with testimonials, saying it would be unthinkable that "straight-shooting" George W. Bush would ever intentionally mislead the people. The Bushes simply aren’t capable of lying, even when the public is watching a train wreck of lies about the reasons for the Iraq War.

The American public's not even supposed to notice when Bush – as recently as July 14 – altered key facts about how the war to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein began earlier this year. "We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in," Bush said at the White House. "After a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

With U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sitting next to him and White House reporters in front of him, Bush lied. In reality, Hussein’s government had allowed the U.N. inspectors to scour the countryside for months and was even complying with U.N. demands to destroy missiles that exceeded the range permitted by international sanctions.

In early March, U.N. inspectors were requesting more time for their work and noting that the Iraqis finally were filling in details about how they had destroyed earlier stockpiles of weapons. But Bush cut the inspections short and launched his invasion.

Now, asserting a kind of kingly right to say whatever he wishes without contradiction, Bush revised the history to put himself in a more favorable light. The lie was so obvious that some Bush watchers suggest it indicates either a growing brazenness in his deceptions or a disconnect between Bush’s mind and reality.

Still, Bush continues to chastise those who question his honesty about the Iraq War as "historical revisionists." He accuses them of trying to rewrite or falsify the history. Meanwhile, Bush’s own rewriting of the prologue to the Iraq War drew only passing notice from a U.S. news media that still accepts the myth of Bush, the "straight shooter."

A Family Legacy

Bush’s words and deeds around the Iraq War suggest that deception was one lesson that George W. Bush learned from his father.

With his blue-blood connections and his CIA experience, George H.W. Bush understood the expediency of truth. From his CIA tradecraft, the elder Bush also knew how a population could be manipulated through lies, which could then be covered up or forgotten in the glow of victory.

As CIA chief in 1976, the elder Bush led the counterattack against the historic congressional and press investigations of CIA abuses, including the agency’s involvement in assassinations of foreign leaders. Those cover-ups reached into Bush's own tenure at the CIA, with efforts to frustrate an investigation into the murder of Chile's ex-foreign minister Orlando Letelier, who was blown up while driving down Embassy Row in Washington on Sept. 21, 1976.

Though Bush promised that his CIA would do all it could to help identify the killers, senior CIA officials instead took actions to divert investigators away from the real killers – agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a Bush favorite.

Bush's CIA leaked a phony intelligence finding to Newsweek magazine. "The Chilean secret police were not involved," the CIA told Newsweek. "The agency reached its decision because the bomb was too crude to be the work of experts and because the murder, coming while Chile's rulers were wooing U.S. support, could only damage the Santiago regime." [Newsweek, Oct. 11, 1976]

Years later, prosecutors would learn that the CIA had important evidence linking Chile's secret police to the assassination – assassin Michael Townley even had claimed the purpose of his trip to the United States was to visit the CIA – but CIA director Bush withheld that information. "Nothing the agency gave us helped us break this case," said federal prosecutor Eugene Propper. [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com "Bush & the Condor Mystery."]

Iran Capers

The senior Bush's hand appeared in other intelligence mysteries of the era. In 1980, with the Republican Party desperate to regain power, then-vice presidential nominee Bush allegedly joined other senior Republicans in secret talks with the radical Iranian government, obstructing President Jimmy Carter's attempts to win the release of 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

Carter’s failure paved the way for Ronald Reagan's election, followed by the release of the hostages on Reagan's Inauguration Day. [For details on George H.W. Bush’s role in these events, see Consortiumnews.com’s "October Surprise X-Files" or Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason.]

Later, the elder Bush became enmeshed in other secret negotiations with Iran, the illegal Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scheme. But he was always careful to cover his tracks. When the Iran-Contra scandal broke in fall 1986, Bush asserted that he was "not in the loop." He then got help from Representatives Dick Cheney and Henry Hyde, who protected Bush’s political flanks as the investigation wound through Congress in 1987.

By the time the elder Bush secured the Republican nomination for president in 1988, his role in the Iran-Contra scandal had been carefully concealed from the voters and was treated as "old news" by much of the U.S. news media.

In summer 1988, Bush still found himself trailing Democrat Michael Dukakis in the polls. So Bush realized that another lie was in order. Since the Massachusetts governor was refusing to rule out the possibility of a tax increase as a "last resort," Dukakis was open to a charge that he was a "tax-and-spend" liberal. Bush sealed the deal in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. After mocking Dukakis’s "last resort" comment, Bush declared, "Read my lips: No new taxes."

The lie helped the elder Bush get what he wanted: the presidency. He then broke his "read-my-lips" pledge by agreeing to raise federal taxes.

In 1992, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh uncovered evidence that proved George H.W. Bush was very much in the loop on the arms-for-hostages operation and had misled the American people. But Bush stanched further disclosures about his secret involvement with Iran’s fundamentalist government by pardoning a half dozen Iran-Contra defendants on Dec. 24, 1992. [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush Family Politics."]

A Strategy

This strategy of expedient lies, mixed with aggressive cover-ups, has served the younger Bush well, too. He ducked the cocaine-use question with a clever answer about being qualified to serve in his father’s White House – where time limits were set for disqualifying employees over illegal drug use. He one-upped his father’s "no-new-taxes" pledge with his own promise to cut taxes while paying off the federal debt.

Handing out nicknames to reporters, the back-slapping George W. Bush skipped through Campaign 2000 with even less press criticism than his father got. More importantly, he escaped the scrutiny that the press corps concentrated on Gore, whose every utterance was dissected for possible signs of exaggeration or deception.

Bush was, after all, a Bush, who was expected to restore "honor" and "dignity" to the White House. [For more details on the imbalanced campaign coverage, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Protecting Bush-Cheney," or "Bush's Life of Deception."]

Once Bush was in the White House, the news media routinely hailed him as a "straight shooter," a man the people could trust. That image became self-perpetuating even as many of Bush’s central campaign promises crumbled.

For instance, Bush’s vision of paying off the federal debt, doling out large tax cuts and still having plenty of money in reserve for emergencies has turned out to be a bitter myth. While Bush won passage of three major tax cuts, supposedly reversing his father’s "mistake" of violating his no-new-taxes pledge, Bush also has encountered the logical result of what Gore derided during Campaign 2000 as "fuzzy math."

After inheriting a $290 billion surplus from Clinton, Bush has piloted the United States into a vast ocean of red ink. The latest White House estimates project a federal deficit this year of $455 billion, only to be exceeded next year by a deficit of $475 billion, figures that actually understate the scope of the problem by applying a $150 billion surplus from the Social Security trust fund. The actual government deficits will top $600 billion, according to the White House projections.

In breaking his balanced-budget pledge, Bush even employed what looks like another lie. He claimed over and over again in speeches during 2002 that he had left himself an escape hatch. He claimed to have stated during a campaign swing in Chicago in 2000 that he would only run a deficit in the event of a war, a national emergency or a recession. "Never did I dream we’d have a trifecta," Bush joshed in what some critics saw as a tasteless joke about the Sept. 11 murders of more than 3,000 people.

As the New Republic later reported, another problem with the supposed escape-hatch remark was that nobody could find a record of Bush ever making it during the campaign. It later turned out that Gore, not Bush, had offered a similar formulation about the three kinds of situations that could justify a deficit.

The Iraq Case

Even more dramatically, this say-whatever-is-needed strategy has carried over into issues of war and peace. Last year, as Bush decided to drive the American people to war, like so many cattle being herded to market, he and his administration engaged in wholesale misrepresentations of the dangers posed by Iraq.

While much attention has focused recently on Bush’s use of the apparently bogus claim that Iraq tried to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger or some other African country, that was only one element of Bush’s larger strategy of deception.

In pushing the emotional hot button of nuclear war, Bush and his aides also cited Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes as evidence of a reconstituted Iraqi nuclear program. Scientific experts concluded that the tubes were unfit for that purpose. Still, the notion of a nuclear-armed Iraq succeeded in spooking the American people. "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," declared White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002.

Bush and his team also hyped claims of an Iraqi connection to al-Qaeda, causing nearly half the American public to believe falsely that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Bush and his administration insisted, too, that Iraq had trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction consisting of tons of chemical and biological weapons. The administration also said the Iraqis had unmanned aerial vehicles that somehow could spray these lethal agents over the United States. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Misleading the Nation to War."]

As crude as these lies and exaggerations may appear in retrospect, they worked. Bush got what he wanted. Congress granted him the authority to go to war, and by significant percentages, the American public supported Bush launching a pre-emptive invasion against a country that was not threatening hostilities against the United States.

The distortions were less effective with the United Nations and with world public opinion. Despite a much-praised performance displaying satellite photographs and intercepted phone calls, Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to convince the U.N. Security Council that U.S. intelligence had solid proof of its allegations that Iraq was hiding vast stores of WMD.

In reality, Powell’s presentation was just an extension of the administration’s propaganda drive – the photographs proved nothing and Powell even grafted incriminating words onto the transcript of one intercepted conversation. But Powell, a media favorite, suffered little from his dishonest performance. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Bush's Alderaan."]

A majority of the U.N. Security Council refused to authorize war and pressed for additional time to let U.N. weapons inspectors complete their searches for Iraqi weapons. Bush, however, insisted that the danger posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction required immediate action and he launched the invasion on March 19.

Uncertain Victory

In three weeks, the U.S.-led invasion had defeated the Iraqi army and ousted Hussein’s government in Baghdad. Thousands of Iraqis were killed along with more than 100 U.S. soldiers, but American forces found nothing resembling Bush’s pre-war assertions about tons of WMD.

Belatedly, as U.S. soldiers continue to die in a growing guerrilla war against the U.S. occupation, the American news media has begun to focus on the disparity between the pre-war claims and the facts on the ground. Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s distortion of intelligence and outright lies have continued unabated.

The CIA and the Pentagon issued a report in May alleging that two captured trailers amounted to proof that the Iraqis had a mobile biological weapons program. The report rejected explanations from Iraqi scientists that the trailers were for producing hydrogen for weather balloons used for targeting artillery.

"Those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons are wrong," Bush declared, referring to the mobile labs. "We found them." However, more detailed analysis of the trailers by U.K. and U.S. experts determined that the trailers were unfit for biological weapon production and appear to have been for making hydrogen as the Iraqis had claimed. [For one of the first critiques of the CIA-Pentagon report, see Consortiumnews.com's "America's Matrix."]

Bush's revisionist history about the prelude to war – cited above – is just another example of the continuing pattern of lies and cover-up.

Still, for the U.S. news media, there remains a great hesitancy about stating the obvious, calling Bush a liar. It’s one thing to suggest that Bush was badly served by his staff on the Iraqi intelligence, but it remains outside the bounds to conclude that Bush willfully lied to the American people.

The evidence, however, indicates that Bush played a central role in the deception campaign. Last January, for instance, the White House portrayed Bush as the man in charge of the State of the Union address. He edited the drafts, the White House said. He wrote notes in the margins. He gave his speech writers pointers.

It's now clear that Bush’s aides, in turn, pressed the CIA to let Bush use the strongest possible language about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of uranium in Africa. Bush’s speech then exaggerated the uranium claim even more, giving millions of Americans the impression that the uranium allegations were true, even as Bush’s own intelligence officials thought the charges were bogus.

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush said in the speech. His "has learned" construction conveyed a sense of accuracy about the charges. Still, even in a story about Bush’s uranium deceptions, Time magazine observed what it calls "the faith Americans had in his essential trustworthiness." [See Time’s "A Question of Trust," posted July 13, 2003]

National Denial

The discrepancy between the Bush as presented by the news media and the Bush who seems so ready to deceive has created confusion among many Middle Americans, who only now are beginning to question Bush’s honesty.

"I’d like to know whether there was any deliberate attempt to deceive," said Jim Stock, a 70-year-old retired school administrator who voted for Bush in 2000. "My feeling is there was not. But there was an eagerness in the administration to pursue the battle and to believe information that wasn’t quite good. … It’s painful to say, but I don’t like where this is coming down." [NYT, July 17, 2003]

So how did this national denial about Bush’s apparent dishonesty develop? Why does the U.S. press corps fail to hold the Bushes to the same standard of honesty demanded of other politicians? How do the Bushes maintain a reputation for honesty when the facts don’t square with that image?

Part of the answer, of course, lies in the power of the Bush defenders to trash anyone who questions that image of integrity. Already, Bush’s defenders are heaping ridicule on those who challenge Bush over his Iraqi deceptions. "The flap over who baked the yellowcake uranium story is so transparently political that it is tempting to ignore," sniffed a Wall Street Journal editorial. [July 14, 2003]

And if past history is any guide, one must assume that Bush may well wriggle away from this latest attention to his half-truths and lies. Nevertheless, Americans will still have a chance in November 2004 to enforce some accountability on this Bush. With the U.S. deficit soaring to record heights, with the U.S. economy shedding more than two million jobs and with American troops dying in Iraq, the voters may be less and less tolerant about Bush’s casual relationship with the truth.

Perhaps, finally, the American people will demand that the Bushes no longer be treated like a protected royal family, but rather like the rest of us who pay a price when our words and the facts don't fit.

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