That defense is anchored in their assessment of
Bush’s fundamental decency as a born-again Christian who would never
knowingly mislead the American people, especially on something as
important as sending U.S. soldiers off to war.
Which is why it’s important to look at Bush’s
assertions about his supposed desire to avert the war through good-faith
diplomacy in late 2002 and early 2003. Since the entire world watched
those events unfold, the known facts can be matched against the more
recent words of Bush and his senior advisers.
If Bush has lied about that pre-war history as a
way to justify his actions – especially after the WMD rationale
collapsed – it follows that he shouldn’t be trusted on much of anything
about the war. That’s especially true when contemporaneous records
contradict his version of the facts.
This question of Bush’s honesty is newsworthy again
because a leaked “secret” Downing Street memo asserts that by July 2002,
Bush effectively had decided to go to war, which belies his repeated
claim that he was still eagerly pursuing peace.
published by the London Sunday Times, recounts a meeting on July 23,
2002, between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national
security advisers. At the meeting, Richard Dearlove, chief of the
British intelligence agency MI6, described his discussions about Iraq
with National Security Council officials in Washington.
Dearlove, who is referred to in the memo as “C,”
reported, “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action
was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through
military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But
the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
According to Dearlove, “The NSC had no patience
with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the
Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the
aftermath after military action.”
The memo added, “It seemed clear that Bush had made
up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet
decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his
neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North
Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to
allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the
legal justification for the use of force. … The Prime Minister said that
it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused
to allow in the UN inspectors.”
The British memo corroborates earlier statements
from former Bush administration insiders, such as Treasury Secretary
Paul O’Neill and counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, that Bush had
long wanted to invade Iraq, a determination that hardened after al-Qaeda’s
Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
But Bush and his spokesmen have consistently denied
they were set on a course to war, instead blaming Saddam Hussein’s
supposed intransigence for leaving Bush no choice but to order the
invasion on March 19, 2003.
For instance, responding to the Downing Street memo
on May 16, White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected its
implication that Bush’s diplomatic initiatives were just a charade to
conceal a predetermined plan for an invasion.
“The president of the United States, in a very
public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United
Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner,”
“Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose
continued defiance,” McClellan said. “Only then was the decision made,
as a last resort, to go into Iraq.”
This claim about Hussein “defiance” has become a
staple for Bush and his defenders over the past two years, facing little
contradiction from the mainstream U.S. news media. Indeed, this notion
that Hussein brought the war on himself by rejecting UN inspections has
become almost conventional wisdom in Washington despite the fact that
Hussein did let UN inspectors in and gave them free rein of the country.
Bush started the revisionist historical “group
think” on July 14, 2003, less than four months after the U.S.-led
invasion, when he said about Hussein, “we gave him 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.” [See the
White House Web site.]
In following months, Bush would repeat this claim
in slightly varied forms. On Jan. 27, 2004, 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.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spun the same
historical point in an op-ed article in the New York Times on March 19,
2004, the invasion’s first anniversary.
“In September 2002, President Bush went to the
United Nations, which gave Iraq still another ‘final opportunity’ to
disarm and to prove it had done so,” Rumsfeld wrote, adding that “Saddam
Hussein passed up that final opportunity.”
“Only then, after every peaceful option had been
exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the
liberation of Iraq,” Rumsfeld wrote.
But as anyone who followed the Iraq crisis knows,
Hussein publicly declared that Iraq had destroyed its WMD and let UN
weapons inspectors go wherever they wanted to verify the claim. It was
Bush who forced the inspectors to leave so he could press ahead with the
The UN’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, wrote
in his book, Disarming Iraq, that the final round of UN
inspections, launched in November 2002, was progressing well in March
2003 with full Iraqi cooperation.
“Although the inspection organization was now
operating at full strength and Iraq seemed determined to give it prompt
access everywhere, the United States appeared as determined to replace
our inspection force with an invasion army,” Blix wrote. [For details,
see Consortiumnews.com’s “Reality
on the Ballot.”]
But Bush’s historical revisionism has mesmerized
even elite elements of the U.S. news media. During an interview at the
Democratic National Convention in July 2004, ABC News anchor Ted Koppel
repeated the administration’s spin point in explaining why he thought
the invasion 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, UN, come on in, check it out,” Koppel
told Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”
Reality no longer seemed to make much difference
even for prominent figures in the mainstream news media. During the
campaign, Bush also continued to misrepresent the pre-war facts.
“I went there [the United Nations] hoping that once
and for all the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to
listen to our demands,” Bush said during the presidential debate on
Sept. 30, 2004. “They [the Security Council] passed a resolution that
said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I believe when an
international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
“But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming.
Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a
matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that
he [Hussein] was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn’t
going to work. That’s kind of a pre-Sept. 10 mentality, the hope that
somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more
Virtually every point in this war justification
from Bush was wrong. Whether or not Hussein had an “intention” to
disarm, the reality was that he had disarmed. Rather than the UN
resolutions having no consequence, they apparently achieved their goal
of a WMD-free Iraq. Rather than clueless UN inspectors duped by Hussein,
the inspectors were not finding WMD because the stockpiles weren’t
there. Bush’s post-invasion inspection team didn't find WMD either.
Despite the importance of the setting for Bush’s
comments – a presidential debate – most news outlets did little or no
fact-checking. In the middle of one article, the Washington Post did
mention Bush’s dubious assertion about Hussein having “no intention of
disarming.” The Post noted that “Iraq asserted in its filing with the
United Nations in December 2002 that it had no such weapons, and none
has been found.” [Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2004]
But overall, the U.S. news media continued to look
the other way on Bush’s distortion of the historical record.
Even now, facing the leaked Downing Street memo,
the White House apparently remains confident that it simply can deny the
No objective observer, however, could look at the
known facts, match them against Bush’s historical claims, and conclude
anything other than that Bush is lying, that he is consciously deceiving
the American people.
One also might draw a secondary conclusion: that
Bush is sure he can get away with lying because neither his defenders
nor the mainstream U.S. media will call him to account.