George H.W. Bush did this during the early
Iran-Contra scandal, insisting he was “not in the loop” despite
extensive evidence that his vice presidential office was a hub for the
secret operations in both Central America and the Middle East. Rep. Lee
Hamilton and other bipartisan-seeking Democrats gently let Bush off the
hook in the congressional Iran-Contra report, clearing him for the 1988
When Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh
finally broke through the Bush cover-up in 1992, Walsh was pilloried
across Washington as a crazy old man, a Captain Ahab pursuing the White
Whale. George Bush Sr. then destroyed Walsh’s investigation by pardoning
six Iran-Contra defendants in December 1992. [For details see Robert
Secrecy & Privilege.]
Now Bush’s eldest son, George W. Bush, is turning
to this tried-and-true family tactic to extricate himself from his own
web of lies and distortions about the Iraq War. In a Veterans Day speech
on Nov. 11, Bush accused those who question his alleged misuse of
pre-war intelligence of being the real guilty ones who have distorted
“It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history
of how that war began,” Bush scolded his critics. “These baseless
attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is
questioning America’s will.”
In essence, Bush’s argument is that he didn’t lie
the nation into war; he and his top aides were just misled by the same
faulty intelligence that Congress saw. Plus, they say independent
commissions already have cleared Bush of hyping the evidence.
However, as a Washington Post analysis politely
observed in response to those two arguments, “neither assertion is
The White House sees far more detailed intelligence
than what is shared with Congress, which found itself depending on a
CIA-compiled National Intelligence Estimate that downplayed or left out
objections to key pro-war assertions, the Post wrote.
The Post article also noted that neither the Senate
Intelligence Committee nor a Bush-appointed commission, headed by
retired Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb, gave much
attention to how the intelligence was used – or misused – addressing
instead how it was produced. [Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2005]
The Senate committee has balked at a promised
second study that was to focus on whether policymakers compounded the
faulty intelligence by cherry-picking the most alarmist information
about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. For its part, the
Silberman-Robb commission’s charter excluded a probe into possible
misuse of the Iraq intelligence by policymakers, so no conclusion on
Bush’s behavior was reached.
Indeed, the latest attack from Bush and his top
advisers on people demanding answers about pre-war deceptions looks a
lot like déjà vu, a continuation of the long pattern of distortion and
intimidation that has marked the U.S. trail into the Iraq quagmire.
Yet, what may be most stunning is Bush’s chutzpah
in insisting that he’s the innocent victim here. He portrays himself
first as the victim of the CIA’s faulty pre-war intelligence and now as
the victim of reckless accusations that he helped cook the final
intelligence product before it was fed to the public.
Proof of Lying
At Consortiumnews.com, we questioned Bush’s claims
about Iraq’s WMD in 2002 as well as the wishful thinking underlying his
invasion strategy in 2003. [See, for instance, “Misleading
the Nation to War” and “Bay
of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down.”]
But we also have noted that perhaps the strongest
evidence of Bush’s proclivity to lie about Iraq came after the
invasion, when he began falsifying the record – rewriting history – with
claims that Saddam Hussein had barred U.N. weapons inspectors from
entering Iraq. Hussein’s “defiance” supposedly left Bush no choice but
So, while it may be impossible to divine whether
Bush really believed that Hussein had WMD stockpiles, it is undeniable
that Bush knew that his assertion about Hussein barring U.N. inspectors
was false. The inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002 and remained
until they were forced out by Bush in March 2003 to let the invasion
Yet, despite this well-known historical record,
Bush began altering the history within a few months of the invasion,
just as his other claims about Iraq’s WMD programs and its collaboration
with al-Qaeda terrorists were falling apart.
On July 14, 2003, Bush
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
In the following months, Bush and his senior
advisers repeated 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.” [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com's "President
Bush, With the Candlestick..."]
Bush’s revisionist history sought to make him look
like the reasonable one provoked into unavoidable action. The president
also must have been confident that none of the journalists who heard his
remarks would dare challenge him – and he was right. Because of that,
many Americans might still hold the false impression that Hussein’s
rejection of U.N. inspections had forced Bush’s hand.
The significance of this provable lie to the other
Iraq War falsehoods is that it demonstrates Bush’s intent to deceive.
The “Saddam-did-not-let-us-in” lie also shows that Bush’s response to
getting caught in one deception – failing to find the WMD stockpiles,
for instance – seems to lead him to start a new set of lies.
That duplicitous pattern appears to be repeating
itself now as members of Congress from both parties have begun to
agitate for a serious review of whether the administration misused
But can the foot-stomping prince prevail again this
Bush appears to be counting on the powerful
right-wing media and his allies in the mainstream press to browbeat
anyone who doesn’t kneel before Bush’s version of reality, a strategy
that worked wonders in 2002-2003.
Unlike his father who delayed a war resolution on
Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait until after congressional elections,
George Bush Jr. forced a vote in the weeks before the 2002 elections.
The timing permitted Republicans to paint hesitant Democrats as
Even war veterans like Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a
triple amputee from the Vietnam War, were portrayed as lacking concern
for U.S. national security. In one stump speech, Bush lashed out at the
then-Democratic-controlled Senate as “not interested in the security of
the American people.”
Prominent Iraq War critics drew particular rage
from Bush loyalists. One whipping boy was former Vice President Al Gore,
who was lashed by Republicans and national columnists after he delivered
a detailed critique of Bush’s new doctrine of “preemptive war.”
Though many of Gore’s warnings about the risks of the so-called Bush
Doctrine now sound prescient, Republican National Committee spokesman
Jim Dyke denounced Gore as a “political hack.”
Anti-Gore commentaries filled the Op-Ed columns of the Washington
Post. Charles Krauthammer called Gore’s speech “a disgrace – a series of
cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence.”
Another Post columnist Michael Kelly called Gore’s speech “dishonest,
cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of
constructive ideas, very nearly of facts – bereft of anything other than
taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly
hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral
condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It
was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible.” [See
A similar treatment awaited anyone – celebrities,
bureaucrats, even longtime U.S. allies – who questioned Bush’s case for
Egged on by pro-Bush radio hosts, right-wing
activists drove trucks over Dixie Chicks CDs because one of the singers
had criticized the nation's leader. Other conservatives poured French
wine into gutters because France cautioned against rushing into Iraq.
Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter was demeaned as a traitor for
doubting Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMD.
Amid this war fever, some networks denied war opponents any
meaningful access to TV audiences. Trying to reposition itself as
staunchly patriotic, MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue’s show which had
regularly included war critics in its discussions. By contrast, MSNBC
gave a full day of on-scene coverage to a diner renaming “French fries”
as “Freedom fries.”
Throughout these months of war hysteria, Bush never urged his
supporters to show respect for dissenting opinions or to weigh all sides
in a debate. Obviously, if Bush had truly wanted a thorough vetting of
the Iraq WMD intelligence, he would have invited more skepticism from
knowledgeable people, not less.
As Karl Rove and other Bush political aides slammed the door on
critical opinions, the drive for war took on the unmistakable look of a
no-holds-barred political campaign.
Even today, the strategy of destroying messengers who deliver
unwanted criticism continues. That has been the approach taken against
former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for questioning Bush’s use of a
discredited claim about Iraq seeking enriched uranium from the African
nation of Niger.
Instead of simply admitting that Wilson had a point about the bogus
Niger claims, senior White House aides Rove and Lewis Libby went on the
offensive against Wilson, spreading derogatory information which led to
the outing of Wilson’s wife as a covert CIA officer in a Robert Novak
column on July 14, 2003. Libby was later indicted for trying to cover up
his role in smearing the Wilsons.
Despite this ugly history, Joe Wilson is still denounced on
right-wing talk radio by hosts who treat him with the disdain previously
reserved for the likes of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. The RNC
has issued talking points that twist language and logic to portray
Wilson, not Bush, as the dissembler on the Niger case. [For details, see
Family Tradition: Ducking Scandal.”]
The Attack Dogs
As with the assaults on pre-war dissent, Bush has never called off
the dogs on Wilson, leaving the impression that he may have been part of
the conspiracy to unleash the attack dogs in the first place.
Snarling at dissenters seems to be a recurring tactic, too. In recent
days, right-wing pundits have picked up the president’s growling
accusations about how his enemies are the ones who have committed the
sin of rewriting history.
Only this time, the outcome of the political battle does not appear
as certain as it did in late 2002 and early 2003. Then almost no one in
the Washington Establishment dared to challenge Bush, who was at the
apex of his power.
Now, with Bush’s public approval dipping into the mid-30s, even the
timid mainstream news media is questioning his Veterans Day outburst.
For instance, the New York Times, which trumpeted many of the
administration’s bogus WMD claims in the run-up to war, offered a
feistier response to Bush’s latest lament.
Noting how Bush condemned people who rewrite history, a Times
editorial said, “we agree, but it is Bush and his team who are rewriting
history.” [NYT, Nov. 15, 2005]
The next several weeks may show the residual power of Bush’s
political and media machines. Able to reach the faithful continuously
through TV, radio, print and the Internet, the conservatives have a huge
advantage over their liberal rivals.
However, if the White House can’t rally the faithful – and bully the
doubters – Bush may soon face the start of his presidency’s end game.