is full of ironies. On the White House Web site,
George W. Bush's speech from Oct. 7, 2002 in
which he made the case for war with Iraq bears
the headline "Denial and Deception." Indeed.
is no longer any serious doubt that Bush administration
officials deceived us into war. The key question
now is why so many influential people are
in denial, unwilling to admit the obvious.
the deception: Leaks from professional intelligence
analysts, who are furious over the way their
work was abused, have given us a far more
complete picture of how America went to war.
Thanks to reporting by my colleague Nicholas
Kristof, other reports in The New York Times
and The Washington Post, and a magisterial
article by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman
in The New Republic, we now know that top
officials, including Mr. Bush, sought to convey
an impression about the Iraqi threat that
was not supported by actual intelligence reports.
particular, there was never any evidence linking
Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda; yet administration
officials repeatedly suggested the existence
of a link. Supposed evidence of an active
Iraqi nuclear program was thoroughly debunked
by the administration's own experts; yet administration
officials continued to cite that evidence
and warn of Iraq's nuclear threat.
yet the political and media establishment
is in denial, finding excuses for the administration's
efforts to mislead both Congress and the public.
example, some commentators have suggested
that Mr. Bush should be let off the hook as
long as there is some interpretation of his
prewar statements that is technically true.
Really? We're not talking about a business
dispute that hinges on the fine print of the
contract; we're talking about the most solemn
decision a nation can make. If Mr. Bush's
speeches gave the nation a misleading impression
about the case for war, close textual analysis
showing that he didn't literally say what
he seemed to be saying is no excuse. On the
contrary, it suggests that he knew that his
case couldn't stand close scrutiny.
for example, what Mr. Bush said in his "denial
and deception" speech about the supposed Saddam-Osama
link: that there were "high-level contacts
that go back a decade." In fact, intelligence
agencies knew of tentative contacts between
Saddam and an infant Al Qaeda in the early
1990's, but found no good evidence of a continuing
relationship. So Mr. Bush made what sounded
like an assertion of an ongoing relationship
between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but phrased it
cagily suggesting that he or his speechwriter
knew full well that his case was shaky.
commentators suggest that Mr. Bush may have
sincerely believed, despite the lack of evidence,
that Saddam was working with Osama and developing
nuclear weapons. Actually, that's unlikely:
why did he use such evasive wording if he
didn't know that he was improving on the truth?
In any case, however, somebody was at fault.
If top administration officials somehow failed
to apprise Mr. Bush of intelligence reports
refuting key pieces of his case against Iraq,
they weren't doing their jobs. And Mr. Bush
should be the first person to demand their
why are so many people making excuses for
Mr. Bush and his officials?
of the answer, of course, is raw partisanship.
One important difference between our current
scandal and the Watergate affair is that it's
almost impossible now to imagine a Republican
senator asking, "What did the president know,
and when did he know it?"
even people who aren't partisan Republicans
shy away from confronting the administration's
dishonest case for war, because they don't
want to face the implications.
all, suppose that a politician or a journalist
admits to himself that Mr. Bush bamboozled
the nation into war. Well, launching a war
on false pretenses is, to say the least, a
breach of trust. So if you admit to yourself
that such a thing happened, you have a moral
obligation to demand accountability and to
do so in the face not only of a powerful,
ruthless political machine but in the face
of a country not yet ready to believe that
its leaders have exploited 9/11 for political
gain. It's a scary prospect.
if we can't find people willing to take the
risk to face the truth and act on it what
will happen to our democracy?
on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 by the New
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