Monday, June 16, 2008

The War in Iraq : Bush Did Not Lie

Here is a must-read from the assistant editor of the New Republic:

"Bush never lied to us about Iraq"

Touring Vietnam in 1965, Michigan Gov. George Romney proclaimed American involvement there "morally right and necessary." Two years later, however, Romney -- then seeking the Republican presidential nomination -- not only recanted his support for the war but claimed that he had been hoodwinked.

"When I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get," Romney told a Detroit TV reporter who asked the candidate how he reconciled his shifting views.

Romney (father of Mitt) had visited Vietnam with nine other governors, all of whom denied that they had been duped by their government. With this one remark, his presidential hopes were dashed.

The memory of this gaffe reverberates in the contemporary rhetoric of many Democrats, who, when attacking the Bush administration's case for war against Saddam Hussein, employ essentially the same argument. In 2006, John F. Kerry explained the Senate's 77-23 passage of the Iraq war resolution this way: "We were misled. We were given evidence that was not true." On the campaign trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton dodged blame for her pro-war vote by claiming that "the mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress."

Nearly every prominent Democrat in the country has repeated some version of this charge, and the notion that the Bush administration deceived the American people has become the accepted narrative of how we went to war.

Yet in spite of all the accusations of White House "manipulation" -- that it pressured intelligence analysts into connecting Hussein and Al Qaeda and concocted evidence about weapons of mass destruction -- administration critics continually demonstrate an inability to distinguish making claims based on flawed intelligence from knowingly propagating falsehoods.

In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approved a report acknowledging that it "did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments." The following year, the bipartisan Robb-Silberman report similarly found "no indication that the intelligence community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

Contrast those conclusions with the Senate Intelligence Committee report issued June 5, the production of which excluded Republican staffers and which only two GOP senators endorsed. In a news release announcing the report, committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV got in this familiar shot: "Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretenses."

Yet Rockefeller's highly partisan report does not substantiate its most explosive claims. Rockefeller, for instance, charges that "top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and Al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11." Yet what did his report actually find? That Iraq-Al Qaeda links were "substantiated by intelligence information." The same goes for claims about Hussein's possession of biological and chemical weapons, as well as his alleged operation of a nuclear weapons program.

Four years on from the first Senate Intelligence Committee report, war critics, old and newfangled, still don't get that a lie is an act of deliberate, not unwitting, deception. If Democrats wish to contend they were "misled" into war, they should vent their spleen at the CIA.

In 2003, top Senate Democrats -- not just Rockefeller but also Carl Levin, Clinton, Kerry and others -- sounded just as alarmist. Conveniently, this month's report, titled "Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information," includes only statements by the executive branch. Had it scrutinized public statements of Democrats on the Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees -- who have access to the same intelligence information as the president and his chief advisors -- many senators would be unable to distinguish their own words from what they today characterize as warmongering.

This may sound like ancient history, but it matters. After Sept. 11, President Bush did not want to risk allowing Hussein, who had twice invaded neighboring nations, murdered more than 1 million Iraqis and stood in violation of 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions, to remain in possession of what he believed were stocks of chemical and biological warheads and a nuclear weapons program. By glossing over this history, the Democrats' lies-led-to-war narrative provides false comfort in a world of significant dangers.

"I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop communist aggression in Southeast Asia," Romney elaborated in that infamous 1967 interview. That was an intellectually justifiable view then, just as it is intellectually justifiable for erstwhile Iraq war supporters to say -- given the way it's turned out -- that they don't think the effort has been worth it. But predicating such a reversal on the unsubstantiated allegation that one was lied to is cowardly and dishonest.

A journalist who accompanied Romney on his 1965 foray to Vietnam remarked that if the governor had indeed been brainwashed, it was not because of American propaganda but because he had "brought so light a load to the laundromat." Given the similarity between Romney's explanation and the protestations of Democrats 40 years later, one wonders why the news media aren't saying the same thing today.


JS said...

"... a lie is an act of deliberate, not unwitting, deception ..."

This distinction is telling. While it is difficult to show proof that Bush knowingly deceived American citizens about the war, it is clear that he (and many others, including Democrats) spread falsehoods about the war. The distinction between types of deception may remove legal complicity but not necessarily moral complicity.

Self-deception does not absolve one of moral responsibility. Allowing oneself to be deceived and to become the agent of deceiving others is an eggregious abdication of our responsibility to reason rightly.

It has been clearly shown, regarding the war and in many areas of public policy, that the Bush administration has been hostile to critical thinking and allowed a priori assumptions to dictate treatment of evidence.

It should not be surprising, then that the fruit of such practices is self-deception. Neither is it morally acceptible.

W. said...

Thanks for the comment.

I think the first thing to note is that the author of the essay is a New Republic editor. New Republic being a mag of the Left ... at least on most issues.

Now to your point.

What "falsehoods" did Bush and the others spread? Do you realize the enormity of those you are indicting? From Repubs to Dems, from officials from France to Germany and Russia (not to mention Britain), all the way to weapons and chemical scientists from Iraq.

What evidence is there that demonstrates "self-deception"?

How has the Bush admin been "hostile to critical thinking"? Hostile?

I think that they, like most, do allow assumptions and even at times an ideology to guide their thought process and judgments. This is one area that bothers me about his approach to foreign policy: his belief that the desire for freedom in all people will eventually result in the presence of some form of democracy and even peace in the Middle East. I do not think as highly of the human person in its current condition. It is at this point that I think President Bush shows an ideology that is not realistic (somewhat redundant, I know) as it does not give enough weight to the failings of man and more particularly to the history and culture of the ancient and at times barbaric peoples that have inhabited what we call Iraq. Freedom may one day reign there but I think it will come about, if it does, through a rougher and less idyllic pattern than President Bush first thought. That is perhaps an expression of his Christian faith than anything else. I have come across a similar view, though in a different context, from others considered "born-again" and "evangelical." I think their theology of grace is applied too freely to areas where prudence should have more weight.

JS said...

As sharp as ever. You should write your own arguments more often than copying others' opinions, which gives the impression that you endorse their views (or, worse, don't think for yourself). Your short comments had far more clarity and reason than Kirchick's article.

Thanks for engaging.

What specific claims of the recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee might you dispute? On the basis of what evidence?

The Kirchick article is actually a case in point of ideological manipulation of evidence, which also is characteristic of the Bush administration. If you've been reading the L.A. Times the last few days, from which you got the article, you've perhaps seen some other responses to Kirchick. One letter writer seized on the claim that the Senate Intelligence Committee found "that Iraq-Al Qaeda links were 'substantiated by intelligence information." The stark, unqualified claim of that sentence raises suspicions to a reasonable person, as well as the fact that it was not accompanied by a page reference.

I checked on this claim this morning by downloading the intelligence report as a PDF from (click on the top document).

As it turns out, the quote "substantiated by intelligence information" is not only a distortion of its immediate context but also a gross distortion of the entire page on which it appears in the Senate Intelligence Report (p. 71). That quote appears in a sentence that talks about "terrorist groups other than al-Qa'ida" (emphases added)! The report does say that "Iraq provided safe haven" for members of al-Qa'ida, but it is an interpretive leap to say, as Kirchick does, that proves "links" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It does not necessarily follow from the presence and even toleration of groups in a country that they are sponsored by that country (for example, see the "links" between Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 hijackers).

Furthermore, the report states on the same page that "statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa'ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence." The paragraph below explains how these "statements and implications" were false.

The phrase quoted by Kirchick, "substantiated by intelligence information," also appears in the last conclusion on the page about "Iraq's contacts with al-Qa'ida." This is probably where Kirchick lifted the quote. Note the next sentence in the conclusion: "However, policymakers' statements did not accurately convey the intelligence assessments of the nature of these contacts, and left the impression that the contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation or support of al-Qa'ida." In fact, reason would lead one to believe that they would not cooperate substantively. Despite mutual hatred for the United States, Hussein's government and Al Qaeda had significantly different visions of social order: one favoring religious rule, and the other developing a secular, western state (see also the longstanding conflict between Iraq and Iran). That is more of a divide than between Democrats and Republicans, and we know how loathe they are to cooperate.

In other words, the Kirchick article distorts the intelligence in a manner similar to the Bush administration.

It is absurd to claim vindication for the Bush administration. It would also be absurd to claim vindication for uncritical Democrats like John Kerry, who cannot assert they were deceived into war by "evidence that was not true" when often the reports were steeped in qualifications and degrees of probability. Their own faulty reasoning and poor leadership is to blame. If they were deceived, they deceived themselves.

And we as the electorate are complicit for believing them and not being as critical of our government as the founders insisted we must.

I hope that provides some clarification to your questions. I agree with you on many of your points, including the unrealistic nature of President Bush's ideology. He is a good man, I believe, but he is nevertheless misguided. Freedom is not the highest good of humanity nor even an absolute good. As you say, prudence often should trump freedom. And I would add that justice often compels us to limit our freedom.

As an aside, it is interesting that you chide me about "the enormity of those you are indicting" while the meat of your argument decries the failings "of the human person in its current condition." Which is the more expansive indictment: my complaint or original sin? And which is easier to prove?

Incidentally, I do agree with you about the human condition (except your comments about barbarism and Iraqi culture need to be better nuanced).

W. said...


I do plan to respond. Life is just busy these days. I am Mr. Mom so time looking things up and writing something intelligible is not that easy to come by these days. Sorry if it takes a bit of time to get back to you.

JS said...

No worries, W. I was doing some important work myself the last couple weeks (nothing as important as parenting, though) and haven't checked your blog until now. Needed to be focused!

Happy hunting. And have a great 4th!

- JS / James

Anonymous said...

I read a book by Georges Sada called "Saddams Secrets". He is a former high ranking member of Saddams Air Force. He goes into some detail about how Saddam smuggled his WMD's into Syria up to and during the beginning of the Iraq envasion. Once you envision that reality that Saddam gave the UN Weapons inspectors the run around for so long, it becomes scary when you realize what he was doing.

I have a close friend who served as a counter intelligence soldier in Iraq with the US Army. He couldnt go into detail of course, but I told him about the message of the book and he said that actually goes along with what military intel has found.,0,4808346.story