We have long known that the reasons President Bush and his team gave for going to war in Iraq were false. Many have contended that the president deliberately misled the nation into war. Scott McClellan, for example, with his insider's perspective, says in his new book that the president used exaggerations and misleading statements to win public and Congressional support for going to war in Iraq. Now we have important corroboration of such claims: the Senate Intelligence Report has made it official in a way that Congress will find hard to ignore.
The report describes a drum roll of groundless statements by the president, the vice president and other top officials. While it does not use the word "lie," it offers plenty of evidence that we were "led to war based on false pretences," to quote Committee chair Senator Rockefeller. The report shows there was no intelligence to back up the President's contention that Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in cahoots, or his claim that Saddam would give WMD to terrorists, much less the Vice President's fantasy that American soldiers would be welcomed as liberators.
Now that these are official findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the question is, what do we do about it? Just wring our hands? Simply hope for change in the November elections? Or does the Constitution now require something more of us?
The Constitution's framers envisioned the possibility that presidents and their minions might seriously abuse the power of their office, and "subvert the constitution." Their remedy was impeachment: the removal of the offending official to protect our democracy. They understood that Executives historically wanted to take countries into unnecessary wars, so they empowered Congress act as a real check on unwarranted presidential warmaking. Since lying to Congress obstructs that function, it is a grave abuse of power that "subverts the Constitution" and meets the standard for impeachment.
The House should commence an impeachment inquiry forthwith. In fact, in a sense, it is already beginning. Rep. Kucinich introduced the articles, the House has referred them to the Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Report goes a long way toward furnishing the investigative work Congress needs to do in the course of impeachment, at least as regards the run-up to the war (Congress should also look at other serious abuses of power, including President Bush's refusal to obey duly enacted laws, as evidenced by hundreds of signing statements, his violations of the laws on wiretapping and mistreatment of detainees).
The next step is to start asking, what did the president actually know and when did he know it? Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has stated that President Bush seemed determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein at the beginning of his administration, well before 9/11. There was also the British "Downing Street" memo written in the summer of 2002 stating that President Bush was going to "fix" the intelligence to fit the policy of overthrow. It's now incumbent on Congress to take these matters up in impeachment hearings.
Yes, even at the end of their terms, President Bush and Vice President Cheney can still be impeached and removed from office. There might just be sufficient time to finish impeachment before they leave office, and technically they could be impeached even after that. This administration can still be held accountable for the consequences of the unnecessary Iraq War and other grave abuses. The American people still have a chance to witness the Constitution in action as it appropriately limits the powers of this president, preventing further abuses by him (such as bombing Iran without approval of Congress) or by his successors.
This would be an important lesson in democracy. We last learned it 34 years ago during the Nixon impeachment process, which reminded Americans how the Constitution works. But our collective memory of those far-off events may have faded, especially after the past eight years of President Bush asserting extreme claims for presidential power, coupled with the failure of Congress to respond forcefully. As a result, as a nation we may have a diminished level of constitutional literacy compared to 1974. It's time to reinvigorate that literacy. We need to understand once again that acquiescing in this president seriously deceiving us into war means ignoring what the Constitution says, and jeopardizing our democracy.