At a time when approximately 57 percent of Americans polled believe that President Bush deceived them on the reasons for the war in Iraq, it does seem a bit redundant to deconstruct the president's recent speeches on that subject. Yet, to fail to do so would be to passively accept the Big Lie technique -- which is how we as a nation got into this horrible mess in the first place.
The basic claim of the president's desperate and strident attack on the war's critics this past week is that he was acting as a consensus president when intelligence information left him no choice but to invade Iraq as a preventive action to deter a terrorist attack on America. This is flatly wrong.
His rationalization for attacking Iraq, once accepted uncritically by most in Congress and the media easily intimidated by jingoism, now is known to be false. The bipartisan 9/11 commission selected by Bush concluded unanimously that there was no link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's secular dictatorship, al Qaeda's sworn enemy. And a recently declassified 2002 document proves that Bush's "evidence" for this, available to top administration officials, was based on a single discredited witness.
Clearly on the defensive, Bush now sounds increasingly Nixonian as he basically calls the majority of the country traitors for noticing he tricked us.
"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," the president said at an Air Force base in Alaska. "Leaders in my administration and members of the United States Congress from both political parties looked at the same intelligence on Iraq, and reached the same conclusion: Saddam Hussein was a threat."
This is a manipulative distortion; saying Hussein was a threat -- to somebody, somewhere, in some context -- is not the same as endorsing a pre-emptive occupation of his country in a fantastically expensive and blatantly risky nation-building exercise. And the idea that individual senators and members of Congress had the same access to even a fraction of the raw intelligence as the president of the United States is just a lie on its face -- it is a simple matter of security clearances, which are not distributed equally.
It was enormously telling, in fact, that the only part of the Senate which did see the un-sanitized National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq -- the Republican-led Senate Select Intelligence Committee -- shockingly voted in the fall of 2002 against the simple authorization of force demanded by a Republican president. Panicked, the warmongers in the White House and Pentagon pressured CIA Director George Tenet to rush release to the entire Hill a very short "summary" of the careful NIE, which made Hussein seem incalculably more dangerous than the whole report indicated.
The Defense Intelligence Agency finally declassified its investigative report, DITSUM No. 044-02, within recent days. This smoking-gun document proves the Bush administration's key evidence for the apocryphal Osama bin Laden-Saddam Hussein alliance -- said by Bush to involve training in the use of weapons of mass destruction -- was built upon the testimony of a prisoner who, according to the DIA, was probably "intentionally misleading the debriefers."
Yet, despite the government having been informed of this by the Pentagon's intelligence agency in February 2002, Bush told the nation eight months later, on the eve of the Senate's vote to authorize the war, that "we've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases."
The false al Qaeda-Hussein link was the linchpin to Bush's argument that he could not delay the invasion until after the United Nations weapons inspectors completed their investigation in a matter of months. Perhaps, he feared not that those weapons would fall into the wrong hands but that they would not be found at all.
Boxed in by international sanctions, weapons inspectors, U.S. fighter jets patrolling two huge no-fly zones and powerful rivals on all his borders, Hussein in 2003 was decidedly not a threat to America. But the Bush White House wanted a war with Iraq, and it pulled out all the stops -- references to "a mushroom cloud" and calling Hussein an "ally" of al Qaeda -- to convince the rest of us it was necessary.
The White House believed the ends (occupying Iraq) justified the means (exaggerating the threat). We know now those ends have proved disastrous.
Oblivious to the grim irony, Bush proclaims his war without end in Iraq the central front in a new Cold War, never acknowledging that he has handed al Qaeda terrorists a new home base. Iran, his "Axis of Evil" member, now has its disciples in power in Iraq. Last week, top Bush administration officials welcomed to Washington Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, who previously was denounced for having allegedly passed U.S. secrets to his old supporters in Tehran and was elected to a top post in Iraq by campaigning on anti-U.S. slogans.
Under Bush's watch, we not only suffered the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks while he snoozed, but he has failed to capture the perpetrator of those attacks and has given al Qaeda a powerful base in Iraq from which to terrorize. And this is the guy who dares tell his critics they are weakening our country.
Robert Scheer is the editor of TruthDig.