By Jay Bookman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 11, 2008
Did President Bush and his administration lead us into the Iraq war under false pretenses?
Absolutely, they did. The documented evidence is overwhelming. Nonetheless, some of those who initially backed Bush’s decision to invade Iraq continue to claim otherwise, arguing that the president — and they themselves — were upfront with the American people in laying out the invasion case.
For example, in a recent column, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt described the “Bush lied, people died” thesis as a fiction, citing a new report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Sen. John Rockefeller (D-West Virginia).
To Rockefeller, the report documents “the absolute cynical manipulation — deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion,” and says he too had been fooled into supporting the war. But to Hiatt, the Rockefeller report actually absolves Bush of the charge of deception. As he points out, the report confirms that pre-war statements concerning Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs were “generally substantiated by intelligence information.”
Unfortunately, that information just turned out to be “tragically, catastrophically wrong,” Hiatt writes. ...
[The] case for war was based on two additional assertions: First, that Saddam had close ties with al Qaida and other international terrorist groups, and that because of those ties, he might give those groups access to WMD to be used against the United States.
Neither claim had a foundation in reality or intelligence, and in fact were contradicted by reports from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. The Rockefeller report is quite explicit in its conclusions:
“Statements by the president and vice president indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by intelligence information,” it stated.
It further concludes:
“Statements and implications by the president and secretary of state suggesting that Iraq and al Qaida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al Qaida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence. Intelligence assessments, including multiple CIA reports and the November 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], dismissed the claim that Iraq and al Qaida were cooperating partners.”
However, there had also been a larger, more important lie behind the invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration did not seriously believe that Iraq posed a danger to the American people. It sought war for another reason entirely, because it believed that the invasion of Iraq and the assertion of U.S. military might could be the first step in transforming the Arab Middle East into a pro-American region and turning Iran into a docile puppy dog. Others in Washington, including some Democrats and members of the national media, shared that simplistic assessment.
However, they also understood that the American people would not agree to fight a war in pursuit of such grandiose goals. To agree to war, we had to be frightened into believing that our own safety was at risk, that without an invasion, mushroom clouds might soon rise over American cities.
So the Bush administration constructed a scenario that would accomplish that feat, and many in the Washington-based media — “complicit enablers,” as former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan described them — put that scenario on their loudspeakers without questioning its veracity.
That’s the awkward truth.