Bush has uttered this lie in a variety of forms
over more than 2 ½ years, yet the Washington press corps has never
challenged the President directly about the falsehood. He got away with
it again on March 21 when no journalist followed up the question from
Helen Thomas that elicited Bush’s response.
Some TV commentary about the Thomas-Bush exchange
even suggested that Bush had scored points with the American public for
calling on – and then slapping down – the senior White House
correspondent who is known for her irreverent and acerbic questions. But
Bush’s truthfulness wasn’t questioned.
Bush reasserted his false claim about the U.N.
inspectors after Thomas noted that Bush’s pre-war rationales had turned
out to be false, an apparent reference to Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass
destruction and Saddam Hussein’s supposed links to al-Qaeda.
“Your decision to invade Iraq has
caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of
Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime,” Thomas said. “Every reason given,
publicly at least, has turned out not to be true.
“My question is: Why did you really
want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House,
your Cabinet officers, former Cabinet officers, intelligence people and
so forth -- but what's your real reason? You have said it wasn’t oil,
the quest for oil. It hasn’t been Israel or anything else. What was it?”
Bristling at the question, Bush said,
“I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as
a lifelong journalist – that I didn’t want war. To assume I wanted war
is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect. …
“No president wants war. Everything
you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true.”
Bush then launched into his
revisionist history, saying that before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror
attacks, “we used to think we were secure because of oceans” that
surrounded the United States. (But no one living during the Cold War
thought that the Atlantic and Pacific protected the United States from
thermonuclear attack launched by Soviet intercontinental ballistic
“I also saw a threat in Iraq,” Bush
said. “I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I
went to the Security Council. That’s why it was important to pass
(Resolution) 1441, which was unanimously passed.
“And the world said, ‘Disarm, disclose
or face serious consequences.’ And therefore, we worked with the world.
We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the
world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to
disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And
we did. And the world is safer for it.”
But Bush’s statement is false both in
suggesting that Resolution 1441 authorized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
– when it actually demanded that Iraq submit to arms inspections – and
in claiming that Hussein “chose to deny the inspectors.”
In reality, Hussein accepted the U.N.
inspectors in November 2002, granted them unrestricted access to
suspected sites and announced – accurately as it turned out – that Iraq
had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.
U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix
reported that Iraq was cooperating with his team and the U.N. Security
Council thus refused to endorse Bush’s insistence on war in March 2003.
Bush then rebuffed the U.N. Security Council, forced the inspectors to
leave and invaded Iraq in violation of the U.N. Charter.
Yet, Bush has been presenting his bogus pre-war
history since July 2003, three months after Baghdad fell, when the
absence of WMD was becoming obvious and an Iraqi insurgency was
beginning to kill scores of American soldiers.
In his first version of this revisionist history,
Bush said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors
in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable
request, we decided to remove him from power.”
When the U.S. news media failed to object to Bush’s
rewritten history, he continued to spin out this lie in various forms,
including at the Republican National Convention and during the
presidential debates. [For more on this longstanding falsehood, see
Bush, With the Candlestick…”]
Bush also repeated another pleasing – but false –
bromide about democracies being intrinsically peaceful.
At the March 21 press conference, Bush said:
“History has proven that democracies don’t war. And so, part of the
issue is to lay peace, is to give people a chance to live in a peaceful
world where mothers can raise their children without fear of violence.”
But the history is far more complicated. Even in
ancient times, democracies often were the instigators of war. Democratic
Athens broke the Peace of Nicias in 418 B.C. by attacking undemocratic
Sparta. The Roman Republic waged war on its neighbors for generations
before it became an empire.
Even in American history, the democratic government
of the United States has waged war against Native Americans, Spaniards,
Mexicans and even against other Americans in the Civil War. In modern
times, the United States also has gone to war without direct
provocation, most notably in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq now.
European democracies have a similarly spotty
record. Great Britain fought to maintain its empire even after the
monarchy had given way to democratic institutions. The same was true for
France, which fought colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria in the years
after World War II.
In Germany, Adolf Hitler exploited opportunities
created by democracy in his rise to power, as his nationalist socialism
resonated with voters suffering economic deprivation and harboring
anti-Semitic prejudices. After winning the largest number of seats in
parliament, Hitler engineered his fateful appointment as chancellor in
History also teaches that democracy is no guarantee
of justice. Consider the oppression of African-Americans in the United
States, first through slavery and then segregation.
Nor is moderation an inevitable byproduct.
Democratic elections in some Muslim countries have boosted Islamic
fundamentalists, not secular moderates, as happened during the 1990s in
Algeria where fundamentalist electoral gains were so strong that the
army intervened to prevent an Islamist victory.
In Iraq, too, U.S.-imposed “democratic
institutions” have not been a cure-all. Indeed, they have strengthened
Shiite fundamentalists and further divided the country along sectarian
lines, rather than elevate moderate leaders and unite the rival
But this mixed reality – like the real history of
the Iraq arms inspections – was missing in Bush’s televised news
conference. The White House press corps also continued to avert its eyes
from Bush’s falsehoods. After Helen Thomas’s question and Bush’s
deceptive answers, her colleagues did nothing to call the President to