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Bush Trims a Tale

By Robert Parry
September 23, 2004

Speaking to the United Nations, George W. Bush scaled back one of the lies he routinely tells the American people: Bush didn’t repeat his claim that Saddam Hussein barred U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion.

That Bush claim – accusing Hussein of having refused to admit the U.N. inspectors in 2002-2003 – has become a central part of Bush’s rewriting of the history of the Iraq War. The revision lets Bush present himself as a reasonable man who exhausted all peaceful options before turning to war as a last resort.

Apparently trusting that his American audiences and the U.S. press corps won’t challenge his false assertions, Bush has pitched this lie again and again, including in his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention. But he trimmed the tale back on Sept. 21 while addressing the U.N. General Assembly, a place where the facts are better known.

Still, Bush offered a muddled war rationale that retained a whiff of his revisionist history. “The Security Council promised serious consequences for his [Hussein’s] defiance,” Bush said. “And the commitments we make must have meaning. When we say serious consequences, for the sake of peace, there must be serious consequences. And so a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world.”

Factual Problems

This account had factual problems, too. It suggested that Hussein remained in defiance of U.N. demands that he rid his country of weapons of mass destruction and that Hussein was not cooperating with the U.N., when the evidence now is that Iraq had no WMD stockpiles and was cooperating – albeit belatedly – with the U.N.

Bush also didn’t mention that the U.N. Security Council rebuffed his request to authorize the Iraq invasion in 2003. Nor did Bush address the statement by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan terming the U.S.-led invasion “illegal.”

But – while Bush’s U.N. speech may have been a sanitized version of reality – he seems to have recognized that the “full monte” of his false history wouldn’t play well before the General Assembly where hundreds of officials know the facts. Bush appears to have a much lower opinion of the American people’s knowledge or their interest in the truth.

Within months of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush began fudging the history. In July 2003, 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.”

Bush reiterated that war-justifying claim in January 2004, saying: “We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution -- 1441 -- unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.”

Last March 19, on the invasion’s first anniversary, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued the same historical point in an op-ed article in the New York Times.

“In September 2002, President Bush went to the United Nations, which gave Iraq still another ‘final opportunity’ to disarm and to prove it had done so,” Rumsfeld wrote, adding that  “Saddam Hussein passed up that final opportunity” and then rejected a U.S. ultimatum to flee. “Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the liberation of Iraq,” Rumsfeld wrote.

Deceiving the RNC

In his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention, Bush again felt confident that he could get away with spinning the history to a gullible audience. He said:

“We went to the United Nations Security Council, which passed a unanimous resolution demanding the dictator disarm, or face serious consequences. Leaders in the Middle East urged him to comply. After more than a decade of diplomacy, we gave Saddam Hussein another chance, a final chance, to meet his responsibilities to the civilized world. He again refused, and I faced the kind of decision no president would ask for, but must be prepared to make.”

The reality, of course, was different. Starting in fall 2002, Hussein did grant the U.N. weapons inspectors free rein to search any suspect WMD site of their choosing. U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix wrote that he was encouraged by the Iraqi cooperation in letting his inspectors check out sites identified by Washington as possible WMD hiding places.

Though finding no WMD at those sites, Blix’s inspections team was expanding its operations in early 2003. But Bush wanted to go to war. So he forced the U.N. inspectors to leave in mid-March 2003. “Although the inspection organization was now operating at full strength and Iraq seemed determined to give it prompt access everywhere, the United States appeared as determined to replace our inspection force with an invasion army,” Blix wrote in his book, Disarming Iraq.

(Oddly, when I have mentioned Blix in previous articles, Bush defenders have fired off e-mails denouncing Blix as an incompetent because he failed to find Iraq’s WMDs. It’s almost as if these writers have climbed into a time capsule impervious to the fact that Bush administration inspectors also have found no evidence of Iraqi WMD caches.)

Insincere Deceiver

Bush’s misleading account of the Iraq War history undercuts another article of faith among Bush defenders: that his pre-war assertions about Iraq’s WMD were honest mistakes, not intentional lies. These defenders insist that Bush is what the Economist magazine has called a “sincere deceiver” who may have deceived the public but did so believing what he said.

If Bush were a “sincere deceiver,” however, he would not continue to mislead the American people about something as important as why the nation went to war. He would take pains to spell out the circumstances that existed before the invasion, even if those facts make him look rash or unreasonable. He would not lie to the American people about Hussein supposedly refusing to admit U.N. weapons inspectors before the war.

Also, the fact that Bush scaled back his deceptive account when he was speaking to the U.N. – an audience keenly aware of the real facts – is additional evidence that Bush knows what he’s doing when he tries to slip his dishonest version past less informed Americans. Bush is demonstrating that he is an “insincere deceiver” who cares only about keeping the American people in line behind him and he will say whatever it takes to do that.

Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, has written a new book entitled, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. Copies can be obtained now from the publisher at www.secrecyandprivilege.com .

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