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For Bush, Iraq Lies Are Fundamental

By Robert Parry
May 22, 2005

More than two years and 1,600 dead U.S. soldiers later, George W. Bush’s defenders concede Iraq may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but the defenders still get their backs up when someone accuses Bush of lying. A mistake maybe, but a lie never!

That defense is anchored in their assessment of Bush’s fundamental decency as a born-again Christian who would never knowingly mislead the American people, especially on something as important as sending U.S. soldiers off to war.

Which is why it’s important to look at Bush’s assertions about his supposed desire to avert the war through good-faith diplomacy in late 2002 and early 2003. Since the entire world watched those events unfold, the known facts can be matched against the more recent words of Bush and his senior advisers.

If Bush has lied about that pre-war history as a way to justify his actions – especially after the WMD rationale collapsed – it follows that he shouldn’t be trusted on much of anything about the war. That’s especially true when contemporaneous records contradict his version of the facts.

British Memo

This question of Bush’s honesty is newsworthy again because a leaked “secret” Downing Street memo asserts that by July 2002, Bush effectively had decided to go to war, which belies his repeated claim that he was still eagerly pursuing peace.

The memo, published by the London Sunday Times, recounts a meeting on July 23, 2002, between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security advisers. At the meeting, Richard Dearlove, chief of the British intelligence agency MI6, described his discussions about Iraq with National Security Council officials in Washington.

Dearlove, who is referred to in the memo as “C,” reported, “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

According to Dearlove, “The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

The memo added, “It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force. … The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.”

The British memo corroborates earlier statements from former Bush administration insiders, such as Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, that Bush had long wanted to invade Iraq, a determination that hardened after al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Bush Denials

But Bush and his spokesmen have consistently denied they were set on a course to war, instead blaming Saddam Hussein’s supposed intransigence for leaving Bush no choice but to order the invasion on March 19, 2003.

For instance, responding to the Downing Street memo on May 16, White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected its implication that Bush’s diplomatic initiatives were just a charade to conceal a predetermined plan for an invasion.

“The president of the United States, in a very public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner,” McClellan said.

“Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose continued defiance,” McClellan said. “Only then was the decision made, as a last resort, to go into Iraq.”

This claim about Hussein “defiance” has become a staple for Bush and his defenders over the past two years, facing little contradiction from the mainstream U.S. news media. Indeed, this notion that Hussein brought the war on himself by rejecting UN inspections has become almost conventional wisdom in Washington despite the fact that Hussein did let UN inspectors in and gave them free rein of the country.

Bush started the revisionist historical “group think” on July 14, 2003, less than four months after the U.S.-led invasion, when he 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.” [See the White House Web site.]

In following months, Bush would repeat this claim in slightly varied forms. On Jan. 27, 2004, Bush said, “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.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spun the same historical point in an op-ed article in the New York Times on March 19, 2004, the invasion’s first anniversary.

“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.”

“Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the liberation of Iraq,” Rumsfeld wrote.

Real History

But as anyone who followed the Iraq crisis knows, Hussein publicly declared that Iraq had destroyed its WMD and let UN weapons inspectors go wherever they wanted to verify the claim. It was Bush who forced the inspectors to leave so he could press ahead with the invasion.

The UN’s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, wrote in his book, Disarming Iraq, that the final round of UN inspections, launched in November 2002, was progressing well in March 2003 with full Iraqi cooperation.

“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.  [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Reality on the Ballot.”]

But Bush’s historical revisionism has mesmerized even elite elements of the U.S. news media. During an interview at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004, ABC News anchor Ted Koppel repeated the administration’s spin point in explaining why he thought the invasion was justified.

“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, ‘All right, UN, come on in, check it out,” Koppel told Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”

Reality no longer seemed to make much difference even for prominent figures in the mainstream news media. During the campaign, Bush also continued to misrepresent the pre-war facts.

“I went there [the United Nations] hoping that once and for all the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to listen to our demands,” Bush said during the presidential debate on Sept. 30, 2004. “They [the Security Council] passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I believe when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.

“But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he [Hussein] was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn’t going to work. That’s kind of a pre-Sept. 10 mentality, the hope that somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more peaceful place.”

All Wrong

Virtually every point in this war justification from Bush was wrong. Whether or not Hussein had an “intention” to disarm, the reality was that he had disarmed. Rather than the UN resolutions having no consequence, they apparently achieved their goal of a WMD-free Iraq. Rather than clueless UN inspectors duped by Hussein, the inspectors were not finding WMD because the stockpiles weren’t there. Bush’s post-invasion inspection team didn't find WMD either.

Despite the importance of the setting for Bush’s comments – a presidential debate – most news outlets did little or no fact-checking. In the middle of one article, the Washington Post did mention Bush’s dubious assertion about Hussein having “no intention of disarming.” The Post noted that “Iraq asserted in its filing with the United Nations in December 2002 that it had no such weapons, and none has been found.” [Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2004]

But overall, the U.S. news media continued to look the other way on Bush’s distortion of the historical record.

Even now, facing the leaked Downing Street memo, the White House apparently remains confident that it simply can deny the facts.

No objective observer, however, could look at the known facts, match them against Bush’s historical claims, and conclude anything other than that Bush is lying, that he is consciously deceiving the American people.

One also might draw a secondary conclusion: that Bush is sure he can get away with lying because neither his defenders nor the mainstream U.S. media will call him to account.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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