consortiumnews.com

Bush's Rewriting of History

By Robert Parry
November 16, 2005

For decades, the well-connected Bush family has been treated like a kind of American royalty in which a petulant king or prince can stamp a foot and insist that whatever the evidence says the truth is otherwise. Their subjects are expected to bow in acquiescence, while dissenters can expect a good thrashing.

George H.W. Bush did this during the early Iran-Contra scandal, insisting he was “not in the loop” despite extensive evidence that his vice presidential office was a hub for the secret operations in both Central America and the Middle East. Rep. Lee Hamilton and other bipartisan-seeking Democrats gently let Bush off the hook in the congressional Iran-Contra report, clearing him for the 1988 presidential election.

When Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh finally broke through the Bush cover-up in 1992, Walsh was pilloried across Washington as a crazy old man, a Captain Ahab pursuing the White Whale. George Bush Sr. then destroyed Walsh’s investigation by pardoning six Iran-Contra defendants in December 1992. [For details see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Now Bush’s eldest son, George W. Bush, is turning to this tried-and-true family tactic to extricate himself from his own web of lies and distortions about the Iraq War. In a Veterans Day speech on Nov. 11, Bush accused those who question his alleged misuse of pre-war intelligence of being the real guilty ones who have distorted the facts.

“It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began,” Bush scolded his critics. “These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will.”

New Lies

In essence, Bush’s argument is that he didn’t lie the nation into war; he and his top aides were just misled by the same faulty intelligence that Congress saw. Plus, they say independent commissions already have cleared Bush of hyping the evidence.

However, as a Washington Post analysis politely observed in response to those two arguments, “neither assertion is wholly accurate.”

The White House sees far more detailed intelligence than what is shared with Congress, which found itself depending on a CIA-compiled National Intelligence Estimate that downplayed or left out objections to key pro-war assertions, the Post wrote.

The Post article also noted that neither the Senate Intelligence Committee nor a Bush-appointed commission, headed by retired Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb, gave much attention to how the intelligence was used – or misused – addressing instead how it was produced. [Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2005]

The Senate committee has balked at a promised second study that was to focus on whether policymakers compounded the faulty intelligence by cherry-picking the most alarmist information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. For its part, the Silberman-Robb commission’s charter excluded a probe into possible misuse of the Iraq intelligence by policymakers, so no conclusion on Bush’s behavior was reached.

Indeed, the latest attack from Bush and his top advisers on people demanding answers about pre-war deceptions looks a lot like déjà vu, a continuation of the long pattern of distortion and intimidation that has marked the U.S. trail into the Iraq quagmire.

Yet, what may be most stunning is Bush’s chutzpah in insisting that he’s the innocent victim here. He portrays himself first as the victim of the CIA’s faulty pre-war intelligence and now as the victim of reckless accusations that he helped cook the final intelligence product before it was fed to the public.

Proof of Lying

At Consortiumnews.com, we questioned Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMD in 2002 as well as the wishful thinking underlying his invasion strategy in 2003. [See, for instance, “Misleading the Nation to War” and “Bay of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down.”]

But we also have noted that perhaps the strongest evidence of Bush’s proclivity to lie about Iraq came after the invasion, when he began falsifying the record – rewriting history – with claims that Saddam Hussein had barred U.N. weapons inspectors from entering Iraq. Hussein’s “defiance” supposedly left Bush no choice but to invade.

So, while it may be impossible to divine whether Bush really believed that Hussein had WMD stockpiles, it is undeniable that Bush knew that his assertion about Hussein barring U.N. inspectors was false. The inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002 and remained until they were forced out by Bush in March 2003 to let the invasion proceed.

Yet, despite this well-known historical record, Bush began altering the history within a few months of the invasion, just as his other claims about Iraq’s WMD programs and its collaboration with al-Qaeda terrorists were falling apart.

On July 14, 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.”

In the following months, Bush and his senior advisers repeated 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.” [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com's "President Bush, With the Candlestick..."]

Bush’s revisionist history sought to make him look like the reasonable one provoked into unavoidable action. The president also must have been confident that none of the journalists who heard his remarks would dare challenge him – and he was right. Because of that, many Americans might still hold the false impression that Hussein’s rejection of U.N. inspections had forced Bush’s hand.

The significance of this provable lie to the other Iraq War falsehoods is that it demonstrates Bush’s intent to deceive. The “Saddam-did-not-let-us-in” lie also shows that Bush’s response to getting caught in one deception – failing to find the WMD stockpiles, for instance – seems to lead him to start a new set of lies.

That duplicitous pattern appears to be repeating itself now as members of Congress from both parties have begun to agitate for a serious review of whether the administration misused pre-war intelligence,

Pouting Prince

But can the foot-stomping prince prevail again this time? 

Bush appears to be counting on the powerful right-wing media and his allies in the mainstream press to browbeat anyone who doesn’t kneel before Bush’s version of reality, a strategy that worked wonders in 2002-2003.

Unlike his father who delayed a war resolution on Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait until after congressional elections, George Bush Jr. forced a vote in the weeks before the 2002 elections. The timing permitted Republicans to paint hesitant Democrats as unpatriotic.

Even war veterans like Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee from the Vietnam War, were portrayed as lacking concern for U.S. national security. In one stump speech, Bush lashed out at the then-Democratic-controlled Senate as “not interested in the security of the American people.”

Prominent Iraq War critics drew particular rage from Bush loyalists. One whipping boy was former Vice President Al Gore, who was lashed by Republicans and national columnists after he delivered a detailed critique of Bush’s new doctrine of “preemptive war.”

Though many of Gore’s warnings about the risks of the so-called Bush Doctrine now sound prescient, Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke denounced Gore as a “political hack.”

Anti-Gore commentaries filled the Op-Ed columns of the Washington Post. Charles Krauthammer called Gore’s speech “a disgrace – a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence.”

Another Post columnist Michael Kelly called Gore’s speech “dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts – bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Politics of Preemption.”]

The Treatment

A similar treatment awaited anyone – celebrities, bureaucrats, even longtime U.S. allies – who questioned Bush’s case for war.

Egged on by pro-Bush radio hosts, right-wing activists drove trucks over Dixie Chicks CDs because one of the singers had criticized the nation's leader. Other conservatives poured French wine into gutters because France cautioned against rushing into Iraq. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter was demeaned as a traitor for doubting Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMD.

Amid this war fever, some networks denied war opponents any meaningful access to TV audiences. Trying to reposition itself as staunchly patriotic, MSNBC canceled Phil Donahue’s show which had regularly included war critics in its discussions. By contrast, MSNBC gave a full day of on-scene coverage to a diner renaming “French fries” as “Freedom fries.”

Throughout these months of war hysteria, Bush never urged his supporters to show respect for dissenting opinions or to weigh all sides in a debate. Obviously, if Bush had truly wanted a thorough vetting of the Iraq WMD intelligence, he would have invited more skepticism from knowledgeable people, not less.

As Karl Rove and other Bush political aides slammed the door on critical opinions, the drive for war took on the unmistakable look of a no-holds-barred political campaign.

Even today, the strategy of destroying messengers who deliver unwanted criticism continues. That has been the approach taken against former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for questioning Bush’s use of a discredited claim about Iraq seeking enriched uranium from the African nation of Niger.

Instead of simply admitting that Wilson had a point about the bogus Niger claims, senior White House aides Rove and Lewis Libby went on the offensive against Wilson, spreading derogatory information which led to the outing of Wilson’s wife as a covert CIA officer in a Robert Novak column on July 14, 2003. Libby was later indicted for trying to cover up his role in smearing the Wilsons.

Despite this ugly history, Joe Wilson is still denounced on right-wing talk radio by hosts who treat him with the disdain previously reserved for the likes of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. The RNC has issued talking points that twist language and logic to portray Wilson, not Bush, as the dissembler on the Niger case. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush Family Tradition: Ducking Scandal.”]

The Attack Dogs

As with the assaults on pre-war dissent, Bush has never called off the dogs on Wilson, leaving the impression that he may have been part of the conspiracy to unleash the attack dogs in the first place.

Snarling at dissenters seems to be a recurring tactic, too. In recent days, right-wing pundits have picked up the president’s growling accusations about how his enemies are the ones who have committed the sin of rewriting history.

Only this time, the outcome of the political battle does not appear as certain as it did in late 2002 and early 2003. Then almost no one in the Washington Establishment dared to challenge Bush, who was at the apex of his power.

Now, with Bush’s public approval dipping into the mid-30s, even the timid mainstream news media is questioning his Veterans Day outburst. For instance, the New York Times, which trumpeted many of the administration’s bogus WMD claims in the run-up to war, offered a feistier response to Bush’s latest lament.

Noting how Bush condemned people who rewrite history, a Times editorial said, “we agree, but it is Bush and his team who are rewriting history.” [NYT, Nov. 15, 2005]

The next several weeks may show the residual power of Bush’s political and media machines. Able to reach the faithful continuously through TV, radio, print and the Internet, the conservatives have a huge advantage over their liberal rivals.

However, if the White House can’t rally the faithful – and bully the doubters – Bush may soon face the start of his presidency’s end game.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest 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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