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Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another

Ephesians 4:25


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By Dan Froomkin | Huffington Post | Nov. 23, 2010

WASHINGTON -- These days, when we think of George W. Bush, we think mostly of what a horrible mess he made of the economy. But his even more tragic legacy is the loss of our moral authority, and the transformation of the United States of America from global champion of human rights into an outlaw nation.

History is likely to judge Bush most harshly for two things in particular: Launching a war against a country that had not attacked us, and approving the use of cruel and inhumane interrogation techniques.

And that's why the two most essential lies -- among the many -- in his new memoir are that he had a legitimate reason to invade Iraq, and that he had a legitimate reason to torture detainees.

Neither is remotely true. But Bush must figure that if he keeps making the case for himself -- particularly if it goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as it has thus far -- then perhaps he can blunt history's verdict.

It may even be working. Extrapolating from the response to the book, former vice president Dick Cheney on Tuesday told a crowd gathered for Bush's presidential library groundbreaking in Dallas that "judgments are a little more measured than they were" and that "history is coming around."

The 'Decision' to Go to War

In "Decision Points," Bush describes the invasion of Iraq as something he came to support only reluctantly and after a long period of reflection. This is a flat-out lie. Anyone who paid any attention to the news at the time knew Bush was dead-set on war long before he sent in the troops in March 2003. And there is now an abundant amount of documentation, in the form of leaks, unclassified memos, witness interviews and other people's memoirs to prove it.

The historical record clearly shows that Bush had long harbored a desire to strike out at Saddam Hussein, was trying to link Iraq to 9/11 within a day of the terrorist attacks, and finally found the excuse he was looking for in skewed intelligence about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The only real question is whether he actively deceived the American public and the world -- or whether he was so passionate about selling the public on the war that he intentionally blinded himself to how brazenly Vice President Cheney had politicized and abused the intelligence process.

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Bush repeatedly insists in his memoir that he tried to avoid war. He describes his preferred approach to Iraq as "coercive diplomacy" and tries to explain away the military planning, the troop movements and the constant saber-rattling as being intended primarily to scare Saddam into "disarming". He even tries to retroactively justify one of his notoriously long vacations by suggesting that he needed the time to think. "I spent much of August 2002 in Crawford, a good place to reflect on the next decision I faced: how to move forward on the diplomatic track," he writes.

In an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer aired on Nov. 8, Bush declared, "I gave diplomacy every chance to work." But as David Corn put it ever so succinctly on Politics Daily, that is a "super-sized whopper." U.N. weapons inspectors had found nothing and were getting more cooperation from the Iraqi government just prior to the invasion. And Corn offered up one particularly telling anecdote from the book he co-authored, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War": On May 1, 2002 -- almost a year prior to the invasion -- Bush told press secretary Ari Fleischer of Saddam, "I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast."

Bush writes in his memoir that the idea of attacking Iraq came up at a meeting of his national security team at Camp David, four days after the 9/11 attacks. By his account, it was then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who "suggested that we consider confronting Iraq as well as the Taliban." Bush writes that he eventually decided that "[u]nless I received definitive evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 plot I would work to resolve the Iraq problem diplomatically."

But that's a hugely disingenuous version of events. It didn't take Wolfowitz and four days after 9/11 for the idea of attacking Iraq to occur to Bush. As the 9/11 Commission report documented: "President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam Hussein's regime might have had a hand in it."

In the first tell-all book from inside Bush's national security team, Richard A. Clarke wrote in 2004 of a meeting he had with Bush the day after 9/11:

The president in a very intimidating way left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office....

I think they had a plan from day one they wanted to do something about Iraq. While the World Trade Center was still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies out, people in the White House were thinking: 'Ah! This gives us the opportunity we have been looking for to go after Iraq.'

Clarke notes that the following day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained in a meeting that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that the U.S. should consider bombing Iraq, which had better targets.

At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was serious and the President did not reject out of hand the idea of attacking Iraq. Instead, he noted that what we needed to do with Iraq was to change the government, not just hit it with more cruise missiles, as Rumsfeld had implied.

Just over two months later, on Nov. 21, 2001, Bush formally instructed Rumsfeld that he wanted to develop a plan for war in Iraq. Sixteen months after that, in March 2003, the invasion began.

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In the period during which Bush claims he was wringing his hands about whether or not to attack, he and his aides were instead intensely focused on building the public case for what was, in their minds, an inevitability.

The first concrete bits of evidence to that effect were the Downing Street Memos, first published in May 1, 2005, which documented the conclusions of British officials after high-level talks in Washington in July 2002:

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.

And just recently, the independent National Security Archives completed a major analysis of the historical record, including a new trove of formerly secret records of both the Bush administration and the British cabinet of Tony Blair. John Prados, co-director of the archives' Iraq Documentation Project, summed up their findings this way: "The more we learn about how the Iraq War began the worse the story gets."

Prados wrote that the cumulative record clearly "demonstrates that the Bush administration swiftly abandoned plans for diplomacy to curb fancied Iraqi adventurism by means of sanctions, never had a plan subsequent to that except for a military solution, and enmeshed British allies in a manipulation of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic designed to generate support for a war."

That's right: There never was another plan. And therefore -- ironically enough, considering the title of Bush's book -- there never was an actual "decision point" either. There were some debates about how to invade Iraq, and when, but not if.

Prados writes:

In contrast to an extensive record of planning for actual military operations, there is no record that President George W. Bush ever made a considered decision for war. All of the numerous White House and Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward, not whether a march into conflict was a proper course for the United States and its allies. Deliberations were instrumental to furthering the war project, not considerations of the basic course.

Former CIA director George Tenet admitted as much in his own memoir, in 2007. "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," he wrote, nor "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

And in June 2008, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller described the conclusions of his committee's exhaustive report on the Bush administration's public statements regarding Iraq:

Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence. In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.

It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.

There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.

It was, in short, a propaganda campaign. As former Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his revelatory 2008 memoir, Bush's advisors "decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.... A pro-war campaign might have been more acceptable had it been accompanied by a high level of candor and honesty, but it was not."

And as Jonathan Landay wrote for Knight Ridder in 2005, the materials that had become public to date demonstrated "that the White House followed a pattern of using questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be forgeries, to support its case -- often leaking classified information to receptive journalists -- and dismissing information that undermined the case for war."

That's what made Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of the Valerie Plame case so essential. It promised a public view into the heart of the administration's dirty tricks department -- and a chance to find out once and for all who the mastermind was. But Cheney aide Scooter Libby's lies stymied Fitzgerald, and we never found out for sure -- even though the signs pointed pretty clearly to Libby's boss.

Even if Cheney was the driving force behind the war campaign's deceptions, however, Bush was undeniably the chief cheerleader.

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Precisely to what extent pressure from the White House was responsible for the intelligence community's totally inaccurate assessment of Iraq's WMDs remains unclear. Bush's own WMD commission, not surprisingly, gave him a pass in their final report. But there was no doubt the community knew what its chief customers wanted to hear, and gave it to them.

Even so, the intelligence did not support Bush's insistence at the time that those weapons posed an imminent threat.

Paul R. Pillar, the intelligence community's former senior analyst for the Middle East, wrote in 2006 that it was only through the overt, intentional misreading, cherry-picking and politicization of intelligence findings that the case could be made for war:

If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war - or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar US intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important US policy decisions in recent decades.

Intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive Bush's decision to go to war, Pillar continued:

A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors.

For Bush, the intelligence findings Cheney and others were feeding him -- and the media -- were not factors that needed to be weighed carefully as part of a decision-making process. There was no decision-making process. The intelligence findings were simply elements of a sales campaign.

The one time Bush is recorded as having pushed back at the intelligence at all was in the famous late 2002 Oval Office scene with Tenet. However, contrary to popular mythology, Bush's concern was manifestly not about the intelligence itself, but about its marketing potential.

When Tenet exclaimed "It's a slam dunk case!" it was in the context of the case to be made to the public.

In the memoir, Bush himself recalls having declared: "Surely we can do a better job of explaining the evidence against Saddam."

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Bush writes in the memoir: "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."

But as David Corn also points out Bush famously treated the missing WMDs like a big joke at a March 2004 press dinner. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he said as he narrated a slideshow of pictures of him looking out his window and under his furniture.

And Bush of course never actually tells us who he's angry at, or what exactly sickened him. He's certainly not willing to say that he was angry at himself, or that going to war was a sickening mistake.

LAUER: Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?

BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision, and I don't believe it was a wrong decision.

In fact, despite everything, Bush continues to indulge in the same unfounded rhetoric to this day"For all the difficulties that followed, America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD and supporting terror at the heart of the Middle East," he writes.

And the cherry-picking of the intelligence continues, as well. As Walter Pincus wrote on Monday (in a story the Washington Post buried on page A29), the book "makes selective use" of a Jan. 27, 2003, report to the U.N. Security Council by chief inspector Hans Blix, "citing elements that support the idea that Hussein was not cooperating and leaving out parts that indicate his government was. More to the point, however, Bush fails to mention two subsequent Blix pre-invasion reports in February and early March, weeks before U.S. bombs struck Baghdad. Those show Iraq cooperating with inspectors and the inspectors finding no significant evidence that Hussein was hiding WMD programs."

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