What Impressed Me This Week: 935 Lies
Now, the charge that Bush, Cheney & Associates lied us into the Iraq War is not new. There are at least three standard responses to it:
- Outrage. I've seen Bill O'Reilly do this more than once. Merely saying out loud that Bush lied marks you as such a rabid partisan that you're not worth listening to. Somebody who plays the outrage card right never has to look at the evidence at all.
- Complete Denial. There's no way to discuss the evidence without admitting that administration officials said a lot of things that turned out not to be true. But the complete deniers say that those were all honest mistakes; the real fault lies with the CIA, which was giving the White House bad intelligence. Complete deniers usually point to similar statements by Clinton officials, or by the Germans or the French. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino (starting at about the 3 minute mark in this video) said this about the "flaws" in the CPI study: "They only looked at members of the administration rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world. Because as you remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence."
- Partial Denial. Pro-war pundits and bloggers sometimes admit that a certain amount of deception was at work, but say that the cheerleading for the invasion was merely "spin" -- the kind of deception that is routine in Washington, not nearly rising to the level of "lies." And they're this close to being right: Bush frequently implied false statements without actually saying them -- like all the times when he put "Saddam" and "9-11" in the same sentence without directly saying that they were linked. "I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America," Bush said on March 20, 2006. When you think about it, that was an unintentional confession. Honest people don't have to be "very careful" not to say something they know is false. But you do have to be "very careful" if you want to put a false idea into someone's head without actually saying it.
What the intelligence services were saying before the invasion boils down to this: Saddam had poison gas in the early 90s and used it against the Kurds. He claimed to have gotten rid of it, but no one could verify that claim. Iraqi defectors with an ax to grind against Saddam told stories about other weapons programs, but the CIA did not consider them reliable sources. (That didn't stop Colin Powell from quoting them to the UN, saying: "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.") Saddam supported Palestinian terrorists, but he and Al Qaeda had different objectives and we could find no reliable evidence of a working relationship between them. Stories of attempts to import material for a nuclear program popped up occasionally: Some of them had been shown to be false, like the report of a uranium buy in Niger. Others, like the aluminum tubes, were hotly debated within our intelligence community; some experts (who ultimately proved to be correct) argued that the tubes weren't suitable for a nuclear program and had other uses. There was no evidence whatever that Saddam was planning an attack against the United States.
On June 11, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld said:
I was asked a question about Iraq announcing the day before that they do not have weapons of mass destruction, and they asked me what I thought about that. I said "That's a lie," and I may have said even that "That's a world-class lie."
Now that's true; it is a lie. They do have weapons of mass destruction. They've used chemical weapons on their people, they have had an aggressive program to develop nuclear weapons, and there is no question that they are developing biological weapons. Now why did I say that? I said that because it is true. The truth has a certain virtue, it seems to me.
The coolest feature of the CPI's report is the searchable database of administration statements, false or otherwise. I searched the false statements for the phrase "no doubt" and got 17 hits. And that, I think, is the meta-lie of the whole propaganda campaign: that our intelligence about Iraq ever provided the kind of certainty our government should demand before it starts shooting people.
Here's what I do know: In August Congress passed the Protect America Act (love those names), which amended FISA to increase the President's power to spy. I was at the YearlyKos convention when this happened, and it was widely perceived there as a betrayal by the Democrats in Congress. The Democrats did manage to put a six-month sunset on the bill and promised to undo the worst of it. Instead, six months later, we're looking at a bill that not only makes the August concessions permanent, but also includes amnesty for the telecom companies who helped the administration illegally spy on American citizens without a warrant. (If that characterization is unfair, then there's no need for amnesty.)
Last week, Harry Reid seemed to be doing everything he could to carry water for the administration while appearing not to. He brought the administration's version of bill to the floor rather than an alternative that didn't have the amnesty provision, under rules that made it hard to amend. It looked like another Democratic capitulation was inevitable.
And then on Thursday, the Republicans apparently upped the ante. They did some further maneuvering to impede the passage of the bill, presumably so that President Bush could use Congress' inaction as an issue in the State of the Union address tonight. The Democrats seem to have had a reaction of "How dare you refuse to accept our surrender?" It looks like they got annoyed. There's an important vote later this afternoon about sustaining Senator Dodd's filibuster. If there aren't 60 votes to close off debate, the Senate will be all but forced to pass another temporary extension that doesn't include amnesty.
President Bush has threatened to veto such an extension, but that's a little like the scene in Blazing Saddles where the sheriff faces down a mob by taking himself hostage. Bush has been telling us for months that we're all going to die if his spying powers are allowed to lapse. He'll look ridiculous if he vetoes them.
Anyway, that's as clear as I can make it. Glenn Greenwald has more detail. The best place to keep up with events on this issue is on the FireDogLake blog.
BTW: Glenn points out an important piece of the spin war on this issue: Republicans are trying to push the false idea that FISA itself is expiring on February 1. It isn't. Only the extensions to FISA that got made in August are expiring. So if you're listening to the news and you hear something about FISA expiring, you know that you're listening to a lazy reporter who'd rather push administration spin than look up the facts.
The Obama campaign has done a good job of building momentum since then with high-profile endorsements. As I write this, Ted Kennedy is endorsing Obama and appears willing to campaign extensively for him. In Sunday's New York Times, Caroline Kennedy gave Obama the highest praise she can bestow: A President Like My Father. And an endorsement that is very interesting to political wonks like me is apparently coming from Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius after she's done giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union. Sebelius is a fascinating character. She's made Kansas a two-party state again by taking advantage of the disillusionment of moderate Kansas Republicans. In both of her elections, she ran with a former Republican as her lieutenant governor -- two different ones.
Now, when it comes down to Obama vs. Clinton, I'm rooting for Obama. But we need to remember that all this sturm and drang is an artifact of the campaign. Before you vote, try to put all the who-did-what-to-who out of your mind and think about who you want to be president.
On the Republican side, it looks to me like Romney is going to catch McCain in Florida, and from there who knows? Huckabee had a chance to expand his appeal in a populist direction, but it hasn't worked: He's the evangelical candidate and nothing more. Giuliani has run maybe the worst campaign of modern times, so unless the McCain and Romney campaign planes collide in mid-air, it's over for him.
Studying the exit polls, I've concluded that Romney has re-assembled the voters who elected Bush. If you think Bush basically had the right policies, but you're looking for somebody to execute and communicate them better -- then you're for Romney. Among Republicans, that's probably a majority. But I think it will result in a Democratic landslide in November.