Sometimes the small stuff distracts from the big. At a recent press conference, George W. Bush suggested the White House had nothing to do with the “Mission Accomplished” banner that was hung on the USS Abraham Lincoln for his triumphant May 1 speech declaring major combat operations over in Iraq. Journalists quickly checked, and it turned out the White House had produced the banner. Bush-bashers decried his remark as a shameless lie that sought to shift blame to crewmembers, and White House defenders dismissed the matter as trivial. But during the same press conference, Bush tossed out other truth-challenged statements that were arguably more important than the banner business. But they have drawn little notice.
Bush claimed that he was the first president to advocate a Palestinian state. No, Bill Clinton had done so. (From a January 7, 2001 Clinton speech: “There can be no genuine resolution to the [Middle East] conflict without a sovereign, viable Palestinian state that accommodates Israel’s security requirements and demographic realities.”) And when a reporter asked how Bush could make up the $23 billion gap between the $33 billion pledged for Iraq reconstruction and the estimated $56 billion pricetag for rebuilding, he said “Iraqi oil revenues…coupled with private investments should make up the difference.” Yet Paul Bremer, the head of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, has noted that in the near-term oil industry revenues will cover only the industry’s costs. That is, there will be no oil revenues available to pay for reconstruction. More importantly, in response to a pointed question about the MIA WMDs–“Can you explain…whether you were surprised those weapons haven’t turned up, why they haven’t turned up, and whether you feel that your administration’s credibility has been affected in any way by that?”–Bush countered, “We took action based upon good, solid intelligence.”
Good, solid intelligence–that sounds like a subjective evaluation. But a statement of opinion can be deceptive if it is sufficiently divorced from facts. And a series of postwar findings indicate that Bush was not being truthful when he characterized the prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as “good” and “solid.”
Since the major combat concluded, several official and credible sources have publicly noted that the prewar intelligence on Iraq and its supposed WMDs was neither strong nor reliable.
* In interviews with reporters in July, Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director conducting a review of the CIA’s prewar intelligence, said that intelligence had been somewhat ambiguous. He noted that US intelligence analysts had been forced to rely upon information from the early and mid 1990s and had possessed little hard evidence to evaluate after 1998 (when UN inspectors left Iraq). The material that did come in following that, he said, was mostly “circumstantial or “inferential.” It was “less specific and detailed” than in previous years. Kerr maintained that the CIA analysts had attached the “appropriate caveats” to this “scattered” and less-than-definitive intelligence.