A year ago, the United States went to war, although Iraq was not an imminent threat and had no nuclear weapons, no persuasive link to Al Qaeda, no connection to the September 11 terrorist attacks and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. In the months leading up to war, President George W. Bush failed to keep the fundamental bond of trust between the American people and the President by misusing the facts in the push toward war and depriving citizens of an honest debate on the wisdom of that war. The Bush Administration has broken faith with the American people, who expect their Presidents to give them all the facts–not just the convenient ones–as the nation decides on war.
In few election years have voters faced a more important choice than in 2004. When they go to the polls in November, they will be offered not only competing candidates but also fundamentally differing visions of how, when and why America will send its sons and daughters into danger.
Aided and abetted by the Republican majority in Congress, President Bush imposed his agenda on America and the world. In its disrespect for the United Nations and the world community, the Administration squandered the immense good will that other nations extended to our country after the terrorist attacks and that continued strong throughout the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The debacle cannot all be blamed on flawed intelligence. Numerous specific warnings from the intelligence community were ignored as the Administration looked at the facts through ideological blinders rather than sound analysis. Greg Thielmann, a former senior State Department intelligence officer, placed most of the fault on “the way senior officials misused the information they were provided.” He said, “They surveyed the data and picked out what they liked.” What happened was not merely a failure of intelligence; it was the result of manipulation of intelligence and selective use of questionable intelligence to justify a decision already made. Saddam was an evil dictator, but he was not an imminent threat, and he was not connected to 9/11. David Kay’s exhaustive postwar inspections leave little doubt that Saddam was not close to a nuclear capability and had no weapons of mass destruction at the time the war began.
President Bush and his advisers should have presented their case honestly, so that Congress and the American people could have engaged in the debate our democracy is owed, above all when the issue is war or peace. But Karl Rove convinced the White House that war could bring advantage in the 2002 Congressional elections, saying Republicans could “go to the country” on the war on terrorism.
Election politics trumped foreign policy and national security. As the campaign season entered its final stages, Administration officials appeared repeatedly in public making a case for a war unsupported by the facts. In late August, Vice President Cheney told Americans, “Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” From the Rose Garden in October, President Bush called Iraq “a gathering threat to the security of America and to the future of peace” and said that the Iraqi regime was “a threat of unique urgency.” Numerous other statements were orchestrated to alarm the public by emphasizing the danger of a nuclear Saddam and his ties to Al Qaeda, although the statements had no basis in fact.
The Administration insisted that Congress vote to authorize the war before it adjourned for the November elections, knowing that a debate on Iraq would distract voters’ attention from the troubled economy and the troubled effort to capture Osama bin Laden. These scare tactics worked. Republicans in Congress voted almost unanimously for war and kept control of the House. Democrats were deeply divided and narrowly lost their majority in the Senate. A Republican White House now had solid control of both houses of Congress for the first time in half a century.