“There’s going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made good calls,” George W. Bush told Meet the Press host Tim Russert in their recent one-on-one. But if Bush has his way, he’s not going to do anything to help the American people–or the global community–assess his credibility before he stands for re-election. The commission he has appointed to review the faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction will not report its findings until March 2005, months after the election. (There are other problems with the commission; it is co-chaired by federal Judge Laurence Silberman, a champion of right-wing activism, and so far it has few members with experience in intelligence matters.) This means there may well be no official body that issues a pre-election judgment on whether Bush and his aides dishonestly overstated Iraq’s WMD threat to whip up public support for an elective war.

Bush’s credibility has become an issue of late. He has not been able to explain his prewar assertions about Iraq’s weapons (or, similarly, his phony budget projections designed to hide massive deficits). And that credibility gap undermines US security. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently noted that the missing WMDs have led to international skepticism concerning US intelligence, and that may make it harder for Washington–or the UN–to win support for necessary actions in the future. “The bar has been raised,” Annan warned. “People are going to be very suspicious when we try to use intelligence to justify certain actions.” Testifying in Congress, Margaret Tutwiler, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, said that America’s image abroad has become so tarnished in recent years that “it will take us many years of hard, focused work” to refurbish it.

But Bush isn’t engaging in that sort of hard work. He refuses to demand accountability at the CIA or to acknowledge, as David Corn notes on page 13, that he and his aides turned flawed intelligence into disinformation. Instead, even as new examples of falsifications come to light–the most recent being the White House acknowledgment that Bush’s statement in his 2002 State of the Union address that “we have found” diagrams of US nuclear power plants and other facilities in Afghanistan had no basis in fact–he continues to hide behind disingenuous remarks. On Meet the Press, he said WMDs might have been hidden, destroyed or shipped out of the country. But David Kay, the recently resigned weapons hunter, concluded that Saddam had no significant WMD production programs and that there were no WMD stockpiles to be moved or demolished. Bush also insisted–yet again–that Saddam had been a “gathering threat.” But if Iraq was not producing or amassing WMDs, what was so “gathering” about this “threat”? Kay noted that the UN inspections had done a good job of containing Saddam.

Bush says he has nothing to explain. Sure, he appointed a commission, but he claims its main task will be to examine intelligence on unconventional weapons worldwide. There is no assurance it will look at how Bush used–or abused–the intelligence.

Let’s not politicize all this, Bush defenders cry. But what can be a more important issue in the 2004 election than whether the incumbent misled the nation into war? The WMD scandal illuminates what is most wrong with the Bush Administration: dishonesty, recklessness, arrogance and extremism. Between now and the election, the American people will decide whether they’re willing to live with the dangerous consequences of his duplicity.