Is there some deadline approaching, after which Bush administration officials have to engage in honest debate? It seems as if there has been a rash of misleading, deceptive, and disingenuous remarks coming from on high in recent days. The gang at “Capital Games” has been working overtime to keep up with the truth-bending of the president, the vice president, the defense secretary, and the deputy defense secretary. (After all, we do have a book coming out in two weeks called The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.) Here is–we fear–a partial report.
Let’s start with Dick Cheney. He appeared on Meet The Press and was asked by host Tim Russert if there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He replied, “Of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we’ve never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.” This was a deceptive answer. Shortly after 9/11, Czech intelligence officials did say they had a report from a source–a single source–that Atta had met with this Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. Subsequent media reports in the United States noted that the source was an Arab student who was not considered particularly reliable. The FBI investigated and found nothing to substantiate the report of the meeting. In fact, the FBI concluded that Atta was most likely in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting, and the CIA questioned the existence of this meeting. (Even if there had been a meeting, one could not tell what it meant unless it was known what was said–and no one, not even Cheney, has claimed to know what might have transpired.)
Moreover, on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel “quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports” of the meeting. And it seemed that Atta had gone to Prague in June 2000, not April 2001. “Now,” the paper noted, “some Czech and German officials say that their best explanation of why Mr. Atta came to Prague was to get a cheap airfare to the United States.”
For some reason, Cheney did not share with the Meet the Press audience the information about Havel’s denial. Nor did he note that U.S. forces had nabbed this Iraqi intelligence official in July and that there has been no word–no leaks–about him confirming the supposed meeting. All in all, the case for the meeting is rather flimsy. But Cheney, as he did a year ago on the same show, pointed to this alleged meeting as a reason to suspect Hussein was in on the 9/11 attacks–which, if true, would justify the U.S. strike against Iraq. Waving the Atta-in-Prague story was an act of mendacious information manipulation, and Russert did not challenge Cheney on it.
Cheney also violated the truth in other exchanges. He declared that two tractor-trailers discovered in northern Iraq were mobile bioweapons labs. That is what the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have stated. But other experts–including the DIA’s own engineering experts–have challenged that conclusion. At best, the purpose of these trucks remains an open question. Cheney refused to acknowledge the case is far from closed.
Cheney claimed that if the U.S. succeeds in Iraq “we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” Huh? What’s the public evidence that any of the 9/11 plotters used Iraq as a “geographic base”? There is none. Afghanistan was the “geographic base” for al Qaeda. Has Cheney forgotten that?
And when Russert asked Cheney about a Congressional Budget Office report that says that the Army “lacks sufficient active-duty forces to maintain its current level of nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq beyond next spring,” Cheney ducked this tough issue, replying that “failure’s not an option.” He did not say whether the Bush administration has an unannounced plan for dealing with this or whether it is simply ignoring the possible crisis ahead.
On the subject of the missing WMD in Iraq, Cheney backpedaled from the administration’s former claims that Iraq possessed conventional weapons: “There’s no doubt in my mind but that Saddam Hussein had these capabilities.” Capabilities? At one point, Bush said Hussein had “massive stockpiles.” Was the war waged over “capabilities” or actual weapons? Asked for evidence to back up his prewar claim that Hussein had “reconstituted” his nuclear weapons program, Cheney cited Hussein’s before-the-war possession of 500 tons of uranium. But this material was the waste-product of a nuclear reactor and could only become suitable for weapons through a sophisticated enrichment process. And there is no evidence that Iraq possessed such technology (though it had sought this sort of equipment in the past).
Cheney added, “To suggest that there is no evidence there [in Iraq] that [Hussein] had no aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, I don’t think is valid.” This is disingenuous. The issue was not Hussein’s “aspirations,” but what he had in hand, what he was developing. Before the war, Cheney claimed Hussein had revived a nuclear weapons program that had been dismantled previously by inspectors. He did not say back then that Hussein merely was yearning for nuclear weapons. And those who said before the war that there was no evidence of any such reconstitution–including the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency–were not so foolish to argue that Hussein had dropped his interest in nukes.
Discussing the widening deficit, Cheney kept up his assault on truthful discourse. Russert asked if the administration would consider freezing the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent of Americans to cover the $87 billion request Bush recently made for operations in Iraq. Cheney answered, “I think it’s a serious mistake; the wrong time to raise taxes.” No, the issue is not raising existing taxes; it is preventing certain tax cuts from kicking in. Big difference. Cheney, though, purposefully (presumably) miscast the terms of the debate to score political points.
There was more in the Cheney interview that can be dissected, but other Bushies deserve their due. Speaking at a National Press Club luncheon last week, Rumsfeld was asked, “On March 30th you said, referring to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, quote, ‘We know where they are.’ Do you know where they are now? Will they be found?” He replied, “In that instance, we had been in the country for about 15 seconds; sometimes I overstate for emphasis….What we had…is a long list of suspect sites. And they were sites that the inspectors had been in the process of looking at when they concluded that the inspection process really wasn’t working, because of lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein’s regime. And I said, ‘We know they’re in that area.’ I should have said, ‘I believe they’re in that area.’..And we were being pressed to find them while the war was still in its earliest, earliest days. And it seemed to me a somewhat unrealistic expectation.”
Rumsfeld was pegging the needle on the duplicity meter. The UN inspectors never concluded that the inspections process wasn’t working. They had identified problems and complained about aspects of the process, presenting mixed reports to the Security Council on their progress and Iraq’s cooperation. And their complaints mostly concerned Iraq’s reluctance to account for past WMD materials, not the lack of access to suspected sites.
Were there, as Rumsfeld now maintains, unrealistic expectations about finding WMDs? During the first week of the war–before he made the comment quoted in the question at the luncheon–Rumsfeld himself declared, “We’re there to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction in that country.” Didn’t that suggest the U.S. military was hell-bent on finding them ASAP? And when he said on March 30–after a weak of fighting–that the administration knew where to find the WMDs, that was yet another signal from the administration that there was no question about the reason for going to war. Before the war, the administration peddled suspicion as fact. Bush and his aides did not say, we think Hussein has weapons. They repeatedly asserted they knew it for a fact. Rumsfeld’s March 30th remark was fully in keeping with the truth-defying rhetoric of the administration, not a verbal slip.
As for his, “sometimes I overstate” remark, that was indeed truthful. Now he tells us.And during the same talk, Rumsfeld said, “I don’t believe it’s our job to reconstruct that country after 30 years of centralized, Stalinist-like economic controls in that country.” Then why is the Bush administration asking U.S. taxpayers for $20 billion for Iraq reconstruction?
Now, we turn to Rumsfeld’s second. In an interview with Associated Press on September 12, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz conceded he had not spoken accurately the previous day when he said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “We know [Iraq] had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with al Qaeda in particular, and we know a great many of bin Laden’s key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq.” Well, Wolfowitz’s many meant one. Speaking to AP, he said he was only referring to a single individual–Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist whom the Bush administration has linked to al Qaeda. But the Zarqawi connection has not been confirmed, and intelligence officials have been repeatedly quoted noting that Zarqawi perhaps maintained ties with al Qaeda but acted independently of Osama bin Laden’s network. In fact, Newsweek reported that Zarqawi might be more of a rival than a partner of al Qaeda.
As for Wolfowitz’s larger claim–that the Bush administration knows that Iraq had a “great deal to do” with al Qaeda–the only significant case the administration has put forward in this regard is based on the iffy Zarqawi link. And former deputy CIA director, Richard Kerr, who is conducting a review of the CIA’s prewar intelligence, has said that the intelligence before the war did not conclusively connect Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. So then how could Wolfowitz have known “a great deal” on the unproven collaboration between Hussein and al Qaeda? As AP notes, “The Bush administration has outlined only limited evidence of Iraqi-al Qaeda contacts before the war, and no conclusive evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda plotted joint terror operations.” Wolfowitz did retract the “many” in his Good Morning America remark, but he did not retreat on his overall–and misleading–assertion about a Hussein-al Qaeda relationship.
Last, but not least, George W. Bush. September is back-to-school time, and Bush hit the road to promote his education policies. During a speech at a Nashville elementary school, he hailed his education record by noting that “the budget for next year boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion. That’s a 26-percent increase since I took office. In other words, we understand that resources need to flow to help solve the problems.” A few things were untrue in these remarks. Bush’s proposed elementary and secondary education budget for next year is $34.9 billion, not $53.1 billion, according to his own Department of Education. It’s his total proposed education budget that is $53.1 billion. More importantly, there is no next-year “boost” in this budget. Elementary and secondary education received $35.8 billion in 2003. Bush’s 2004 budget cuts that back nearly a billion dollars, and the overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level.
Instead of a “boost,” there is the opposite–a decrease. Perhaps like Rumsfeld–and Cheney and Wolfowitz–the president merely was overstating.
COMING SOON: David Corn’s new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book’s official website: www.bushlies.com.