Call me naive. But I still am occasionally surprised that George W. Bush keeps getting away with his dog-ate-my-homework presidency. The latest example was his press conference a few days ago, his first since March.
The headlines focused on Bush accepting responsibility for the dubious sentence in his state of the union speech, in which he reported that Saddam Hussein (according to the Brits) had been shopping for uranium in Africa. But at the press conference, Bush said nothing about how that line had made it into his speech–whether it had been inserted because his aides were so eager to make a case for war that they were willing to exploit unconfirmed information the CIA had opposed using. Bush quickly shifted to hailing his decision to go to war against Hussein.
During the press conference, Bush several times uttered the most disingenuous statements to defend the war. These were remarks that cannot withstand scrutiny. But it’s good to be king (or president). You don’t get laughed out of the room–or a rose garden–no matter what you say. Here are three examples:
Question: Saddam Hussein’s alleged ties to al Qaeda were a key part of your justification for war. Yet, your own intelligence report, the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], defined it as–quote “low confidence that Saddam would give weapons to al Qaeda.” Were those links exaggerated to justify war? Or can you finally offer us some definitive evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda terrorists?
Bush: Yes, I think, first of all, remember I just said we’ve been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there’s this kind of instant–instant news and you must have done this, you must do that yesterday, that there’s a level of frustration by some in the media. I’m not suggesting you’re frustrated. You don’t look frustrated to me at all. But it’s going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.
Hold on. The question was not what new evidence Bush had to back up his previous allegations. The question was whether those earlier allegations had been supported by any evidence when Bush was using them to rally popular support for war. For months prior to the invasion, Bush repeatedly charged that Saddam Hussein was directly in cahoots with al Qaeda. That was supposedly why the Iraqi dictator could be considered a direct and imminent threat to the United States. In November 2002, Bush claimed that Hussein was “dealing with” al Qaeda. In February 2003, he said that Hussein was “harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner.” Days before the invasion, Dick Cheney cited Hussein’s “long-standing relationship” with al Qaeda.