All the President's Lies

In recent weeks, the press and some Democrats have finally taken up a critical White House deception about Iraq and uranium. What took them so long? And what about all the other lies?

It seems a long time ago now, but May 1 was a big day for the president--Victory in Iraq Day, even though he could not say so officially without putting U.S. occupation forces on the wrong side of still more international laws. But the occasion was designed with all the martial preening of a victory celebration and then some. The White House announced that Bush would close the day by delivering an address to the world from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln just off the coast of San Diego. And he would arrive on board in a Navy Viking jet.

This bit of gaudy theatrics was attributed to the president's desire to avoid a post-docking ceremony that would delay the sailors' homecoming. Afterward, when someone pointed out to Ari Fleischer that the carrier was within helicopter range of shore when W made his fighter-jet entrance, Fleischer essentially shrugged and said, The president really wanted to ride in that plane. According to the Washington Post, Bush also took a course of "underwater survival training" in the White House swimming pool to prepare for his odyssey.

That afternoon the president's plane broke through the clouds and glided to a tailhook landing with the whole country watching on television. Bush, grinning like a kid who got a real F-18 for Christmas, emerged in a camouflage flight suit and gave a thumbs-up to the cameras. But if it looked at first like the sequel to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, there was also more than a whiff of Triumph of the Will in that Flight of the Valkyries entrance, especially with Karl Rove's own film crew on hand to shoot the opening scenes of the Campaign 2004 biopic.

Then Bush swapped the jumpsuit for a business suit and ran an exultant rhetorical victory lap, during the course of which he proffered boast after boast that happened to be untrue. The shooting war is over and we won... We've defeated an ally of al Qaeda... The Iraqi people are liberated... We are rebuilding Iraq... We are in control of events in Iraq... Iraqis are celebrating the U.S. presence... We don't do business with countries that harbor terrorists...

Not only were these contentions false; they were already known to be so by anyone who had made a point of keeping up with the international English-language press, including a growing though still small number of internet-prowling Americans. The administration's May Day pageant was strictly for the undifferentiated mass of folks at home, that majority of Americans who had gotten their news from TV and later told pollsters that Saddam was behind 9/11 (70 percent), or we'd already found WMDs in Iraq (33 percent). Needless to say, misapprehensions like these were not failures of the Bush information plan, but successes.

But now the extent and gravity of the White House's lies are beginning to look manifest even on television. One regular guest on the news-chat circuit, former Nixon counsel and jailed Watergate conspirator John Dean, recently wrote, "In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.... To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be 'a high crime' under the Constitution's impeachment clause."

All very compelling, except for one thing. With the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, who's going to impeach him?

 

Lately the American press has demonstrated uncharacteristic spunk, dating to the White House's early July admission that the State of the Union uranium claim was false. The very first question--when did they learn this?--opened the floodgates, and incriminating details began swirling around Bush and Tony Blair alike. Before last week's triumphal shootout with Saddam's sons stole back the headlines for a day, the Bush gang had faced nearly three solid weeks of embarrassing revelations. Signs of open derision sprouted in the American press corps for the first time since September 2001. The heat on both sides of the Atlantic grew so intense that David Kelly, a member of Blair's intel staff and the source of a BBC report that Blair pressured his people to doctor intelligence, apparently killed himself.

Contrary to appearances, this is not some great spasm of reportorial enterprise we're witnessing. It is a window on the latest front in the administration's wars: the CIA versus George W. Bush et al. Every embarrassing leak to emerge so far has the Agency's fingerprints all over it; most involve matters only the CIA and the White House would know about. The White House humiliated the CIA in numerous ways while building Bush's case for war--ignoring the advice of its analysts, pressuring director George Tenet to sign off on the uranium claim when he had already stricken it from another Bush speech three months earlier, sticking him with the blame when the lie was exposed, and later, in a bit of blatant illegality, outing an undercover CIA agent--and now it's time for the Agency to settle a few accounts.

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