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?

But if the tone of media reports and of political chatter has changed dramatically this month, it still leaves the past year to account for, all the months of numb collaboration in whatever the Bush administration chose to say or do to lay the foundations for an invasion. The most striking thing about the present age is not that a White House has lied and overreached itself in pursuit of its aims--hardly unique in the annals of the presidency--but that almost no one seemed to mind. No one who counted, that is; no one in a position to make his or her voice heard.

It's been said that this administration crucifies dissenters, and recent events bear that out. Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose cover was blown recently by Bush officials speaking through columnist Bob Novak, is the wife of former Iraq ambassador Joseph Wilson. It was Wilson who traveled to Africa in 2002 at Dick Cheney's behest. He reported back at the time that the uranium story was bogus, and told the world he'd done so in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month. When Illinois Senator Dick Durbin brought up the Plame affair, the White House charged that he was discussing classified information publicly and tried to ride him off the Senate Intelligence Committee. On a more bizarre note, Bush flacks contacted their chief cyber-spokesman, Matt Drudge, to say that ABC reporter Jeffrey Kofman, who had broadcast a withering report on troop morale in Iraq, was both gay and Canadian. (Laugh if you like, but their not-so-funny point was that Americans should not be listening to anyone whose loyalty to the fatherland is in question.)

But however vicious the president's posse is capable of being, the truth is that until recently Bush rarely had to flex those muscles. He has owed his success to the pliancy and corruption of supposedly democratic institutions from the start. Most Americans still think the episode in Florida came down to the swinging chads on a relative handful of disputed ballots, but the real tipping point came earlier when brother Jeb's secretary of state, Katherine Harris, hired a company to vacuum the state's voter rolls of any convicted felons registered in error. The resulting purge of mostly poor and black voters did not confine itself to felons, however; it also accidentally-on-purpose expunged from the rolls thousands of prospective Democratic voters with no criminal records at all. The second great outrage came when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to hand Bush the White House, a vote from which two of the pro-Bush justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, should have been forced to recuse themselves on the grounds that members of their families had worked for the Bush campaign.

Neither the press nor the Democrats focused on these aspects of the Florida episode, obviously, and the administration has met the same spirit of accommodation on practically every front, no matter how outrageous its demands. When Bush wanted his open-ended mandate for war, Congress obliged. When Dick Cheney intervened to suppress a more ambitious investigation into the events of September 11, no one complained. When Seymour Hersh reported in May that the administration had prepped for war by throwing away the findings of the U.S. intelligence apparatus in favor of the anecdotal testimony of handpicked Iraqi defectors fed to the administration by its stooge Ahmed Chalabi, the mainstream media left it alone. No peep, either, when the White House intervened a few months ago to suppress portions of Congress's eventual 9/11 report, which was finally released late last week after seven months of editing and stonewalling by the administration.

 

Since the countdown to war began last fall, there has been exactly one prominent and categorical dissenter in the entire U.S. Congress, the 85-year-old West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. "This is no small conflagration we contemplate," he declaimed on the Senate floor one month before the invasion. "This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.

"This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption-- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future--is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our--or some other nation's--hit list. High level administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq...

"Frankly, many of the pronouncements made by this administration are outrageous. There is no other word. Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq--a population, I might add, of which over 50 percent is under age 15--this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare--this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate. We are truly sleepwalking through history."

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