Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bush's magnificent deception

WASHINGTON

JUST FOR the record, the polling numbers President Bush claims not to read show the following with regard to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003:

According to The Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey last week, 57 percent of the sample believe Bush deliberately misled the country on the way to war, more than 20 points above the numbers asserting he was straight with the country.

In denying the charge, however, it is fascinating that the White House spin machine has avoided giving examples of its nuanced rhetoric on the subject of the alleged threat posed by Iraq at the time in order to make its case to a skeptical public. That's because there aren't any.

Instead, there has been an entertaining chorus of claims that the charge is false but that everybody else did it -- other countries' intelligence services, assorted politicians in this country (especially Democrats). Lacking a defense, Bush's operatives have sought to construct a Potemkin universe of intelligence dupes.

In this blizzard of disinformation, though, the unique nature of Bush and his top advisers is conveniently overlooked. Everyone else in the world with the possible exception of Tony Blair recognizes the corollary to the now-accepted wisdom that Iraq possessed no unconventional weapons and posed no threat to the United States worthy of adjectives like grave, imminent, or even serious.

The corollary would be that knowing then what is known now, an essentially unilateral invasion of Iraq under conditions of haste and waste in March of 2003 would have been ill-advised in the extreme. Virtually alone in the world, Bush has proclaimed for months that he would have invaded Iraq even if he had known it posed no threat.

Leaving aside that defiant position, Bush most nearly resembles some of the Iraqi architects of this magnificent deception. We have Senator Edward M. Kennedy to thank for the following gem from the administration's once heralded exile, Ahmed Chalabi, gloating a year after the invasion he did so much to provoke:

''We are heroes in error," Chalabi proclaimed at a time when the post-invasion chaos had long since evolved into full-fledged, murderous insurgency. ''As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords, if he wants."

Actually, he didn't want. Last week Chalabi was back here, haunting the same corridors he used to dispense false junk about WMDs. He's still very alive in the interim Iraqi government, still with more than a little US backing, conspiring to link relatively secular Shi'ite pols with Kurdish elements to gain a foothold in the parliament that will be chosen next month. Bygones apparently are bygones.

But not in American politics. All last week, Republicans in the House and Senate, the Republicans National Committee, and finally Bush himself in a tacky and intemperate misuse of a Veterans Day platform, took aim at critics because they believed the thrust of intelligence reports they therefore supported his deliberately misleading use of them.

In his speech, Bush took aim at Senator John Kerry, and in a statement, his White House went after Kennedy, who days before had spoken out on the Chalabi visit. It was intriguing how desperately Bush clung to the fiction that Kerry had once been a soul brother.

Quoting him as saying before the war resolution vote in 2002 that his authorization assumed a ''deadly arsenal" glides past Kerry's criticism of the ''rush to war" before the invasion and his later assertion that he would not have voted ''yes" if the full truth were known. Bush also ignored the incorrect belief of many that while chemical and possibly biological weapons probably existed, the case for a nuclear weapons program was flimsy, and yet it was that case that Bush and his advisers emphasized because it tested better in their polling of voters.

As for Kennedy, the White House ignored his position on the 2002 resolution, which included an endorsement of a UN resolution far tougher than the one Colin Powell negotiated in November 2002. One of the grand ''what ifs" of this period is whether Saddam could have survived a finding by a small army of weapons inspectors that one of his holds on power -- the belief that he had unconventional weapons -- was a complete fiction.

The White House hysteria last week reflects its fear of the kind of thorough probe of the use of data that the Senate Intelligence Committee is now pledged to conduct. That is all the more reason for that probe to proceed.

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is oliphant@globe.com. 

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