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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why It's Outrageous to Call Bush a Liar

Yes, I know he bungled many aspects of the war in Iraq (including the decision to wage it, in my view). Yes, I know about Mission Accomplished. Yes, I know there were no WMD.

But here's why it's outrageous to say that Bush lied to the American people about the existence of the WMD to get us into Iraq. To begin, if it was all a lie, President Bush must have known that there would be no mushroom cloud, and no biological weapons, and that therefore there was no imminent threat, because Saddam Hussein had no active WMD. We have to believe he knew this (it's in fact necessary to believe this to get the liar charge off the ground). Two, given that President Bush knew this, he still committed his staff, the international community, and thousands of American troops to wage a war that he knew was not necessary at all.

Now, we need these two claims to support the "Bush lied" charge. This is the logic (in a simplified version, but adequate to make the present point clear). And here's where the liar charge starts to unravel. We are to believe that President Bush, ignoring the best intelligence from the CIA, from Great Britain, from France, and indeed China and Russia, had some independent information, that in fact Iraq did not have WMD. That's, right, President Bush has this secret intel-- independent of the conclusions of the entire world intelligence community -- and that he therefore knew (or at least strongly suspected) that there were no WMD in Iraq. That's what we have to believe. Put aside worries about how possibly a guy commonly accused of being a bungling ignoramus had such personal, penetrating intelligence about weapons in Iraq; to make our "Bush is liar" charge we must simply suppose that he did.

Second, given that he has this independent source of intel that shows no WMD in Iraq, he yet decides to launch a full scale attack, in the process pulling the rest of the world into a pit of mortars and explosions and violence. In Hitler like fashion, the diabolical Bush, knowing there were no WMD, still lets slip the dogs of war. And the rest of the world goes along with it (make sinister sounds of laughter now).

Now, if you believe these two claims -- that Bush knew there were no WMD in spite of the consensus of the intel community, and that he nonetheless claimed that WMD were there (that's the lie part), then, well, you should go around charging that Bush lied to us.

But if you find any problem with these claims (say, for instance, that Bush had no such super-secret intel from some unknown, Godlike source), then probably you don't mean that he lied about the existence of WMD in Iraq. Probably you mean that you're against the war, and that it was a bad idea, and that even if Iraq had some mustard gas, it would have been far preferable to let the UN inspections proceed to an outcome that might have avoided war. (This is pretty much what I believe.)

So, for those still inclined to use the word "lie" anyway, I'd say it's outrageous (also fallacious, also disengenuous, also provocative, tendentious, contentious, maddening, and, of course, itself mendacious).


mijopo said...

Please, really, do just a wee bit of internet research, something as simple as "Bush lies about Iraq" on Google and you can see lots and lots of ways in which the Bush administration dissembled and misrepresented the facts about Iraq.

Here are two to get you started:



Erik said...

The administration may have misrepresented details, sure. But if this is all you're saying, you're in fact missing my point. My point is more abstract. We all know that administrations misrepresent, massage, and withold details (c.f., what FDR withheld from us prior to WWII).

My point with this post specifically is: "Bush lied to get us into Iraq", does not mean "Bush knew there were no WMD, but he told us that there were anyway". It may mean that they misrepresented details. But if you believe the latter proposition above, you may as well believe in all manner of conspiracy theories.

So, again, I'm not arguing the much less interesting claim that there were "misrepresentations". I'm arguing the claim that Bush knew there were no WMD, but told us that there were anyway. I've heard people throw this out, like they're on to something. What evidence do you, or anyone else, have that Bush knew there were no WMD? This charge, in particular, and not the "misrepresentations of details" charge, is without any merit whatsoever. He clearly did not KNOW that there were NO WMD. Hearkening back to my prior posts, he can't see the future either.

mijopo said...

So, if Bush et al say there is evidence Hussein is reconstituting its nuclear weapon program saying there's no other explanation for evidence they have, when in fact there's plenty of better explanations, that's not lying?

If they say there's evidence that they bought uranium from Africa when in fact there isn't and they could/should/surely did know, that's not lying?

When they say 'we believe Hussein has reconstituted nuclear weapons', when in fact there is *no* evidence, none, for that, that's not lying?

When they say they've found a lab, when in fact they hadn't, that's not a lie?

mijopo said...

Let me put this a bit simpler. You're saying that to get a lie charge to stick we have to show that he knew there weren't WMDs but yet went ahead and asserted that there were. But that's just not true. He's guilty of lying if he claim to know there are WMDs, claim to have good evidence, when in fact there is no evidence to support the claim.

Erik said...

I'm well aware of this general view, and I won't argue the details of these particular points. We can leave that up to the pundits and the historians. My point is very simple:

Bush had good reason to believe that Iraq had WMD at the time of the War.

That's my point.

Now, at the time of the run-up to the war, I remember, distinctly, puzzling about the reasons for the Bush administration calling the UN Security Council Resolution (it was 1441, if anyone cares) "irrelevant" and then declaring that they would then enforce it anyway. If it's irrelevant, why enforce it? The specific reasons for the war never made sense to me.

So there's some common ground there, I assume. But probably where it ends. Just about everyone thought that Hussein had WMD. Clinton thought it, the CIA thought it, Britain thought it, the UN weapons inspectors thought it(otherwise, why were they there?). That was the received view.

But, as the weeks and then months unfolded after the initial invasion, it became clear to everyone, including the supposed ace in the hole weapons inspector David Kay, that they just weren't there.

So, now we know. But, again, at the time of the war, pretty much every rational, informed person thought they were there. And this stubborn fact alone means that Bush had good reason to think that Iraq had WMD. And that is my point.

Erik said...

Our posts crossed that's always annoying.

Anyway, from my last comment we have

a) Bush had good reason to believe that Hussein had WMD.

b) If he believed it, he couldn't have lied about the existence of WMD to get us into war.

Your point is

c) But he lied about details to make the case stronger (in particular propping up the specifically nuclear possibility)

Fine on c), but first it'd be great to acknowledge a) and b)

mijopo said...

Your claim was that it's outrageous to call Bush a liar; it's not.

lvs73 said...

As Erik said, everybody - Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Kerry, Gore, Albright, the British, the French, the Germans, etc., etc. - believed that Iraq had or was working on WMD. See http://www.snopes.com/politics/war/wmdquotes.asp. There was evidence, but it led to the wrong conclusion. Saddam Hussein worked hard to convince everyone that he did have a weapons program, to scare off his local enemies. It worked.

In diplomatic and military affairs, you need to make worst case assumptions because the downside cost is your very existence. That is what Bush did.