Bush's Ever Shifting Absolutes

Let Us Count the Lies on the Road to War

A puzzled America watches now as the Bush imperial public-relations samurai try to behead the notion that they were the mongers who planted the vision of a quick and practically painless war. The recorded evidence doesn't help their case.

Their cocky drumroll oratory has been with us for many months. Vice President Dick Cheney, for one, told America that Saddam Hussein's regime was "a house of cards." We could expect the war to last "weeks rather than months," Cheney said just two weeks ago. Every once in a while, the president and his minions would protect themselves with a few words about possible unforeseen complications, but the thumping central message was that the invasion and conquest of Iraq would be easy. The nation was told relentlessly that our technological superiority and complete command of the skies would demolish the dictator like a plaster of paris statue and send Iraqis into the streets by the thousands to hail their liberators.

Some or even much of this may still happen—as I write, American units about 60 miles south of Baghdad are reported making early probes at Iraqi forces ringing the capital—but it will not change the fact that this president humbugged and lulled the public into acceptance of war. He has dealt them a shameless series of half truths, erasures of history, allegations without tangible proof, allegations without any proof and just plain stable droppings, the final one being the whopper that the war would be a cakewalk. No war—not even his father's Tinkertoy invasion of Panama City in 1989, where earsplitting rock music was used to try to stun Manuel Noriega (once the CIA's favorite money-launderer and drug dealer south of the border) out of the church building he'd fled into for sanctuary—could be a cakewalk.

Below is a partial timeline of how the White House kept changing its story. Follow the ever shifting, ever absolute bouncing ball.

On September 11, 2001, terrorists flew three hijacked commercial planes full of passengers into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another hijacked craft crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers revolted. The death toll was roughly 3,000. In the aftermath, U.S. intelligence confirmed that the assault was carried out by operatives from Osama Bin Laden's global terrorist network. No mention was made by the White House or anyone else in the Bush administration of any Iraqi involvement.

President Bush, in his annual State of the Union address, on January 29, 2002, described an "axis of evil" comprising North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. He cited Iraq, a former ally whom Washington had aided in its war against Iran in the 1980s and to whom Washington allowed American companies to ship ingredients for biological and chemical warfare, for its development of weapons of mass destruction. He mentioned chemical and biological weapons and efforts to develop nuclear bombs. Still no suggestion of any Iraqi link to September 11.

By the spring, the White House was slowly and steadily accelerating its drumbeat for military action against Iraq. Baghdad was promoted from a member of the "axis of evil" triumvirate to being the most immediate threat to world peace. The U.S. and British air patrols in the UN-approved no-fly zones in Iraq were also being expanded and the war planes began striking more significant Iraqi military targets.

A key piece of evidence offered by Washington for Iraq's continued efforts to build a nuclear bomb—despite the prohibitions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War—was a packet of documents provided by British intelligence. The dossier purportedly revealed very recent Iraqi attempts to purchase "significant quantities of uranium" from an unnamed African country. At a classified briefing last September, CIA chief George Tenet told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about this document; Tenet vouched for its authenticity and identified the African country as Niger. Secretary of State Colin Powell also stressed the document's importance in a closed meeting with the same committee two days later. All this came at a time when the White House was trying to get a resolution from Congress, over some Democratic opposition, authorizing the president to wage war against Iraq. The resistive Democrats were mollified. The resolution breezed through two weeks later. Shortly thereafter, the administration told the public about the documents.

Bush used it as ammunition in his 2003 State of the Union speech on January 28. Powell did the same in his speech to the UN on February 5, seeking broader support for military action.

There was only one problem with the documents. They were forgeries. After all the buildup, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, stepped in to tell the Security Council that the papers were bogus. "The IAEA has concluded," said its director-general, "with the concurrence of outside experts that these documents... are in fact not authentic." The White House went virtually mute, as if the whole episode had never happened.

On February 14, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a speech in New York, saying military action was probably inevitable in order "to avert a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction," told a black-tie gathering of senior military officers and their spouses, "What we're trying to do right now is hard. It's to connect the dots before the facts."

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