Frank Rich says Iraq Lies Backfire: “Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt

Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt …


GEORGE W. BUSH is so desperate for allies that his hapless Asian tour took him to Ulan Bator, a first for an American president, so he could mingle with the yaks and give personal thanks for Mongolia’s contribution of some 160 soldiers to “the coalition of the willing.” Dick Cheney, whose honest-and-ethical poll number hit 29 percent in

Newsweek’s latest survey, is so radioactive that he vanished into his bunker for weeks at a time during the storms Katrina and Scootergate.

The whole world can see that both men are on the run. Just how much so became clear in the brace of nasty broadsides each delivered this month about Iraq. Neither man engaged the national debate ignited by John Murtha about how our troops might be best redeployed in a recalibrated battle against Islamic radicalism. Neither offered a plan for “victory.” Instead, both impugned their critics’ patriotism and retreated into the past to defend the origins of the war. In a seasonally appropriate impersonation of the misanthropic Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the vice president went so far as to label critics of the administration’s prewar smoke screen both “dishonest and reprehensible” and “corrupt and shameless.” He sounded but one epithet away from a defibrillator.

The Washington line has it that the motivation for the Bush-Cheney rage is the need to push back against opponents who have bloodied the White House in the polls. But, Mr. Murtha notwithstanding, the Democrats are too feeble to merit that strong a response. There is more going on here than politics.

Much more: each day brings slam-dunk evidence that the doomsday threats marshaled by the administration to sell the war weren’t, in Cheney-speak, just dishonest and reprehensible but also corrupt and shameless. The more the president and vice president tell us that their mistakes were merely innocent byproducts of the same bad intelligence seen by everyone else in the world, the more we learn that this was not so. The web of half-truths and falsehoods used to sell the war did not happen by accident; it was woven by design and then foisted on the public by a P.R. operation built expressly for that purpose in the White House. The real point of the Bush-Cheney verbal fisticuffs this month, like the earlier campaign to take down Joseph Wilson, is less to smite Democrats than to cover up wrongdoing in the executive branch between 9/11 and shock and awe.

The cover-up is failing, however. No matter how much the president and vice president raise their decibel levels, the truth keeps roaring out. A nearly 7,000-word investigation in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times found that Mr. Bush and his aides had “issued increasingly dire warnings” about Iraq’s mobile biological weapons labs long after U.S. intelligence authorities were told by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service that the principal source for these warnings, an Iraqi defector in German custody code-named Curveball, “never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.” The five senior German intelligence officials who spoke to The Times said they were aghast that such long-discredited misinformation from a suspected fabricator turned up in Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations and in the president’s 2003 State of the Union address (where it shared billing with the equally bogus 16 words about Saddam’s fictitious African uranium).

Right after the L.A. Times scoop, Murray Waas filled in another piece of the prewar propaganda puzzle. He reported in the nonpartisan National Journal that 10 days after 9/11, “President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda.”

The information was delivered in the President’s Daily Brief, a C.I.A. assessment also given to the vice president and other top administration officials. Nonetheless Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney repeatedly pounded in an implicit (and at times specific) link between Saddam and Al Qaeda until Americans even started to believe that the 9/11 attacks had been carried out by Iraqis. More damning still, Mr. Waas finds that the “few credible reports” of Iraq-Al Qaeda contacts actually involved efforts by Saddam to monitor or infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups, which he regarded as adversaries of his secular regime. Thus Saddam’s antipathy to Islamic radicals was the same in 2001 as it had been in 1983, when Donald Rumsfeld, then a Reagan administration emissary, embraced the dictator as a secular fascist ally in the American struggle against the theocratic fascist rulers in Iran.

What these revelations also tell us is that Mr. Bush was wrong when he said in his Veterans Day speech that more than 100 Congressional Democrats who voted for the Iraqi war resolution “had access to the same intelligence” he did. They didn’t have access to the President’s Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered. They didn’t have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to The Los Angeles Times. Nor did they have access to material from a Defense Intelligence Agency report, released by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan this month, which as early as February 2002 demolished the reliability of another major source that the administration had persistently used for its false claims about Iraqi-Al Qaeda collaboration.

The more we learn about the road to Iraq, the more we realize that it’s a losing game to ask what lies the White House told along the way. A simpler question might be: What was not a lie? The situation recalls Mary McCarthy’s explanation to Dick Cavett about why she thought Lillian Hellman was a dishonest writer: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ”

If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney believe they were truthful in the run-up to the war, it’s easy for them to make their case. Instead of falsely claiming that they’ve been exonerated by two commissions that looked into prewar intelligence – neither of which addressed possible White House misuse and mischaracterization of that intelligence – they should just release the rest of the President’s Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are now trickling out. Instead, incriminatingly enough, they are fighting the release of any such information, including unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neocon Weekly Standard. As Scott Shane reported in The New York Times last month, Vietnam documents are now off limits, too: the National Security Agency won’t make public a 2001 historical report on how American officials distorted intelligence in 1964 about the Gulf of Tonkin incident for fear it might “prompt uncomfortable comparisons” between the games White Houses played then and now to gin up wars.

SOONER or later – probably sooner, given the accelerating pace of recent revelations – this embarrassing information will leak out anyway. But the administration’s deliberate efforts to suppress or ignore intelligence that contradicted its Iraq crusade are only part of the prewar story. There were other shadowy stations on the disinformation assembly line. Among them were the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, a two-man Pentagon operation specifically created to cherry-pick intelligence for Mr. Cheney’s apocalyptic Iraqi scenarios, and the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), in which Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and the Cheney hands Lewis Libby and Mary Matalin, among others, plotted to mainline this propaganda into the veins of the press and public. These murky aspects of the narrative – like the role played by a private P.R. contractor, the Rendon Group, examined by James Bamford in the current Rolling Stone – have yet to be recounted in full.

No debate about the past, of course, can undo the mess that the administration made in Iraq. But the past remains important because it is a road map to both the present and the future. Leaders who dissembled then are still doing so. Indeed, they do so even in the same speeches in which they vehemently deny having misled us then – witness Mr. Bush’s false claims about what prewar intelligence was seen by Congress and Mr. Cheney’s effort last Monday to again conflate the terrorists of 9/11 with those “making a stand in Iraq.” (Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, director of operations for Centcom, says the Iraqi insurgency is 90 percent homegrown.) These days Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney routinely exaggerate the readiness of Iraqi troops, much as they once inflated Saddam’s W.M.D.’s.

“We’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history,” the vice president said of his critics. “We’re going to continue throwing their own words back at them.” But according to a Harris poll released by The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, 64 percent of Americans now believe that the Bush administration “generally misleads the American public on current issues to achieve its own ends.” That’s why it’s Mr. Cheney’s and the president’s own words that are being thrown back now – not to rewrite history but to reveal it for the first time to an angry country that has learned the hard way that it can no longer afford to be without the truth.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

I heart Frank Rich…

November 27, 2005 @ 12:03 am | Comment

Me too.

November 27, 2005 @ 6:45 am | Comment

I so miss Frank Rich, now hidden away behind the Times Select fortress.

November 27, 2005 @ 6:53 am | Comment

thanks for posting, PD

November 27, 2005 @ 10:23 am | Comment

It’s hard to know where to begin with Rich– sometimes he gets his facts right, sometimes not. I can forgive those mistakes, even, but such a wholesale spin-zone like that article deserves a major spanking. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do so here– a few points, however.

Who in their right minds defends Joseph Wilson? Wilson is eloquent all right, at BS, his BS being long exposed by even the MSM. It’s a wonder he gets the free passes he does from the MSM and bloggers alike these days. He *was* a partisan hack and he is *still* a partisan hack more interested in his name than in truth.

His report actually bolstered the Niger / uranium claims. Incidentally, does anyone know what Niger really exports? I’ll give you a guess as to what their most lucrative export is. It’s not much of a stretch to see that Iraq wanted contacts there.

The trumping up of WMDs by the administration? Try *everyone* trumping it up. The intelligence was made available to the Senate. President Clinton himself staunchly defended the war at first. It’s a very selective lens we’re looking at here but of course, partisan demagoguery always is.

Fact: Hussein harbored terrorists. Fact: Hussein supported Al-Qaeda, despite a love/hate relationship. Fact: Hussein supported terrorism in Israel. Fact: Hussein murdered several hundred thousand people willfully and intentionally.

Question: should we have removed him earlier?

Answer: yes.

Question: Will Iraq eventually become stable?

Answer: Yes, if we have the political will to make it so. The calls for pullouts will do nothing to contribute to stability. We need more troops, have always needed more troops.

Finally, it’s a lot easier to claim there are WMDs than there aren’t. One claim requires complete knowledge. One doesn’t. Who are you really gonna bet on?

November 27, 2005 @ 2:55 pm | Comment

Admiral, you are regurgitating all the tired Republican talking points. Wilson served both parties and the attempt to portray him as a liar is one of the most despicable stunts from the swfitboat crowd. It’s all based on nitpicks, the old trick used against Kerry and Gore. To say Saddam harbored terrorists and thus our war was justified – Jesus, if that was our criterion, look at Saudi Arabia and Syria and Iran. Besides, he didn’t harbor Al Qaeda terrorists. He was no friend of Zarqawi’s, who was nobody until we elevated him into the ueber-terrorist (though no one knows if he even exists). Al Qaeda and Hussein had no relationship to speak of and lotsof animosity between them. But this has been debated to death, and only the most die-hard chickenhawks cling to these talking points. Luckily, most Americans have woken up and rejected them.

November 27, 2005 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

In point of fact, the only proven connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda (as outlined in the soon to be infamous Sept. 22 (?) 2001 Presidential briefing paper) is that Saddam was trying to get RID of them because he was very worried about their religious fanaticism, given his generally secular outlook.

And Joe Wilson is an American hero.

November 27, 2005 @ 7:05 pm | Comment


As has been repeatedly noted, Cheney had a group cherry-picking or stovepiping or whatever term you want to use intell to support its desire for an invasion that was on the table before 9-11. (Judicial Watch, a conservative group, did get those plans to divvy up Iraqi oil fields from the Energy Policy Task force, remember? -not exactly BPeakistan or Exoneratistan, but close enough.

Those “I was too busy to serve” assholes want to take out Saddam using some other woman’s son? Then put it on the table and tell it like it is and let the American people decide.

However, do not defame the lives of all who died on 9-11 by pretending these assholes have not lied since the day they took office via a coup in 2000…which is, of course, where all the problems began in the first place…they should have had to play by the rules then, and maybe if so, we now wouldn’t be seen as a torturing, raping, boy-fucking nation of fat pigs. (no, Karl, I wasn’t describing you personally…really.)

If you really are an Admiral, then you know there is more than one way to fight a war, and if you do not have the power of the good outweighing the bad, then you have already lost…that old hearts and minds thing.

This war was based upon lies. This war was unnecessary. FAR WORSE than either of these things, this war took soldiers from the goal of finding Osama. (Whatever did happen in the Tora Bora region back in the fall of 2002 anyway? …those helicopters flying out the ISI who side with Osama…who was purported holed up in the region until…he’s now a very scary Waldo the Bush junta brings out to keep the sheeple in line. I suppose it would have been harder to go to war in Iraq if you were able to get Osama.

If we need more troops, then make sure all the college republicans and ann coulter boys masterbating to her image with a gun get their asses on the line. Let Jenna and Barbara go fight for the noble cause. Maybe Jenna would stop whoring all the time, but if not, at least she could be sort of patriotic about it, you know?

My sons will NEVER fight for the assholes in the executive branch.

In fact, some of us think the U.S. would be better off if the Bush junta were tried as war criminals, and if we had some sane person in office who didn’t think god was speaking to him through the device on his back.

I want to take the juice out of fundamentalism…islamic, talibornagain…doesn’t matter. If Bush continues to torture innocent ppl…we don’t know who is innocent or guility, do we, tho the IORC said something like 70% of the people imprisoned in Iraq were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were picked up by guys who couldn’t speak the language, didn’t have sufficient equipment or backup…

how can you in any way support the actions of this administration? how can you stand and watch as this crew destroys the very things that have made this country worthy of the name “democracy,” or, closer to reality, “republic.” Now it’s a kleptocracy…this administration is no better than the mafia, and they deserve to be punished for what they have done.

The one way to restore honor in this nation would be for its laws and principles to work, including the ones we helped to create at Nuremberg, and ones from Geneva, and the ones that say that just because you’re a rich boy, you can’t buy your way out of unncessary deaths of more than 2000 Americans and untold, but certainly more than tens of thousands of Iraqi mothers and children.

Open the files, examine the evidence and see who has been lying about what.

It just burns me to read people who can justify anything this criminal regime does in the name of democracy.


November 27, 2005 @ 7:24 pm | Comment

Thank you, American Mom! We have an American administration that has attempted to establish a legal framework for torture – this to me is truly un-American.

November 27, 2005 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

Well said, A.M.

November 27, 2005 @ 7:40 pm | Comment

“college republicans and Anne Coulter boys….”


Any 21 year old guy who thinks Anne Coulter is sexy, is better off dying in combat. Better to put him out of his misery.

November 27, 2005 @ 7:56 pm | Comment

Bush is better than some of the rulers in Beijing

November 27, 2005 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

That’s setting the standard for quality-of-leadership kind of low, don’t you think?

November 27, 2005 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

The “Admiral” writes like he’s been serving in a mothball fleet the last year or so.

A lot of “American Moms” (and Downing Street Dads) are no longer believing the official hokum. It’s been proven false too many times now.

Admiral, maybe you ought to check your bulkheads, you are pumping a lot of bilge.

November 28, 2005 @ 10:56 am | Comment

When was it ever proven that Hussein was harboring the terrorists that we went after in Afghanistan? Also, when was it ever proven that Saddam was the best “next step” against Al Qaeada terroists, even if he was harboring them?

November 28, 2005 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

People like the admiral often turn out to be in the pay of the United States disinformation service to haunt blogs such as this.

It’s a waste of time to refute them, they’ll come back to the same points from a different tangent. They’re paid for their presence on the blogs, not for their coherence.

They are impersonating real, live human beings.

November 29, 2005 @ 2:55 am | Comment

Admiral did you really mean this:
Fact: Hussein harbored terrorists. Fact: Hussein supported Al-Qaeda, despite a love/hate relationship. Fact: Hussein supported terrorism in Israel. Fact: Hussein murdered several hundred thousand people willfully and intentionally.

What a load of crap!!
Admiral i think you should enlistsed by the usa army to write news reporting for the press in the Mid East. di you know the USA army paid the medias in Iraq to print stories cooked up by the USA propaganda machinery?

November 30, 2005 @ 9:35 pm | Comment

apology to all about my typo! it happens when i’m really angry!

November 30, 2005 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

Saddam did kill lots of people and did support some palestinian suicicde bombers attacking israel. Those things are facts. But so many in other countries have done so much that was incredibly worse, and none of those things were threats to our national security.

November 30, 2005 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

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December 9, 2005 @ 6:16 am | Comment

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