November 17, 2005
Don't Rewrite Rewritten History
In one of the most intellectually incoherent major speeches ever
delivered by a minor president, George W. Bush last week blamed
``some Democrats and anti-war critics'' for changing their minds
about the war in Iraq and now saying they were deceived. ``It
is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war
began,'' the president said. Yes, sir, but it is even more deeply
irresponsible to rewrite the history of how history was rewritten
in the first place.
It is the failure to acknowledge this -- not merely that mistakes
were made -- that is so troubling about Bush and others in his
administration. Yes, the president is right: Foreign intelligence
services also thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Yes,
he is right that members of Congress drew the same conclusion
-- although none of them saw the raw intelligence that the White
House did. And he is right, too, that Saddam Hussein had simply
ignored more than a dozen U.N. resolutions demanding that he reopen
his country to arms inspectors. When it came to U.N. resolutions,
Saddam was notoriously hard of hearing.
We can endlessly debate the facts of the Iraq War -- and we will.
More important, though, is the mind-set of those in the administration,
from the president on down, who had those facts -- or, as we shall
see, none at all -- and mangled them in the cause of war with
Iraq. For example, the insistence that Saddam was somehow linked
to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- a leitmotif of Bush
administration geopolitical fantasy -- tells you much more than
whether this or that fact was right. It tells you that to Bush
and his people, the facts did not matter.
It did not matter that Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 terrorists,
never met with Iraqis in Prague, as high-level Bush people claimed.
It did not matter that Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, was finding no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear
weapons program. None of that mattered to Vice President Dick
Cheney, a fibber without peer in the realm, who warned of a ``reconstituted''
nuclear weapons program, promoted the nonexistent Prague meeting
and went after legitimate critics with a zealousness that Tony
Soprano would have admired: ``We will not hesitate to discredit
you,'' Cheney told ElBaradei and Hans Blix, the other important
U.N. inspector. ElBaradei recently won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Cheney's gonna have to wait for his.
Nobody has been repudiated by Bush for incompetence and dishonesty
regarding Iraq. Instead, some -- former CIA Director George ``Slam
Dunk" Tenet comes to mind -- have received presidential medals.
What's more, there's evidence aplenty that the sloppy thinking,
false analogies and bad history that led to the Iraq War remain
the cultural style of the White House. The president's recent
speech, for instance, conflates all sorts of terrorist incidents
-- from Israel to Chechnya -- neglecting that they are specific
to their regions and have nothing to do with al Qaeda. Every bombing
somehow becomes an attack on Western values ``because we stand
for democracy and peace.'' Oh stop it!
It would be nice, fitting and pretty close to sexually exciting
if Bush somehow acknowledged his mistakes and said he had learned
from them. But more important -- far more important -- is what
this would mean for the conduct of foreign policy from here on
out. Repeatedly in his speech, Bush mentioned Syria, Iran and
North Korea -- Syria above all. If push comes to shove there,
it would be nice to have absolute confidence in American intelligence
and the case for possibly widening the war. If we are to go to
the mat with North Korea or the increasingly alarming Iran, then,
once again, it would be wonderful to have the confidence we once
had in the intelligence community -- as imparted to us by our
president. Is there or is there not a threatening nuclear weapons
program on the horizon?
At the moment, no one can have confidence in the Bush administration.
It has shown itself inept in the run-up to the war and the conduct
of it since. Almost three years into the war, the world is not
safer, the Middle East is less stable and Americans and others
die for a mission that is not what it once was and cannot be what
it now is called: a fight for democracy. It would be nice, as
well as important, to know how we got into this mess -- nice for
us, important for the president. It wasn't that he had the wrong
facts. It was that the right ones didn't matter.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group