What a sorry, sorry, unfortunate president -- caught in his lies, his half-truths, his reckless disregard ... caught with, well ... caught with time. Time has finally caught up to him. And now he doesn't have the popularity to beat back all the people trying to call him to account. He could; but now he can't. So he's caught. And his best play is to accuse his critics of rewriting history, of playing fast and loose with the truth -- a sad, pathetic man.
Chronicling the full measure of the Bush administration's mendacity with regards to the war is a difficult task -- not because of a dearth of evidence for it but because of its so many layers, all its multidimensionality. It's almost like one of those Russian egg novelties in which each layer opened reveals another layer beneath it. Hard as it may be, in the interests of getting Mr. Bush past the phases of denial and anger, let's just hit on some of the main themes.
1. Longstanding effort to convince the American people that Iraq maintained ties to al Qaida and may have played a role in 9/11. This was always just a plain old lie. (And if you want to see where the real fights with the Intelligence Community came up, it was always on the terror tie angle and much less on WMD.) The president and his chief advisors tried to leverage Americans' horror over 9/11 to gain support for attacking Iraq. Simple: lying to the public the president was sworn to protect.
2. Repeated efforts to jam purported evidence about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program (the Niger canard) into major presidential speeches despite the fact the CIA believed the claim was not credible and tried to prevent the president from doing so. What's the explanation for that? At best a reckless disregard for the truth in making the case for war to the American public.
3. Consistent and longstanding effort to elide the distinction between chem-bio-weapons (which are terrible but no immediate threat to American security) and nuclear weapons (which are). For better or worse, there was a strong consensus within the foreign policy establishment that Iraq continued to stockpile WMDs. Nor was it an improbable assumption since Saddam had stockpiled and used such weapons before and, by 2002, had been free of on-site weapons inspections for almost four years. But what most observers meant by this was chemical and possibly biological weapons, not nuclear weapons. Big difference! The White House knew that this wasn't enough to get the country into war, so they pushed the threat of a nuclear-armed Saddam for which there was much, much less evidence.
4. The fact that the administration's push for war wasn't even about WMD in the first place. Scarcely a week goes by when I don't get an email from a reader who writes, "I always knew that Saddam didn't have WMDs. How is that you, with all your access and reporting, didn't know that too?" Good question. They were right. And I was wrong. But like many things in this reality-based universe of ours, this was a question subject to empirical inquiry. No one really knew what Saddam was doing between 1998 and 2002. And US intelligence made a lot of very poor assumptions based on sketchy hints and clues. But the solution, at least the first part of it, was to get inspectors in on the ground and actually find out. That is what President Bush's very credible threat of force had done by the Fall of 2002. But once there the inspectors began making pretty steady progress in showing that many of our suspicions about reconstituted WMD programs didn't bear out, the White House response was to begin trying to discredit the inspectors themselves. By early 2003, inspections had shown that there was no serious nuclear weapons effort underway -- the only sort of operation which could have represented a serious or imminent threat. From January of 2003 the administration went to work trying to insure that the war could be started before the rationale for war was entirely discredited. They wanted to create fait accomplis, facts on the ground that no subsequent information or developments could alter. The whole thing was a con. It wasn't about WMD.
Beneath these top-line points of dishonesty, there were second order ones, to be sure -- claims that the entire war would cost a mere $50 billion, insistence that the whole operation could be managed by only a fraction of the number of troops most experts believed it would take. Of course, these may be categorized as willful self-deceptions or gross irresponsibiity. And thus they are properly assigned to different sections of the Bush-Iraq Lies and Deceptions (BILD) bestiary than the cynical exploitation of lies and attempts to confuse proper.
In the president's new angle that his critics are trying to 'rewrite history', those critics might want to point out that his charge would be more timely after he stopped putting so much effort into obstructing any independent inquiry that could allow an accurate first draft of the history to be written. In any case, he must sense now that he's blowing into a fierce wind. The judgment of history hangs over this guy like a sharp, heavy knife. His desperation betrays him. He knows it too.