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  xTuesday, June 17, 2003

bush mendacity roundup

Lots has been going on, much that I'd like to comment on, but more than I have time to. Here, however, are a couple of interestng developments in the ongoing unraveling of Bush's credibility. I'll comment more on some of these as time allows.

First, of course, is this startling article from the Washington Post about a long-time national security official who quit just before the War of Bush Aggression out of concerns that it was sucking all the oxygen from the real (well, as real as Bush policy ever gets) war on terrorism...and then volunteered for John Kerry's campaign!
"The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure," said Beers, who until now has remained largely silent about leaving his National Security Council job as special assistant to the president for combating terrorism. "As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out."

No single issue has defined the Bush presidency more than fighting terrorism. And no issue has both animated and intimidated Democrats. Into this tricky intersection of terrorism, policy and politics steps Beers, a lifelong bureaucrat, unassuming and tight-lipped until now. He is an unlikely insurgent. He served on the NSC under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and the current Bush. The oath of office hangs on the wall by his bed; he tears up when he watches "The West Wing." Yet Beers decided that he wanted out, and he is offering a rare glimpse in.

"Counterterrorism is like a team sport. The game is deadly. There has to be offense and defense," Beers said. "The Bush administration is primarily offense, and not into teamwork."

In a series of interviews, Beers, 60, critiqued Bush's war on terrorism. He is a man in transition, alternately reluctant about and empowered by his criticism of the government. After 35 years of issuing measured statements from inside intelligence circles, he speaks more like a public servant than a public figure. Much of what he knows is classified and cannot be discussed. Nevertheless, Beers will say that the administration is "underestimating the enemy." It has failed to address the root causes of terror, he said. "The difficult, long-term issues both at home and abroad have been avoided, neglected or shortchanged and generally underfunded."

The focus on Iraq has robbed domestic security of manpower, brainpower and money, he said. The Iraq war created fissures in the United States' counterterrorism alliances, he said, and could breed a new generation of al Qaeda recruits. Many of his government colleagues, he said, thought Iraq was an "ill-conceived and poorly executed strategy."

"I continue to be puzzled by it," said Beers, who did not oppose the war but thought it should have been fought with a broader coalition. "Why was it such a policy priority?" The official rationale was the search for weapons of mass destruction, he said, "although the evidence was pretty qualified, if you listened carefully."

He thinks the war in Afghanistan was a job begun, then abandoned. Rather than destroying al Qaeda terrorists, the fighting only dispersed them. The flow of aid has been slow and the U.S. military presence is too small, he said. "Terrorists move around the country with ease. We don't even know what's going on. Osama bin Laden could be almost anywhere in Afghanistan," he said.

...which is why Bush never mentions him any more. (Memo to Bush: while Osama bin Laden is, indeed, not the sole element in the war on terror, you promised to bring him to justice, and you should honor that promise. But what am I saying...)

Along similar lines, Matthew Yglesias has this to say:
September 11 gave a floundering administration a new political lease on life and they've been milking it for all its worth ever since. What they haven't been doing is making a serious effort to reduce the threat from terrorism. Just as the recession was seen as an opportunity to cut taxes rather than as a problem that needs to be resolved, anxiety about terrorism is exploited for political gain rather than alleviated.

I note, meanwhile, that ever since the "end" of Gulf War II I've heard strikingly little from the right about what it is exactly they propose to do about terrorism. Removing Saddam has not proven to be a magic bullet to solve all our problems, so they've just stopped talking about our problems. Instead, one hears mockery of leftists, mockery of the French, mockery of the UN, mockery of The New York Times, and lauding of Iranian dissidents. I'm all for the lauding, but if the current conservative strategy is to fight and win the war on liberals/France/the UN/Howell Raines while hoping that Iranian college students win the war on terror for us, then we've got a serious problem on our hands.

For further confirmation that we have a serious problem on our hands, we look to Bush himself (of course), claiming the notion that WMDs had anything to do with his coveted war aspirations is "revisionist history":

"Now there are some who would like to rewrite history; revisionist historians is what I like to call them," Bush said in a speech to New Jersey business leaders.

Referring to the ousted Iraqi president, Bush said, "Saddam Hussein was a threat to America and the free world in '91, in '98, in 2003. He continually ignored the demands of the free world, so the United States and friends and allies acted."

The president did not mention Iraqi unconventional weapons in his remarks, although accusations Iraq had chemical and biological weapons were central to his prewar campaign to build support for an attack. No such weapons have yet been found.

Note that, like Osama bin Laden, Bush declined to mention the chemical and biological weapons that Bush said he had proof of prior to the war -- the ones that supposedly constitured the so-called "threat." Note also that Bush made his remarks, as usual, in a friendly forum in which his dissembling is unlikely to be challenged.

Of course, Bush's revisionism has been subjected to deserved contempt throughout most reasonable blogs. But the term "revisionist history" must have polled well with the focus groups, because Bush used it again today:
"I know there's a lot of revisionist history going on. But he is no longer a threat to the free world," Bush said as he promoted his domestic agenda at a community college in a Washington suburb.

ing questions about the lack of hard evidence that such weapons existed, Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, told reporters that the president still believes such weapons existed.

Asked what Bush meant by "revisionist history," Fleischer said, "the notion that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction before the war."

Memo to Bush: it isn't history, it's current events. And the issue isn't whether Saddam had chemical weapons, but that Bush said he had proof Iraq did. Proof which, regardless of what turns up in the future, simply could not have been valid.

Of course, Bush has said he has proof of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons even after the war, as Billmon helfully points out:
We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities which were capable of producing biological agents.

George W. Bush
Speech to the Troops
June 5, 2003

(Of course, they weren't...) Billmon also thinks that the "revisionist history" line won't play in Peoria.

Tristero points to this New Yorker article on the evolution of Administration claims about Iraq's alleged weapons.
Why, exactly, are we in Iraq? Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the war, one cannot escape the impression that the weapons, some of which may yet be found, were a pretext for a campaign whose larger motives and purposes the Administration has never seen fit to articulate to the public. As the war drags on, a sense of reality is lacking in the Bush camp’s triumphalism; Americans are still killing and dying in almost every news cycle, and Iraqi resentment is mounting against an improvised occupation that has set the nation free mainly in the sense that it is ungoverned. Against this background, the charges now circulating that Bush’s war cabinet depended on false or, worse, falsified intelligence to exaggerate the threat of those weapons in the first place is much more than a technicality.

...Meanwhile, in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing the fury of both sides of the aisle in Parliament over his claim before the war that he had intelligence showing that Saddam’s chemical agents were weaponized and could be deployed at just forty-five minutes’ notice. “It is about the gravest accusation that can be made in politics,” the Daily Telegraph, which strongly supported the war, wrote. “Blair stands charged, in effect, with committing British troops on the basis of a lie.” Both the Prime Minister and the President have indignantly dismissed the suggestion that they hyped—or, as the British put it, “sexed up”—the case for war, and both have said that with a bit more time the truth will out. In London, the outing will be done by Parliament, which has compelled Blair to submit to a full inquiry into the use and possible abuse of intelligence reporting in the buildup to the war. Americans should be prepared for a similar investigation, if Congress can muster the courage and the clarity to command it. Because Bush launched his reëlection campaign shortly after the marines pulled down Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, any public excavation of the Administration’s drive to war is bound to be fraught with partisan politics. But, in a country where the previous President’s lies about consensual adulterous relations were considered ground for impeachment, truthtelling about the gravest affair of state—the waging of war—must stand as a paramount value.

Speaking of which, unlike their American counterparts, the British legislature has opened a robust inquiry into whether prewar claims about Saddam's alleged threat were at all credible, or just the rational of an administration that had already decided on its course:
Former House of Commons leader Robin Cook, who quit in March to protest the government's pro-war stance, told lawmakers he feared Prime Minister Tony Blair's government had used intelligence about Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs "to justify a policy on which we had already settled."

Clare Short, who also quit as international development secretary over the Iraq war, said the government exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

...Cook said intelligence information was a bit like "alphabet soup."

"I fear on this occasion what happened is that those bits of the alphabet that supported the case were selected," he said.

"I fear the fundamental problem is that instead of using intelligence as evidence on which to base a decision about policy, we used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled."

Cook and Short said they had been told by security sources before the war that Saddam's weapons did not pose an immediate threat.

Short said she had seen reports from the foreign intelligence service MI6 that said Iraqi scientists were still working on chemical and biological weapons programs, but did not support government claims that Saddam had weapons ready to use.

"I think that is where the falsity lies," Short said. "The exaggeration of immediacy means you cannot do things properly, and action has to be immediate."

Note the key words there -- Bush is still playing the dishonest rhetorical game of claiming that those who opposed War! Now! somehow advocated "doing nothing." To the contrary, many, myself included, simply did not see the evidence that indicated Iraq was such a dire threat as to demand nothing short of invasion, espcially with its attendent dangers of occupation and postwar chaos. In my view, subsequent events have amply supported that perception.

And while we're on the subject of legislative inquiry, Democrats are beginning to wise up to the fact that while Bush relies on the military for his perception of being strong on defense, he (gasp!) doesn't put his money where his mouth is:
Bush is held in high esteem by the military, because of his leadership of successful military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and his unstinting defense budgets. But Bush's opponents say he has rewarded American troops' heroism by skimping on their housing benefits, their tax cuts, their health care and education for their children.

A new report by the Democratic staff on the House Appropriations Committee this week asserts that Bush, by cutting about $200 million in the program that provides assistance to public schools serving military bases, would pare education funding disproportionately for children of soldiers who fought in Iraq. That adds to several complaints the staff has assembled: Bush's signature on the latest tax cut, which failed to extend a child tax credit to nearly 200,000 low-income military personnel; a $1.5 billion reduction in his 2004 budget, to $9.2 billion from $10.7 billion, for military housing and the like; and a cut of $14.6 billion over 10 years in benefits paid through the Veterans Administration.

"They're saying they unequivocally support the military, but then they make quite clear that the check is not in the mail," said Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the top Democrat on House Appropriations, referring to the administration. "They're taking actions that fly in the face of the support they profess for the military."

The White House parries the charge by pointing to pay raises for the troops of more than 15 percent under Bush, privatizing of troops' housing [Ed: which, of course, benefits Bush's business cronies...], and large increases in defense spending -- all resulting in record retention rates in the military [Ed: I suspect the ongoing Iraqi occupation will reverse that trend]. Bush aides also counter that the president proposed the largest-ever increase in discretionary spending for the Veterans Administration in his 2004 budget.

...But such attempts are not new. Bush himself used a similar attack against Al Gore in the 2000 campaign, complaining to a VFW meeting in August 2000 about "soldiers who are on food stamps and soldiers who are poorly housed." He vowed then: "We will give our armed forces better pay, better treatment and better training."

This time around, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate and Vietnam veteran, said he feels "very strongly" that the issue, particularly veterans' benefits, is a vulnerability for Bush. "The real test of patriotism is how you treat veterans and keep promises to people who wore the uniform," he said.

The maneuvering has already begun. Last week, Democrats tried to add $947 million for military housing to a 2004 spending bill, losing on a party-line vote in a subcommittee. They also charge that Bush would cut off about 173,000 veterans from health care under his 2004 budget request to "refocus the VA health care system" while requiring enrollment fees and higher out-of-pocket costs.

On the subject of funds paid to schools that serve children of military personnel, Bush's 2004 budget recommends cuts of $172 million, or 14 percent, in payments called "impact aid" that make up for lost local tax revenues from tax-exempt property. The analysis by Obey's staff calculates that the military portion of the program is set to fall by more than 30 percent, to $435 million from $635 million -- much of that affecting children of troops that have served in Iraq.

...The White House, while not disputing that it is cutting the impact aid, said both Republican and Democratic administrations have for years sought to cut the aid to reflect the number of military employees who live off base and pay local property taxes. Over eight years, OMB's Duffy said, the Clinton administration proposed cutting a total of $100 million in such funds.

Democrats are hoping such explanations won't be convincing when military families' children begin to feel the squeeze on their schools. Already, Obey's staff reports, Defense Department schools overseas had to end the school year a week early because of a lack of money.

Just-permalinked Skeptical Notion has an open letter to John McCain, who recently seemed to have partaken in the "everybody thought Saddam had chemical weaponsso it's okay if Bush lied about having prooof" Kool-Aid:
We didn't invade because Saddam might have these weapons. He's had them for two decades. We didn't invade because Saddam was getting to be a threat again. Everyone but George agreed that Saddam was far weaker now than he was in 1991. Everyone but George knew that the UN inspectors had destroyed the lion's share of Iraq's arsenal, and that US and British sorties had destroyed a good chunk of the rest. Everyone but Bush knew.

That's not exactly true. Bush knew too. But he lied about it. And he used every ounce of credibility as President of the US, as recipient of the best intelligence data in the world to sell that lie. To you, John. To us. To the world. He told us Saddam was more dangerous, even while the CIA and the UN contradicted that. He told us Saddam was a threat to us, even as the CIA contradicted that too. He told us Saddam worked with Osama Bin Laden, and the whole world knew that wasn't true.

And not just lies, John. He exploited our fears and biases as well. You should be familiar with that, John. You were so angry when he did that to you. And now he's doing it again. And you're helping.

He managed to convince the American public that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Don't believe me? Check his own speeches. He never missed a chance to utter "Iraq" and "terrorism" together. Better yet, check the polls. Too many Americans believe Osama and Saddam worked together, instead of being bitter enemies. Too many Americans believe Iraqis were on those planes in September. Too many Americans believe George's lies. And you're helping him.

You're trying to rationalize the lies. You're trying to help George justify the dead Americans, the dead Iraqis. Yes, Saddam was a nasty person. But you know what? So are a lot of leaders. One of our putative allies tends to boil dissidents. I don't see George trying to invade him.

Yes, Saddam was a nasty man. But we didn't invade to free Iraq, or to rid them of an evil dictator. If we had, John, we'd have been prepared to actually help them. Instead, they're dying in numbers over there. Their biggest city, home to millions and millions, still lacks power and water. Their hospitals are looted, their cultural history gone. 3500 of them, minimum, are dead from our bombs.

And we kill more everyday. Not evildoers, John. Civilians. The innocent. Guilty of nothing. And all the remorse in the world isn't going to bring them back. And all the justifications in the world aren't going to change the fact that helping these people was the last thing on George's mind.

Our soldiers are dying, John. They're going to continue to die over there. We're not helping the Iraqi people either. They don't have water, or power, or decent medical care anymore. They're living in anarchy and chaos,shot at by US troops chasing rebels, and sitting on the brink of civil war.

What are you going to do, John, about fundamentalists Shia clerics pushing for an Islamic state? Is your idea of "helping" the Iraqi people mean helping them into a fundamentalist state where at least half the population is going to lose most of their rights?

George lied to you, John. He lied to all of us. And his lies are killing Americans every day. And as long as you're helping him, so are you.

Whatever good reasons existed to invade Iraq and dispose Saddam, George Bush didn't have them. Look at Iraq and tell me George Bush cared at all about the plight of the Iraqi people. Because he lied to us, we were robbed of our chance to insist that any invasion be done for the right reasons. We were robbed of our chance to actually help Iraq.

He lied to you, John. Just like he lied in 1999. Just like he's lying to you now. When are you going to stand up to him? When are you going to demand the truth?

I can only echo: The virtue of expelling Saddam need not be defended. The virtue of the President deceiving the American public, Congress, and attempting (unsuccessfully) to deceive the United Nations in order to launch his coveted war -- which may or may not have been motivated by notions of liberating the Iraqi people -- demands justification.

The truly criminal thing about this entire enterprise is that while half the US Army is tied up occupying a surly Iraq, sustaining casualties at a slow but steady rate, there's little evidence that we're any safer from terrorism -- the CIA thinks al Qaeda will hit the US with a real weapon of mass destruction some time soon. It's perplexing to speculate how a victory by the uncontested strongest military in the world over a third-rate non-contender was supposed to make the US any more secure, but there's little demonstrable evidence that it has, and good reason to believe that Bush's conduct -- and that of his Administration -- have made the world a much more hostile place toward US interests. Thanks a lot, guys.

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