Old lie won’t die if news media don’t brand it a lie
At his March 21 news conference, Bush repeated one of his favorite whoppers in the middle of this statement about why he invaded Iraq: "I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences. And therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.”
In the real world in the months preceding the invasion, Saddam accurately disclosed that he had no WMD or active WMD programs. UN inspectors went wherever they wanted whenever they wanted and inspected every suspicious site. They were hitting all the places recommended by US and British intelligence, and if they had been allowed to complete the job (the option of taking Saddam at his word was, quite correctly, not on the table), within a few months Iraq would have gotten a clean bill of health. There would have been no legit cause for war. UN inspectors would have continued to inspect, monitor and verify Iraq's ongoing compliance INDEFINITELY, as mandated by the Security Council. That mandate would have remained in place as long as the US so desired, because as a permanent member of the Security Council it could veto any resolution calling for the lifting of the OMV (Ongoing Monitoring and Verification) program. On-site inspections and the ban on importing WMD-related materials would have continued for as long as the Bush administration and its successors wanted.
One of the first times (maybe the first) that Bush offered this bizarre explanation came on July 14, 2003, when he took a few questions from the press after a meeting at the White House with Kofi Annan. Bush said
that US forces removed Saddam Hussein from power after “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.”
I wrote about it at the time, to no avail. (See my article ”Undeleted Uranium and the ‘Highest Standard’", which examines the incredibly lax truth-telling standards in the Bush administration.) July 14, 2003 should have been the last time Bush offered such an explanation, because in a sane world the major media would have called him on it. He would have been forced to explain himself, which he wouldn’t be able to do, at which point he would have to admit that he had lied or was confused to the point of being delusional. Whichever the case, it should have placed him in seriously hot water for a prolonged period, and been one more reminder that the man simply cannot be trusted.
It’s impossible to overstate the ignorance, incompetence and cowardice of the White House press corps and the top dogs at our major “news” organizations. For reasons only each of them can explain, they, with few exceptions, let this howler stand. In one mild exception, Dana Milbank and Dana Priest noted gently in the Washington Post that Bush's statement “appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.”
That's better than nothing, but Milbank and Priest have no way of knowing what Bush did or did not "believe" in the pre-war period. He might have regarded the inspections as quite effective in demonstrating that there was no sign of WMD activity and no WMD residue in the soil at countless sites that US and Brit intelligence asserted were hotbeds of WMD activity. Bush might have regarded the inspections as quite effective in persuading fair-minded people that Iraq did not have an active nuclear-weapons program, despite contrary claims from unscrupulous characters named Bush, Cheney, Powell and Tenet. Maybe what Bush actually "believed" is that the inspections were effective but not helpful: the longer the process went, the more obvious it was becoming that Iraq was not a WMD threat. The inspections were effective, all right — effective in robbing Bush of his pretext for war. Maybe that's what Bush believed.
A few days after co-writing the July 2003 story with Priest, the excessively blasé Milbank explained on CNN why the news media either ignored Bush's howler or treated it as no big deal. He told Howard Kurtz (his Post colleague and the host of CNN’s incredibly lame media-analysis show “Reliable Sources"), “I think what people basically decided was this is just the President being the President. Occasionally he plays the wrong track and something comes out quite wrong. He is under a great deal of pressure."
Well, nearly three years later the wrong track is still playing in Bush’s head. I surfed around the evening news shows last night and saw no mention of it, including on shows that referenced Bush’s exchange with Helen Thomas that included his ludicrous statement. From the little I’ve seen of today’s print media — including a Milbank column — Bush is getting away with it again.
So here’s a reminder to Milbank — who clearly knows the truth, having reported it in the Post — and to countless other Washington-based journalists who are far more pathetic than he: The Iraqi government correctly said it no longer possessed WMD or WMD programs, and unimpeded UN inspectors were in the process of confirming that very fact when our president aborted the process by launching a war of aggression. When Bush makes an absurdly false statement that absolves him of responsibility for the war and its aftermath, it is your DUTY to tell your readers or viewers what the truth is, and to force the president to PUBLICLY set the record straight. This should happen EVERY TIME he does this. The president should not be allowed to get away with saying that up is down and black is white. Ever.
As for Bush’s war of choice, it has led to the death of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 2000 Americans — and there’s no end in sight.