The Associated Press has an article today entitled Study: Bush, aides ‘propagated’ false information about Iraq. According to the article, the Center for Public Integrity recently released a study that found “935 false statements by eight top administration officials that mentioned Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, or links to Al-Qaeda, on at least 532 separate occasions.”
Apparently, the CPI is trying to argue that Bush deliberately lied, for it said in a statement that its study calls into question “the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were merely the unwitting victims of bad intelligence.” The study maintains that there was intelligence in 2002 that contradicted the Bush Administration’s claims. Although Cheney asserted in that year that Iraq unequivocally had weapons of mass destruction, former CIA chief George Tenet states that the Vice-President’s statement exceeded the CIA’s assessments at the time. And a 2002 assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Tenet confirmed, found an absence of any “compelling evidence demonstrating direct cooperation between the government of Iraq and Al-Qaeda.”
I have three points.
First of all, why is this news? We’ve heard this tape before. Critics of President Bush have long chanted the mantra that “Bush lied, people died.” The slogan has been on bumper stickers since at least 2004.
Second, the Center for Public Integrity is not exactly an unbiased source, for it receives money from leftists such as George Soros and Bill Moyers (see this documented article). I’m not saying that its claims should be ignored, anymore than one should disregard the arguments of neoconservative publications like Commentary and The Weekly Standard. My problem is that the Associated Press is presenting this study as if it’s the product of a non-partisan group, which is hardly the case. The study is from a leftist group repeating the typical leftist line. There is nothing newsworthy about that.
Third, the study seems to rely a lot on the words of George Tenet. Okay. Allow me to do the same. An article in the April 27, 2007 New York Times states the following about Tenet on WMDs:
“Mr. Tenet takes blame for the flawed 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s weapons programs, calling the episode ‘one of the lowest moments of my seven-year tenure.’ He expresses regret that the document was not more nuanced, but says there was no doubt in his mind at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed unconventional weapons. ‘In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible,’ he writes.” (emphasis mine).
Bush doesn’t sound like a liar to me, at least not in Tenet’s account. According to Tenet, there was intelligence in 2002 claiming that Iraq had WMDs. And, in his recollection, there was no doubt in his mind that Saddam Hussein possessed something dangerous. Retrospectively, as far as Tenet is concerned, any other idea appeared implausible at the time. Maybe that was why so many prominent Democrats voted to go to war.
Regarding links between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, in an October 7, 2002 letter to Senator Bob Graham of the Intelligence Committee, Tenet affirms the following:
“Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al–Qa’ida is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank. We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al–Qa’ida going back a decade. Credible information indicates that Iraq and al–Qa’ida have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al–Qa’ida members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have credible reporting that al–Qa’ida leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al–Qa’ida members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs. Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al–Qa’ida, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action” (see C.I.A. Letter to Senate on Baghdad’s Intentions).
So Tenet thought that there was a working relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. And we know Bush was lying from what, again?
So Bush was not deliberately lying. On the issue of WMDs, he was misinformed. That doesn’t mean that he was totally wrong, since there existed a strong possibility that Saddam was trying to create weapons of mass destruction. Why else did he go to Niger for help? Also, although the 9/11 Commission Report presents the relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda as somewhat stormy, it does offer examples of the two working together and seeking to establish a stronger bond (see The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 61, 66). So the Center for Public Integrity is wrong to depict Bush’s claims as thoroughly false, just because they contradict its selective, one-sided interpretation of the past.