Sunday, August 21, 2005

The lie of the land

The comments section over at my post on "supporting the troops" has been pretty active as such things go here at Kn@ppster. Several discussions have opened up that I'd like to see kept going.

Let's start with this one: Lying politicians. In this comment and this one, Morg from The Wide Awakes takes the anti-war side of the argument to task for calling George W. Bush and/or the Bush administration liars. He refers to his own well-written post on the subject of what Democrats thought about Iraq and WMD before Bush ever made it to the White House.

This is something I'd really like to see more discussion on, so discuss away. Here are my personal opening remarks:

- I agree that Democratic politicians, particularly Bill Clinton and his cabinet -- but also John Kerry and others -- "wagged the dog" with Iraq throughout the 1990s. Whether that wagging was justified is another question entirely. Democratic error? Democratic dishonesty? Democratic duplicity? Democratic hypocrisy? These things are not news. They're the status quo. Libertarian Democrats have set themselves the task of making the Democratic Party more pro-freedom (and more accurate, more honest, less duplicitous and less hypocritical). We aren't pretending that the job is already done.

- While Morg points out accurately that the Clinton administration held out Iraq as a threat and claimed that it had substantial stockpiles of WMD, what he doesn't point out is that the Bush administration claimed precisely the opposite prior to 9/11. Both then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly and unambiguously claimed that Saddam Hussein a) had been contained, b) represented no substantial regional threat and c) had had both his WMD toys and his capacity for making those toys taken away. If we're going to slag Democrats for changing their story (when many haven't), how about a little GOP accountability for changing theirs (which the administration, at least, certainly did by 180 degrees).

- When Bush and Company claimed that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and programs for producing more, I don't think they were lying. If you read what I was writing at the time, I made it clear that I thought he had them, too (although I didn't think that their existence constituted a legitimate casus belli. On the other hand, it seems fairly obvious that they were lying about the specifics. Both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice publicly stated not just that the WMD existed, but that the US government knew what those WMD were and where they were. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell wowed the United Nations Security Council with satellite photos and little arrows pointing to trucks and bunkers and telephone intercepts to demonstrate that the US knew what Saddam was up to in detail.

Now, here's the thing: We can argue about what the penultimate justification for invading Iraq was, but those WMD were, beyond any rational argument, at least one of the central elements. We know that US satellites are capable of 24-hour surveillance of key areas, and we know, because our government told us, that special operations forces entered Iraq before the invasion proper in order to locate targets, etc.

To put it simply, if the US government knew what Saddam had prior to the invasion, and if the US government knew where he was keeping it and what he was doing, or planned to do, with it prior to the invasion, then there is just no damn way that the US government didn't know what happened to that stuff during and after the invasion. And if they knew, they'd have told us. After all, it was pretty embarrassing after the invasion for them to not be able to trot out any captured chemical or biological weapons to establish that they'd been right. And it was pretty embarrassing for their own survey team to report back that there was no evidence of substantial stockpiles and no evidence of ongoing programs. All that they've been up to come up with so far are a few pre-1991 artillery shells that almost certainly were never in Saddam's control from the 1991 war to the 2003 invasion, and lurid tales of a "convoy to Syria" which they can't produce satellite surveillance photos of, or any explanation for with respect to why, if it was transporting the WMD caches that we claimed to know the location of, it wasn't taken out en route.

Do I believe the Bush administration lied? It's beyond doubt. I don't believe they were lying in early 2001, when they claimed there were no WMDs, because I think they believed that there were no WMDs. I don't believe they were lying after 9/11 about the existence of WMDs, either, because I think they became convinced that they had been wrong. But with respect to knowing the amounts and locations? Yep. They were lying. They were pretending to detailed knowledge that they didn't have in order to drum up support for the war, and they trusted that the general case was sound enough that they'd be vindicated in the end and not have to account for those lies. Instead, it turned out that they (and the administration they replaced) were wrong about the general case, which in turn left those lies hanging out in the air where they could be seized for purposes of demanding accountability.

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