By Robert Silvey
Dan Bartlett is counselor to George Bush. George Tenet was CIA director during the preparations for the Iraq War.
In his new book, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet writes, “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.” In response, Bartlett says, “The president did wrestle with those very serious questions.”
The counselor is being parsimonious with the truth. Or, in the more direct words of James Fallows:
I say plainly: that is a lie. To be precise about it, no account of the Administrationâ€™s deliberations, by anyone other than Bartlett just now, offers even the slightest evidence that this claim is true. Innumerable accounts offer ample evidence that it is false. I have asked this direct question to many interviewees who were in a position to know: was there ever such a meeting or discussion? The answer was always, No. The followup challenge to Bartlett should be: show us a memo, show us a policy paper, show us a scheduled meeting, show us notes taken at the time to substantiate the idea that the Administration ever seriously considered what the nation would gain or lose by invading Iraq, and what the alternatives might be. What the Administration actually considered, according to all known evidence, is how it would invade Iraq, and when.
The talk was never whether to invadeâ€”Â€Â”Bush and Cheney always knew they would do that. The talk was how to fool Congress and the American people into thinking that Saddam was an imminent threat. So they were not waiting for a confirmation from Tenetâ€”a misconstrued “slam dunk,” for exampleâ€”except as a way to pin the blame on him if anything were to go wrong.
Fallows, usually more mild-mannered than this, is incensed. Finallyâ€”Â€Â”after years of credible half-truths, plausible inferences, and enticing misdirections from the Bush propaganda machineâ€”Â€Â”he has had it. “I say plainly: that is a lie.”
It’s about time. Too bad Fallows and his fellow media mavens have waited so many years to begin calling a lie a lie. That Bush propaganda machine could never have been so effective without their cooperation, as Howard Kurtz explained in a recent edition of Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS:
From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in The Washington Post making the administration’s case for war.â€¦
But there was only a handfulâ€”a handful of stories that ran on the front page. Some more that ran inside the pages of the paper that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions.
Was this really true? What was the level of proof? Did the CIA really know? What were those aluminum tubes? Those stories, and some reporters worked hard on them, had a harder time getting on the front page. Why, because they weren’t definitive.
Too bad, also, that Tenet and other Bush administration insiders have waited so many years to begin calling a lie a lie. At the time when it really counted (in the words of Michael Scheuer), Tenet lacked “the moral courage to resign and speak out publicly to try to stop our country from striding into what he knew would be an abyss.” If he and Colin Powell and other knowledgeable public figures had insisted that the truth be told about Iraq before the invasion, Congress might not have bought the tawdry wares Bush was selling.
Moyers summarizes the results of all these administration lies, insiders’ misplaced loyalty, and media complaisance:
The American number of troops killed in Iraq now exceeds the number of victims on 9/11. We have been fighting there longer than it took us to defeat the Nazis in World War II. The costs of the war are reckoned at one trillion dollars and counting. The number of Iraqis killedâ€”Â€Â”over thirty-five thousand last year aloneâ€”Â€Â”is hard to pin down. The country is in chaos.
I am reminded of a few lines by Shakespeare. During the Wars of the Roses, as retold in the Henry VI plays and in Richard III, there was another George, duke of Clarence. On a bloody Yorkshire battlefield in 1469, he saw the chaos in England and asked his counselors what to do:
Our hap is loss, our hope but sad despair;
Our ranks are broke, and ruin follows us:
What counsel give you? whither shall we fly?
His counselors told him to give up, that neither fight nor flight would do any good. George fled to France, but years later his brother Richard drowned him in a vat of wine.
George Bush’s counselor advises him to stay the course, piling lie on lie. But everyone knows the truth by now: Iraq is in chaos, and so is the United States. And fleeing to Crawford will not change that fact.
[Cross-posted at Rubicon]