Joe Conason's Journal

President Bush's astonishing new reason for the war with Iraq: Saddam wouldn't let weapons inspectors in.

Published July 15, 2003 3:47PM (EDT)

A "darn good" quote that almost nobody quoted
"We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

George W. Bush uttered that amazing sentence yesterday to justify the war in Iraq, according to the Washington Post.

What? Yes, I promise that's what the man said. (And by "him," the president clearly meant Saddam Hussein -- not Kim Jong Il, who actually has refused to let international inspectors into North Korea.)

Now a presidential statement so frontally at variance with the universally acknowledged facts obviously presents a problem for the White House press corps. He wasn't joking, and he didn't sound disoriented or unwell. Although Dana Priest and Dana Milbank wrote the story as delicately as they possibly could, they couldn't make it seem less weird:

"The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors 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."

Appeared to contradict the events leading up to war? Indeed, that's an exceedingly mild description of what Bush said. There's no plausible explanation, unless the president suddenly flashed back to his Yale sophomore philosophy seminar, grappling with the argument that everything we perceive is mere illusion.

For the moment, however, let's just assume reality does exist. What possessed the president to make an assertion that everyone on the planet knows to be untrue? And who is going to take the responsibility for this one? Did George Tenet vet Bush's statement? Do the British have a secret dossier proving that Saddam never actually admitted Hans Blix and the UNMOVIC teams? Will Condi Rice or Donald Rumsfeld show up on Fox News next weekend to explain why Bush's statement is "technically accurate," even though he shouldn't have said it?

As hard to explain as what Bush said is the press corps' failure to report his stunning gaffe. The sentence quoted above doesn't appear in today's New York Times report, for example. Yet there is no question about what he said -- undoubtedly to the amazement of both Kofi Annan, who was sitting beside him at the time, and the dozens of reporters who were present during their brief joint press conference.

Anyone who doesn't believe me (or the Post) can watch Bush say the exact words quoted above here, toward the end of the White House's own videotape of his remarks, under the headline "President Reaffirms Strong Position on Liberia."

Another recent president once said something that was blatantly untrue, if fairly trivial, and the videotape of his statement was replayed again, and again, and again, and again ...
[10:52 a.m. PDT, July 15, 2003]

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