Joe Conason's Journal

Bush still bullish on finding weapons, as his poll numbers continue to sink. What to call the scandal? Exaggergate? Prevarigate?

Published July 31, 2003 4:05PM (EDT)

Making the case -- or telling the truth?
The president still feels confident that our teams will someday discover weapons of mass destruction (or as he now says, WMD "programs") in Iraq -- and he mentioned suggestively that David Kay, who heads the CIA effort to find said weapons or programs, will testify today in closed session before the Senate Armed Services and Select Intelligence committees. Last night, Condoleezza Rice hyped Kay's findings, saying he will eventually lay out the "broad and deep case" for Saddam Hussein's possession of forbidden armaments.

According to Rice, the president instructed Kay: "Take your time. Do this in a comprehensive way, do this in a way that makes the case, that looks at all of the evidence, and then tells us the truth about this program." The former UNSCOM inspector could be forgiven if he is confused by that command from the commander in chief. Should Kay still tell us the truth if, after he looks at all the evidence, there is no way to "make the case"?

While we await his conclusions, there are fresh signs that Kay is encountering trouble. The Washington Post reports today that, "Despite vigorous efforts, the U.S. government has been unsuccessful so far in finding key senior Iraqi scientists to support its prewar claims that former president Saddam Hussein was pursuing an aggressive program to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, according to senior administration officials and members of Congress who have been briefed recently on the subject."

Although Bush told Kay to take his time, the president (and Karl Rove) may grow impatient if they glance at recent poll numbers. In a Democracy Corps poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner last week, his ratings are still going down -- and that appears to be directly related to increasing public doubts about his Iraq policy. According to Ruy Teixeira's summary:

"Right now, 47 percent say they cannot trust what Bush is saying about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, up 7 points in one month. And 52 percent agree Bush did not adequately plan for the postwar Iraq situation and doesn't have a plan to win the peace and bring the troops home."

A strong editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune warns that those doubts may carry a political price for those who used frightening pretexts to advance their policy ambitions:

"The neocon foreign policy agenda got neither a thorough vetting nor public explication -- because its authors apparently thought the American people wouldn't understand it or wouldn't buy it. Instead, the neocons pulled a classic, and very arrogant, bait and switch. Sooner or later, they're going to pay for it."

"Exaggergate" is much the better name for the scandalously misleading run-up to the war, as many readers instantly wrote to point out. I regret that my hasty typing did literary violence to the moniker (which came from an Oklahoma City reader). Somebody else sent in another suggestion that may turn out to be even more apt: "Prevarigate."
[12:02 p.m. PDT, July 31, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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