Big whoppers

President Bush sold the Iraq war with lies -- and Americans are paying with their lives. An excerpt from "Dude, Where's My Country?"

Published October 22, 2003 9:21PM (EDT)

What is the worst lie a president can tell?

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

Or ...

"He has weapons of mass destruction -- the world's deadliest weapons -- which pose a direct threat to the United States, our citizens and our friends and allies."

One of those lies got a president impeached. The other lie not only got the liar who told it the war he wanted, but also resulted in huge business deals for his friends and virtually assures him a landslide victory in the next election.

Sure, we've been lied to before. Lots of lies: big lies, little lies, lies that brought us down in the eyes of the world. "I am not a crook" was a lie, and it sent Richard Nixon packing. "Read my lips: No new taxes" wasn't so much a lie as a broken promise, but it nonetheless cost the first Bush his presidency. "Ketchup is a vegetable" was technically not a lie, but it was a good example of the Reagan administration's whacked view of the world.

As the lies that led us into the Iraq War started to unravel and be exposed, the Bush administration went into survival mode with their only defensive maneuver: Keep repeating the lie over and over and over again until the American people are so worn down they'll scream "uncle!" and start believing it.

But nothing can hide this indisputable fact: There is no worse lie than one told to scare mothers and fathers enough to send their children off to fight a war that did not need to be fought because there never was any real threat at all. To falsely tell a nation's citizens that their lives are in jeopardy just so you can settle your own personal score ("He tried to kill my daddy!") or to make your rich friends even richer, well, in a more just world, there would be a special prison cell in Joliet reserved for that type of liar.

George W. Bush has turned the White House into the Home of the Whopper, telling one lie after another, all in pursuit of getting his dirty little war. It worked.

His whoppers are available in all shapes and sizes and configurations. Allow me to present to you the tasty menu the Whopper-in-Chief served up special just for you. I'll call them "The Iraq War Combo Meals":

No. 1 The Original Whopper: "Iraq has nuclear weapons!"
There is no greater way to scare a population than to say there is a madman on the loose and he has (or is building) nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons he intends to use on you.

George W. Bush laid the groundwork for scaring us silly early on. In his speech to the United Nations in September 2002, Bush said with a straight face that "Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a nuclear weapons [sic] is when, God forbid, he uses one."

Soon after, on October 7, Bush told a crowd in Cincinnati, "If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. ... Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." How to sway the American public from its initial reluctance to go to war with Iraq? Just say "mushroom cloud" and -- BOOM! -- watch those poll numbers turn around!

In addition to uranium from Africa, Bush said the Iraqis had "attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons."

Frightening stuff. Imagine how much more frightening if it was actually true. Joseph Wilson, a senior American diplomat with more than 20 years of experience, including positions in Africa and Iraq, was sent to Niger in 2002 on a CIA-directed mission to investigate the British claims that Iraq had tried to buy "yellowcake uranium" from Niger. He concluded that the allegations were false.

The White House ignored Wilson's report and instead kept the hoax alive. When the administration persisted with the fabricated story, one official, according to the New York Times, said, "People winced and thought, why are you repeating this trash?" The documents from Niger were so badly faked that the Niger foreign minister who "signed" one of them was no longer in the government -- in fact, he had been, unbeknownst to the British or American liars who made up the story, out of office for more than a decade.

The aluminum tubes "discovery" also turned out to be a fictitious threat. On January 27, 2003 -- the day before Bush's State of the Union address -- the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei, told the U.N. Security Council that two months of inspections in Iraq had produced no evidence of prohibited activities at former Iraqi nuclear sites. In addition, El- Baradei said, the aluminum tubes "unless modified, would not be suitable for manufacturing centrifuges."

According to reports in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and other publications, the assertion that the tubes could be used for nuclear weapons production had already been questioned by U.S. and British intelligence officials. U.N. inspectors said they had found proof that Iraq planned to use the tubes to build small rockets, not nuclear weapons. And the Iraqis were not trying to buy the equipment in secret -- their purchase order was accessible on the Internet. But Mr. Bush didn't let facts stand in the way of his tough-talking State of the Union address to almost 62 million viewers on January 28, 2003: "... Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," he stated. "Imagine those nineteen hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes."

On March 16, Co-President Dick Cheney appeared on "Meet the Press" and told the nation that Hussein has "been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

Three days later, we went to war.

No. 2 Whopper With Cheese: "Iraq has chemical and biological weapons!"
In his October 7, 2002, address from Cincinnati, George W. Bush offered up this freshly cooked whopper: "Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?" Then, just a few months later, Bush added the cheese: "We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have."

Who wouldn't want to bomb that bastard Saddam after hearing that? Then Secretary of State Colin Powell went even further -- he said that the Iraqis weren't just concocting chemical weapons, they were doing it on wheels!

"One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents," Powell told the United Nations. "We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile, biological agent factories." He went on with such specifics that ... it had to be true! And on Wednesday, the official responsible for analyzing the Iraqi weapons threat for Powell claimed the Secretary of State misinformed Americans during his U.N. speech.

But after invading Iraq, the U.S. Army couldn't find a single one of these "mobile labs." After all, with so many palm trees to hide them under, who could blame our army for not uncovering them? We couldn't find any of the chemical or biological weapons either, even though on March 30, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had said on ABC's "This Week," "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat." Oh, okay, that's clear! Now we'll find them! Thank you, Madhatter!

Finally, on June 5, 2003, George W. Bush declared: "We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities, which were capable of producing biological agents. This is the man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew the inspectors were looking for them."

That whopper lasted about a day. An official British investigation into the "two trailers" found in northern Iraq concluded "they are not mobile germ warfare labs, as was claimed by Tony Blair and George Bush, but were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons, as the Iraqis have continued to insist." That was it. Tanks to fill up balloons! Weapons of mass balloonery!

No. 3 Whopper With Bacon: "Iraq has ties to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda!"
Just hours after the attacks on 9/11, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had already figured out who was responsible, or at least, who he wanted to punish. According to CBS News, Rumsfeld wanted as much information as possible about the attacks, and told his fact-finding team to "go massive. ... Sweep it all up. Things related and not." He already had intelligence indicating a connection to Osama (whom he called "Usama"), but he wanted more because he had other goals in mind. He wanted intelligence "good enough to hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at the same time. Not only U.B.L."


I say Osama, you say Usama ... and Rumsfeld just says the magic word "Saddam" and before you know it, everyone else was saying it, too! Retired Gen. Wesley Clark has said that he received phone calls on September 11 and in the weeks after from people at "think tanks" and from people within the White House telling him to use his position as a pundit for CNN to "connect" 9/11 to Saddam Hussein. He said he'd do it if someone could show him the proof. No one could.

During the buildup to war in the fall of 2002, Bush and members of his administration kept repeating the claim, keeping it uncluttered by specifics (also known as "facts") so it stayed nice and simple and easy to remember. Bush circled the country at campaign stops for Republican congressional candidates, inseminating the minds of the American people with the bogus Saddam/Osama connection on a continuous loop.

Just in case we missed the point, Bush continued to hammer it home in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda," Bush insisted.

Immediately following the address, a CBS online poll found that support for U.S. military action in Iraq increased.

A week later, on February 5, Bush's claims were echoed by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his lengthy address to the United Nations Security Council. After detailing what Powell said were Iraq's numerous failures to comply with weapons inspections, he moved on to the Saddam/Osama connection: "But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder."

But the meat of the administration's "evidence" had already begun to turn rancid. During that same first week of February, a British intelligence report leaked to the BBC said there were no links between Saddam and Osama. The two evildoers had tried to form a friendship in the past, but it had turned out like a great episode of "Blind Date" -- they "hated" each other. According to the report, Bin Laden's "aims are in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq." On top of this, the al-Qaida poison and explosives factory Bush and his team claimed Saddam was harboring was located in northern Iraq -- an area controlled by Kurds and patrolled by U.S. and British warplanes since the early nineties. The north of Iraq was out of Saddam's reach, but within our own. The base actually belonged to Ansar al Isalam, a militant fundamentalist group whose leader has branded Saddam Hussein an "enemy." A tour of the base by a large group of international journalists quickly revealed that no weapons were being manufactured there.

But none of that mattered. The president had said it -- it had to be true! Yes, this whopper worked so well that, in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, polls showed that up to half of Americans said they believed that Saddam Hussein had ties to Osama bin Laden's network. Even before Bush had served up his 2003 State of the Union address, and Powell had presented the Saddam-Osama "evidence" to the U.N., a Knight-Ridder poll found that half of those questioned already incorrectly thought that one or more of the 9/11 hijackers held Iraqi citizenship. Bush didn't even have to say it.

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From the book "Dude, Where's My Country?" by Michael Moore. Copyright (c) 2003 by Michael Moore. Reprinted by permission of Warner Books Inc., New York, N.Y. All rights reserved.

By Michael Moore

Michael Moore is an Academy-Award winning filmmaker and best-selling author.

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