The president attacks his critics

Fifty-seven percent of the public thinks Bush deliberately misled the country about the reasons for war. His response: Lots of other people were wrong, too.

Published November 11, 2005 7:22PM (EST)

We said it was coming, and here it is: On Veterans Day, George W. Bush is defending his administration's use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, not by rebutting the charges that have been made, but by attacking those who have made them.

In a speech in Pennsylvania today, the president accused his critics of making "baseless attacks," rewriting history and throwing out "false charges" that serve only to undercut the troops now serving in Iraq. Although a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week showed that 57 percent of the American public now believes that the president deliberately misled the country about the case for war in Iraq, Bush marginalized those concerns as the wild charges of "some Democrats and anti-war critics." He said it's important to remember that "more than 100 Democrats in the House and the Senate who had access to the same intelligence voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power."

But of course, members of the House and Senate weren't privy to all of the same intelligence the White House was. As Kevin Drum wrote the other day, it's true that lots of people thought before the war that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. "The problem is . . . that there were also a fair number of people who had been skeptical about Iraqi WMD. INR, for example, thought the African uranium was bogus. DIA thought our prime witness for Iraqi-al-Qaida WMD collaboration was lying. The Air Force found the evidence on drones to be laughable. DOE didn't believe in the aluminum tubes. None of these dissents was acknowledged by the Bush administration."

How would the prewar debate have gone if everyone knew what the administration knew before the war started: that stories from an al-Qaida member about an Iraq connection had been called into question; that warnings Colin Powell delivered about mobile weapons labs weren't based on solid evidence; that claims about an Iraq-Niger had been debunked within the CIA before Bush made them; that pronouncements Condoleezza Rice made about aluminum tubes had been discredited before she spoke?

We weren't able to have that kind of debate before the war began because the administration kept any questions, any uncertainties, any second-guessing entirely to itself. As John Kerry said this afternoon, the White House "misled a nation into war by cherry-picking intelligence and stretching the truth beyond recognition."

At the prodding of Harry Reid and other Democrats, the Senate Intelligence Committee is finally examining the administration's representations before the war to see how they match up not just with the intelligence that supported them but also with the analysis that called them into question. That query comes too late for 2,062 Americans. It comes too late for those who hoped a different president, with a different course for the country, might be in the Oval Office today. As for this president? It doesn't seem to matter if the truth comes out at all. As his poll numbers plummet, as his party begins to look past him, he spends Veterans Day on a stage set in Pennsylvania, insisting that it doesn't matter that he was wrong about war because the people he fooled were wrong about it, too.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room