The rules of debate

The Bush administration has laid down the law on Iraq. We're doing our best to comply.


Tim Grieve
November 22, 2005 1:57AM (UTC)

We've read the transcripts of George W. Bush's press briefing, Donald Rumsfeld's TV appearances and Dick Cheney's American Enterprise Institute speech, and we think we finally understand the Bush administration's rules about the debate over Iraq now.

Here is the Cliffs Notes version:

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1. You may engage in an "honest, open debate" about the future role of U.S. troops in Iraq so long as you understand (a) that the debate is a purely academic exercise that won't have any impact on administration policy, and (b) that if you suggest a "premature" withdrawal of the troops, you're undercutting the morale of U.S. soldiers, turning your back on the citizens of Iraq and emboldening the enemy that attacked us on 9/11.

2. You may debate "whether the United States and our allies should have liberated Iraq in the first place," but only so long as you do not suggest that "the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence."

We like to play by the rules at War Room, so let's be clear that the views of Michael Moore, "some Democrats and antiwar critics," "a few opportunists" and 57 percent of the American people notwithstanding, we wouldn't suggest even for a minute that the president or anyone in his administration lied to the public in the run-up the Iraq war.

All that talk about aluminum tubes, about a "reconstituted nuclear program," about links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, about yellowcake from Niger, about mobile weapons labs, about "massive stockpiles" of WMD, about drones that could deliver biological weapons to the United States, about the "smoking gun" that would come in the form of a "mushroom cloud"?

Innocent mistakes. Dipsy-doodles. Goofs.

Every last bit of it.

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We're sure of it, and you won't catch us saying otherwise, sir. And just like Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt surely wasn't referring to Rep. Jack Murtha when she used the word "coward" last week, we're not suggesting anything -- anything -- when we say that folks might want to take a look at a piece the Los Angeles Times ran over the weekend about the Iraqi defector code-named Curveball.

The Times talked with five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, and they say that the CIA and the Bush administration "repeatedly exaggerated" claims attributed to Curveball in the run-up to the war. "According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons," the Times says. "Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said."

The Times puts much of the blame on the CIA, which it says at one point issued warnings about Iraq's germ weapons capabilities based on what the agency estimated that seven mobile labs could produce in six months. The only problem? Even Curveball had claimed to have seen only one such lab, and his description of it turned out to have been "fiction." But the paper says the White House ignored warnings about Curveball's stories, too. In particular, it says, the White House "ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years."

That's the Los Angeles Times talking, not us. We know better.

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Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

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