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Monday, February 9, 2015

Lawrence H. Silberman: The Dangerous Lie That ‘Bush Lied’

In recent weeks, I have heard former Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier on Fox News twice asserting, quite offhandedly, that President George W. Bush “lied us into war in Iraq.”

I found this shocking. I took a leave of absence from the bench in 2004-05 to serve as co-chairman of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction—a bipartisan body, sometimes referred to as the Robb-Silberman Commission. It was directed in 2004 to evaluate the intelligence community’s determination that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD—I am, therefore, keenly aware of both the intelligence provided to President Bush and his reliance on that intelligence as his primary casus belli. It is astonishing to see the “Bush lied” allegation evolve from antiwar slogan to journalistic fact.

The intelligence community’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated, in a formal presentation to President Bush and to Congress, its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction—a belief in which the NIE said it held a 90% level of confidence. That is about as certain as the intelligence community gets on any subject... 


Skippy Stalin said...

This is too cute by half, and it misses some important facts from 2002.

First, the National Intelligence Estimate from that year was very selectively declassified, which Judge Silberman never mentions. Dire warnings of impending doom were released to the public and Congress, but very serious reservations by the Air Force and the Department of Energy remained classified.

Second, Cheney's office pulled off a ploy so cynical that I actually kind of admire it.

Scooter Libby and David Addington leaked to Judith Miller of the New York Times that Saddam had obtained aluminium tubes for building centrifuges, which the printed. A few days later, Cheney goes on Meet the Press and cites Miller's story as a justification for war. The story was later debunked in its totality, and Miller was fired for being a tool of the administration.

Third, Cheney, who had no background in intelligence as anything other than a consumer of it, insisted that raw intelligence - unfiltered by analysts - be sent to his office. This is where horseshit like the "Mohammad Atta in Prague" story and the whole Curveball clusterfck came from.

Fourth, the administration ignored the intelligence community entirely when it didn't like the message. Most importantly, this was done in the case of Ahmed Chalibi, who had been put on a "burn list" by both State and the CIA in the 90's. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ignored the warnings, and it later turned out that Chalibi was a tool of Tehran's.

So, did the Bush people "lie"? No, they didn't. But they made the truth almost meaningless, and Iraq is what it is today because of that.

Richard K said...

The thing about intelligence data is that much of it is going to be contradictory.

Yes, there's a natural inclination to believe what you want to believe, but in the case of a president having to make decisions, you have to rely on the advice of the people who are your trusted experts. From the sounds of it, the bulk of evidence is that Bush did believe Saddam was developing and had WMDs.

But it's funny how because 90% or so (a richly disputed figure, by the way) of scientists, many of whom are about as much of an expert on Climate Change as fruit fly geneticist David Suzuki, say that anthropogenic global warming is real, if you are skeptical you're a "denier" who should be shunned by civilized society. But if you're George Bush and believe the 90% certainty of your intelligence experts, you're "a liar".

Skippy Stalin said...

I supported the war for years, even though I thought WMD was a bullshit issue.

But you make an interesting analogy with climate science, since those with the prevailing attitude did exactly the same thing with the skeptics.