Once again, George W. Bush is not telling the truth about Iraq.
He has, as you may have heard, a book coming out this week. It's not a full-fledged memoir. It's an examination of various decisions he has faced during his life. (Andover or Exeter?) But he ducks much. He avoids the deregulation and free-market policies of the Bush-Cheney years that helped cause the economic meltdown at the end of his presidency. He doesn't confront his decision to divert resources from the war in Afghanistan to Iraq. Nor does he cover the administration's cherry-picking of the intelligence regarding Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. He spends more time on his trouble with booze. ("Was alcohol becoming my god?")
But Bush is mounting a defense, as selective as it might be, of the Iraq war. He acknowledges that he experiences "a sickening feeling every time" he recalls the absence of WMDs in Iraq, but he contends that invading Iraq was the right move because "America is safer without a homicidal dictator pursuing WMD."
Yet that statement is flat-out wrong. Not the "safer" part, but the description of Saddam Hussein and WMDs. Bush is still trying to mislead the American public, for at the time of the invasion, Saddam, brutal dictator that he was, was not pursuing the development or production of WMDs. The Bush administration's own investigation found this. Following the invasion, there was a probe of Iraq's WMD activity conducted by Charles Duelfer, a hawkish fellow who had been handpicked by the administration to handle this sensitive job. In 2004, his Iraq Survey Group submitted its final report.
The report noted that Saddam "aspired to develop a nuclear capability." But it was quite clear on the key point: Iraq had not been actively working on WMD projects. The Duelfer report concluded that Iraq's ability to produce nuclear weapons -- the most troubling W in the WMD category -- had "progressively decayed" since 1991 and that inspectors had found no signs of any "concerted efforts to restart the program." In plain talk: nada
on nuclear. The same was true, the report said, for biological and chemical weapons. It found that by 1995, under U.N. pressure, Iraq had abandoned its biological weapons efforts and that there was no evidence Iraq had made any chemical weapons in the preceding 12 years.
The report was blunt:
The former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners.
Nobody working on WMDs; no schemes to develop or obtain such weapons. The bottom line: Saddam was not pursuing weapons of mass destruction. The U.N. inspections of the 1990s and the international anti-Iraq sanctions had rendered Iraq's weapons programs kaput.
So once again, Bush is not being accurate -- or honest. To justify the war, the ex-president maintains he took out a dictator who was seeking the worst weapons imaginable. Did Bush not read the Duelfer report -- at the time of its release or in the six years since? Or does he not care about the real truth of his war? There's a question that ought to be put to him during the PR blitz for "Decision Points."
And allow me to pile on. In a push-the-book interview
with NBC's Matt Lauer, Bush claims that had he not invaded Iraq, Saddam "would still have the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction." Again, that's not so. See above. Per the Duelfer report, Saddam did not have such a capacity.
In that same interview, Bush, still on the subject of Iraq, declares, "I gave diplomacy every chance to work." This is another super-sized whopper. As Michael Isikoff and I revealed in our book, "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War
," on May 1, 2002 -- almost a year prior to the invasion -- Bush angrily told press secretary Ari Fleischer, "I'm going to kick [Saddam's] sorry motherf****** ass all over the Mideast." (Our source, Adam Levine, a White House aide, was a witness to the encounter.) Those are not the words of a fellow committed to a diplomatic solution.
That anecdote aside, the facts contradict Bush's claim: At the time of the invasion, the U.N. weapons inspections program was under way and succeeding
in Iraq. The inspectors were resolving key issues, such as whether aluminum tubes obtained by Iraq were for a project to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons (they were not). They also were finding no signs of WMDs. The inspectors were getting a difficult job done and, as we know now, deriving the right answers. Certainly, they were encountering problems. Saddam was not cooperating 100 percent. But the inspectors were navigating the roadblocks, and robust inspections were proceeding.
Occasionally you will hear some Bush defender say
that Saddam tossed out the inspectors and that's why Bush had to invade. This is not so. The inspectors were yanked out of Iraq by the U.N. because of the pending invasion. That is, by invading Iraq, Bush ended the ongoing diplomatic process that was effectively dealing with the supposed Iraqi WMD threat. He did not give it "every chance to work."
Will Bush get away with these, uh, misrepresentations? He did so as president, and history may repeat itself this week.
You can follow David Corn's posts and media appearances via Twitter.