Games: Mr. Bush Meets the Press
By Jack Rabbit
Many people throughout the world are convinced that George
W. Bush has been less than candid about the war in Iraq. Even
before the war, many doubted that Saddam Hussein was the threat
that Bush and his people made him out to be. There was reason
to doubt that he had any association with al Qaida; few believed
Saddam knew anything about the September 11 attacks; and most
of all, there were the claims about Saddam's weapons of mass
Colin Powell told us exactly what Saddam had and Donald
Rumsfeld told us exactly where they were. In all of this,
they claimed to be supported by unimpeachable intelligence.
No one had actually seen these weapons, but such skepticism
was dismissed. Said the witty Rumsfeld, "Absence of evidence
is not evidence of absence."
Then the war started and Saddam, with nothing to lose and
no known conscience to make him think twice about it, failed
to used his touted biochemical arsenal. The war ended and
the search began. For months, no weapons were found. Meanwhile,
discrepancies in the Administration's story, such as the Niger
document caper, poked holes in the case the Administration
gave for war beforehand.
Finally, last month, David Kay, head of the Iraq Search
Group, the agency charged with searching for Weapons of Mass
Destruction, stated that it was unlikely that weapons existed
at the time of the invasion and most like would never be found.
Administration claims that weapons would be found, already
hollow, now had no substance at all.
The question now centers on why the Administration made
such claims about Saddam's arsenal. Kay and other defenders
of the Administration assert that the intelligence was just
wrong. Others are skeptical, pointing to reports of special
offices set up to cherry pick intelligence to make the case
for the war stronger than the facts justified. The CIA asserts
that there was nothing wrong with the intelligence - so did
policymakers who had already decided to go to war, cook it?
Supporting this theory are reports by such journalists as
Seymour Hersh and a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International
On Sunday, February 8, Mr. Bush appeared on the NBC program
Meet the Press to answer questions from reporter Tim Russert.
Of course, Russert began the program with a series of questions
about Saddam's weapons, or lack of them, and the intelligence
that supported their existence and the commission that Mr.
Bush has named to look into the matter of intelligence concerning
Tim Russert: On Friday, you announced a committee,
commission to look into intelligence failures regarding
the Iraq war and our entire intelligence community. You
have been reluctant to do that for some time. Why?
Mr. Bush: Well, first let me kind of step back
and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence
is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against
the terrorists. It is because the war against terrorists
is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote
parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy
networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations. So, we
need a good intelligence system. We need really good intelligence.
So, the commission I set up is to obviously analyze what
went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence.
It was kind of lessons learned. But it's really set up to
make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product
as possible for future presidents as well. This is just
a part of analyzing where we are on the war against terror.
There is a lot of investigations going on about
the intelligence service, particularly in the Congress,
and that's good as well. The Congress has got the capacity
to look at the intelligence gathering without giving away
state secrets, and I look forward to all the investigations
and looks. Again, I repeat to you, the capacity to have
good intelligence means that a president can make good calls
about fighting this war on terror.
This assumes that what went wrong was intelligence gathering.
Any honest accounting of intelligence "failures" should take
into account the possibility that intelligence agents were
pressured to draw certain conclusions regardless of whether
the facts justified them, or that intelligence reports cherry
picked by policymakers to build a strong case for invasion,
taken as a whole, actually supported the facts.
It appears for this answer that Mr. Bush is already trying
to load the question to be put to the commission. He wants
to know why the intelligence failed, not if it failed and
why. He doesn't seem to want to ask if the intelligence was
cooked and, if so, by whom.
Russert: How do you respond to critics who say
that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?
Bush: Yes. First of all, I expected to find the
weapons. Sitting behind this desk making a very difficult
decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the
best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered
over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts
thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought
were valid. And I made a decision based upon that intelligence
in the context of the war against terror. In other words,
we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed.
Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to
America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror.
And I made the decision, obviously, to take our
case to the international community in the hopes that we
could do this achieve a disarmament of Saddam Hussein peacefully.
In other words, we looked at the intelligence. And we remembered
the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had weapons.
We knew the fact that he was paying for suicide bombers.
We knew the fact he was funding terrorist groups. In other
words, he was a dangerous man. And that was the intelligence
I was using prior to the run up to this war.
The question is whether Mr. Bush expected to find the weapons.
Of course, he says he expected to find them. A criminal suspect
under police interrogation will say he didn't do it, whether
he did or not. If it can be shown that Mr. Bush really didn't
expect to find the weapons, then he would be subject to both
impeachment and trial before an international tribunal, not
to mention defeat in the next election.
Mr. Bush continues:
I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons.
But David Kay has found the capacity to produce weapons.
And when David Kay goes in and says we haven't found stockpiles
yet, and there's theories as to where the weapons went.
They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and
his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into
Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported
to another country, and we'll find out. That's what the
Iraqi survey group - let me, let me finish here.
But David Kay did report to the American people
that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons. Saddam Hussein
was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous
with the ability to make weapons. He was a dangerous man
in the dangerous part of the world.
In his State of the Union address for 2003, delivered only
seven weeks prior to the invasion, Mr. Bush did not speak
of Saddam having a mere capacity to produce weapons. He stated
flatly and unequivocally that Saddam possessed weapons of
mass destruction and demanded that Saddam disarm voluntarily
or threaten to invade in order to involuntarily disarm Saddam:
Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security
Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm.
He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations,
and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors
were sent to conduct -- were not sent to conduct a scavenger
hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California.
The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq's regime
is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it
is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for
the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing
like this has happened.
The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam
Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over
25,000 liters of anthrax - enough doses to kill several
million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's
given no evidence that he has destroyed it. The United Nations
concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to
produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin - enough
to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure.
He hadn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence
that he has destroyed it.
Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam
Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons
of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities,
these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands.
He's not accounted for these materials. He has given no
evidence that he has destroyed them...
The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the
contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we
know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel
are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N.
inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the
inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors
in order to intimidate witnesses... With nuclear arms or
a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam
Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle
East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress
and the America people must recognize another threat. 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.
Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one
of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop
Continuing with the Russert interview:
Russert: Mr. President, the Director of the CIA
said that his briefings had qualifiers and caveats, but
when you spoke to the country, you said "there is no doubt."
When Vice President Cheney spoke to the country, he said
"there is no doubt." Secretary Powell, "no doubt." Secretary
Rumsfeld, "no doubt, we know where the weapons are." You
said, quote, "The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency."
"Saddam Hussein is a threat that we must deal with as quickly
as possible.You gave the clear sense that this was an immediate
threat that must be dealt with.
Bush: I think, if I might remind you that in
my language I called it a grave and gathering threat, but
I don't want to get into word contests. But what I do want
to share with you is my sentiment at the time. There was
no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to
(H)e had the capacity to have a weapon, make a
weapon. We thought he had weapons. The international community
thought he had weapons. But he had the capacity to make
a weapon and then let that weapon fall into the hands of
a shadowy terrorist network. It's important for people to
understand the context in which I made a decision here in
the Oval Office. I'm dealing with a world in which we have
gotten struck by terrorists with airplanes, and we get intelligence
saying that there is, you know, we want to harm America.
And the worst nightmare scenario for any president is to
realize that these kind of terrorist networks had the capacity
to arm up with some of these deadly weapons, and then strike
us. And the President of the United States' most solemn
responsibility is to keep this country secure. And the man
was a threat, and we dealt with him, and we dealt with him
because we cannot hope for the best. We can't say, Let's
don't deal with Saddam Hussein. Let's hope he changes his
stripes, or let's trust in the goodwill of Saddam Hussein.
Let's let us, kind of, try to contain him. Containment doesn't
work with a man who is a madman.
Mr. Bush is contradicting himself within the context of
interview. Earlier in the interview, he said that the intelligence
was faulty and led him to believe that Saddam was an imminent
threat in possession of a biochemical arsenal. "I expected
to find weapons," Mr. Bush said. Here, he says he only called
Saddam a "gathering" threat, which is quite different from
an imminent threat.
Yet we can see in the above passages from the 2003 State
of the Union message that Mr. Bush is describing an imminent
However, neither in the earlier passages of this interview
nor in the State of the Union does Mr. Bush use the word "imminent"
to describe the threat from Saddam. Indeed, he implies that
the threat is not imminent. First, from earlier in the interview:
By the way, quoting a lot of their data in other
words, this is unaccounted for stockpiles that you thought
he had because I don't think America can stand by and hope
for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential
I believe it is essential that when we see a threat, we
deal with those threats before they become imminent. It's
too late if they become imminent. It's too late in this
new kind of war, and so that's why I made the decision I
And from the State of the Union:
Some have said we must not act until the threat
is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced
their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they
strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly
emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would
come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam
Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
This is a reiteration of the so-called Bush Doctrine of
pre-emption (which is actually prevention rather than pre-emption).
Under this doctrine, a threat doesn't need to be imminent
in order to justify an attack.
Nevertheless, one may wonder why Mr. Bush describes a threat
that a reasonable person would characterize as imminent and
then turn around and say that the threat must not be allowed
to become imminent, implying that it isn't already. Mr. Bush
either simply doesn't know what he is talking about, has different
definitions of imminent and pre-emptive than most people or
is deliberately obfuscating the issue in language use that
could almost be called Orwellian.
Since Mr. Bush is misusing two words, not just one, and
misusing them in the same way, one could make a case for deliberate
obfuscation. Under this theory, Mr. Bush is attempting to
appear to be in compliance with international laws and conventions
when he is not. Under the United Nations Charter, a pre-emptive
attack is perfectly legal. However, a pre-emptive attack is
one where a nation, faced with an imminent threat from another,
launches an attack to forestall the threat or eliminate it
altogether. This is quite different from Mr. Bush's language
laying out the Bush Doctrine to the address to the graduating
class at West Point (June 1, 2002):
For much of the last century, America's defense
relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment.
In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats
also require new thinking. Deterrence - the promise of massive
retaliation against nations - means nothing against shadowy
terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.
Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with
weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on
missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.
We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping
for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants,
who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically
break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize,
we will have waited too long. Homeland defense and missile
defense are part of stronger security, and they're essential
priorities for America. Yet the war on terror will not be
won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy,
disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before
they emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path
to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act.
What Mr. Bush is describing in this passage is not a pre-emptive
strike but a preventive strike. The difference is obvious.
There is no imminent threat, but one that could materialize
at some indefinite time in the future. It comes very close
to being a pretext to attack any sovereign state at any time
for any reason. For this reason, preventive strikes are inconsistent
with international law.
The difference between a pre-emptive and preventive strike
is tied up with whether the threat is imminent. That is the
other word Bush is abusing. Imminent in this case means immediate;
the threat is present in time and space and can be executed
at any time. To cite an example: since Saddam didn't possess
biochemical or nuclear weapons, any programs he had to build
them at a later date were not an imminent threat to the US
or anyone else; an superior military force poised on Iraq's
border with Kuwait ready to invade posed an imminent threat
to Iraq. Paradoxically, had Saddam possessed a biochemical
arsenal, he would have been justified in using it against
Anglo-American forces assembled in Kuwait; that would have
been a pre-emptive strike. Since he did not, the invasion
was a preventive strike to stop Saddam from building such
weapons later; this is unjustified under international law.
Under the Bush Doctrine, however, a preventive strike against
an intermediate or indefinite threat is justified. This still
contravenes the Charter of the United Nations. Mr. Bush obfuscates
the issue by claiming that the strike is pre-emptive; he further
obfuscates describing the threat as imminent, then saying
he has the right to strike even if it is not.
If the intelligence were really faulty, then Mr. Bush would
not have to go through such gyrations to justify the invasion
of Iraq. He could claim that he has made an honest mistake
based on the best intelligence he had at the time. Some people
would choose to believe him; others would not. Such an explanation
would use words like pre-emptive and imminent in a manner
consistent with common, everyday usage. However, if Mr. Bush
had simply been mistaken, he would stop there. Instead, he
has chosen to play word games. In stark Orwellian terms, a
threat that is at best intermediate is imminent and a preventive
strike is pre-emptive. Playing word games is not the trait
of a man who has made an honest mistake; it is the mark of
a man trying to deceive his audience.
Thus, we have Bush saying that Saddam possessing a biochemical
arsenal is not an imminent threat. Most people would think
that if Saddam possessed a biochemical arsenal then it is
an imminent threat. Is Mr. Bush saying that, since he never
said that there was imminent threat, that he never said Saddam
possessed biochemical weapons?
The inference is inescapable: Bush is a liar. He can no
longer keeps is lies straight.