When Bill Clinton left office in January 2001, he was convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and active WMD research and production programs. George Tenet, the Clinton appointed head of the CIA, told George W. Bush prior to the war that the case that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Almost all of the Democratic members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, seeing much of the same intelligence reports given to the White House, and with direct access to the intelligence communities and raw intelligence data, agreed. The intelligence arms of most major foreign governments, including those that opposed the war, agreed. The UN concurred that Saddam had not accounted for stockpiles of WMD that were known to exist after the end of the first Gulf War. So, according to the U.S. Democratic leadership, there is only one logical conclusion that one can draw from the lack of WMD found in Iraq -- George W. Bush lied us into the war.
This has been the mantra of leading Democrats since the Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, pulled his stunt to force the Senate into "closed session" as a "protest" over the supposed foot-dragging of Senate Republicans in the "Phase II" investigation looking into the matter. ("Phase I," which looked into allegations that the administration pressured the U.S. intelligence community to "cook" the intelligence to support the war, concluded, without a single Democrat dissent, that no such pressure took place). And now, to complete the farce, Senator John Kerry, during a press conference on November 14, proclaimed "the war in Iraq was and remains one of the great acts of misleading and deception in American history."
Senator Kerry, one might recall, built his political career on his status as a "war hero" in Vietnam, due to the fact that he amazingly, in four months time, was awarded three purple hearts (giving him a free ticket home), for wounds that, upon further scrutiny, appear, well, hyped. His most serious wound seems to have been unintentionally self-inflicted, and the first, of unknown origin, required treatment with a dab of Neosporin ointment. Upon returning home he made a name for himself by accusing U.S. soldiers of routinely committing atrocities, which he now admits he never actually saw, and which may not have been true. And then, of course, there is his famous story of his Christmas incursion into Cambodia, "seared" into his memory, strangely seared, since it, too, never happened. And during his presidential campaign he gave the distinct impression that he had met with "foreign leaders" who endorsed his candidacy, "negotiated treaties" while serving as a senator, and had been a much better college student than the idiot George W. Bush -- all of which turned out to be untrue.
Senator Kerry is, in fact, the Great Deceiver. So it is fitting that he has now taken up the Democratic crusade against George W. Bush, accusing him of lying to the Senate and to the American people on the basis of, well, let's be honest, next to no evidence, and in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
So far, the heart of the Democratic case seems to be one CIA document, declassified with great fanfare by Senator Carl Levin, which questions the credibility of one source regarding one issue (the training of al-Qaeda personnel in Iraq). But it is not clear that Bush was ever given this particular document, or that members of the Senate or House Intelligence Committees did not have access to it. What is clear, however, is that the CIA had other sources that corroborated the story, and CIA chief George Tenet felt that the overall evidence supported the story, regardless of the credibility issues of one source. It is certainly ironic that this cherry-picked document, in the Democrats' eyes, qualifies as damning evidence that Bush "cherry picked" intelligence to "mislead" the country into war.
It is also fitting, and ironic, that the Democratic leadership, which has used language comparing the actions of U.S. military personnel with that of Nazis (as in Senator Dick Durbin's infamous speech on the floor of the Senate, broadcast throughout the Middle East via al-Jazeera, for which he eventually felt compelled to apologize), now seems so adept at employing the propaganda strategy described by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels as "the Big Lie." Unfortunately, this Big Lie has been working (with the "mainstream" news media reporting the Democrats' daily accusations, with barely a mention of inconvenient facts to the contrary), and a majority of Americans now say that they believe that George W. Bush intentionally lied about Saddam's WMD programs in order to push an "unnecessary war." But as any watcher of public opinion polls knows, these sentiments can change.
Despite the often-repeated line in the media, that with no significant WMD finds in Iraq that "the primary rationale for the war" has been "discredited," whether or not WMD are ever found in Iraq is, in fact, irrelevant to the legitimacy for this "rationale" for the war. The rationale was (among other things) that we had good reason to suspect that Saddam possessed WMD and/or had advanced and on-going programs for their creation. Saddam gave us no reason to doubt this, refusing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors (in violation of the cease-fire agreement from the first Gulf War), and actually kicking them out of the country in 1998 (prompting Bill Clinton to send a few cruise missiles into suspected Iraqi WMD targets). So the rationale that it was likely that Saddam had WMD programs -- which was the primary basis for Bill Clinton making "regime change" in Iraq official U.S. policy -- was perfectly sound, and remains perfectly sound rationale for having gone to war. But none of this matters in the new Democratic political calculus, and the big question is, why not?
The reason that the Democratic leadership seems intent on aggressively pushing a transparently false charge against the President of the United States is that it sees political advantage in doing so. It is what the Michael Mooron base of the party desires, and with the American public showing weariness of the war and of hearing the casualty figures reported daily in the media, the time is ripe, they calculate, to hammer Bush on the war. The only problem is, much of the Democratic leadership supported going to war. That dilemma is solved, in their mind, by pushing the argument that they were "misled" by Bush into doing so. This may turn out to be a bit uncomfortable for the Democrats' probable 2008 presidential candidate -- Hilary Clinton -- who is already on record as admitting that the intelligence used by the Bush administration was consistent with the intelligence assessments during the Bill Clinton presidency. But the Democrats will cross that bridge when they come to it. In the meantime, it is the Democratic priority to discredit the U.S. Commander in Chief, in time of war, simply because he's a Republican.
History will, most probably, correct the current misperceptions regarding Bush "lying us into war." And, most probably, history will eventually render an unflattering judgment on the Democratic leadership's current behavior. But that will be small comfort if the Democrats manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq. Fortunately, Bush seems to have awoken to the fact that he can't continue simply to shrug off Democratic attacks and will, with the Republicans in Congress, aggressively respond to the Democrats' smear campaign.
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