The speech the president gave on Veterans Day should be old news, except its not. It was covered in these pages here, and that should have been that.
But no, the speech contained the core of the argument that is supposed turn everything around and make those poll numbers go up again. Forget the Veterans - they're not important, or they're dead or whatever. Veterans Day was the day to give a speech attacking the opponents of the administration who said all those awful things about the administration conning everyone in to pointless war that's making thing worse, and to say to the nearly sixty-percent of the population that judges the president as dishonest that well, they're just wrong. Nixon was forced to say, "I am not a crook." Same sort of thing - "So they call me a liar? I'm not."
But if he's seen as a liar then that statement could be a lie, right? The assertion defeats itself. The polls won't change.
From the shooting script of the Blake Edwards movie Charade (1963), this dialog -(Reggie is Audrey Hepburn and Dyle is Cary Grant, in their hotel in Paris) -
And so on and so forth.
REGGIE: Alex - how can you tell if someone is lying or not?
DYLE: You can't.
REGGIE: There must be some way.
DYLE: There's an old riddle about two tribes of Indians - the Whitefeet always tell the truth and the Blackfeet always lie. So one day you meet an Indian, you ask him if he's a truthful Whitefoot or a lying Blackfoot? He tells you he's a truthful Whitefoot, but which one is he?
REGGIE: Why couldn't you just look at his feet?
DYLE: Because he's wearing moccasins.
REGGIE: Oh. Well, then he's a truthful Whitefoot, of course.
DYLE: Why not a lying Blackfoot?
REGGIE (confused): Which one are you?
DYLE (entering, smiling): Whitefoot, of course.
REGGIE: Come here.
He goes to the bed.
In this case, what's the president to do? He's not taking off his "executive privilege" moccasins, after all. What really was decided and how it was decided isn't for the public.
What to do? Keep repeating the assertion, as on Monday, November 14, while leaving town, as in Terence Hunt reports for the Associated Press -
There he goes again. This was repeating the charge in the Veterans Day speech (text here. That was summarized by the New York Times this way - "President Bush lashed out today at critics of his Iraq policy, accusing them of trying to rewrite history about the decision to go to war, and saying their criticism is undercutting American forces in battle." The Washington Post summary - "President Bush lashed out today at critics of his Iraq war policy, strongly denying any manipulation of prewar intelligence and accusing his detractors of sending "the wrong signal" to U.S. troops and America's enemies."
President Bush, heading to Asia with hopes of improving his image on the world stage, hurled a parting shot at Iraq war critics on Monday, accusing some Democrats of "sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."
"That is irresponsible," Bush said in prepared remarks he planned to deliver to U.S. forces during a refueling stop in Alaska. Excerpts from the remarks were released by the White House as Bush flew to Elemendorf Air Force Base on the initial leg of an eight-day journey to Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia.
"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," Bush said in his prepared remarks.
"Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world - and that person was Saddam Hussein," Bush added.
The president sought to defend himself against Democrats' criticism that he manipulated intelligence and misled the American people about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction as he sought grounds to go to war against Saddam Hussein in 2003.
... In his prepared Alaska remarks, Bush noted that some elected Democrats in Congress "have opposed this war all along.
"I disagree with them, but I respect their willingness to take a consistent stand," he said. "Yet some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They are playing politics with this issue and sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."
So he denied he had manipulated intelligence in order to take the country to war against Iraq - and said that the Democrats in congress had seen the same evidence he had seen, and all those commissions had all said nothing like that happened, and that even the Clinton administration had also seen Iraq as a threat.
Yeah, well, Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank on the front page of Saturday's Post, the day after the speech, suggested he was full of crap, although they said it nicely:
And that "neither assertion is wholly accurate" is to say, what?
President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq war in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence.
Neither assertion is wholly accurate.
These two remind us that the only committee investigating the matter of this pre-war intelligence in Congress, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has not yet done its inquiry into whether officials "mischaracterized intelligence" by omitting caveats and dissenting opinions. They haven't even started. That's Phase II - and the Democrats had to shut down the senate November 1st and make everyone meet behind closed doors just to get Pat Roberts, who chairs the committee, to get going. It's been two years or more. (Discussed in these pages here.) Yep, the committee did NOT say the administration manipulated anyone or anything. True enough. They haven't found the time or energy to look into it yet. They haven't said anything about it.
The Post guys also note that Judge Laurence H. Silberman - chairman of Bush's own commission on weapons of mass destruction - said in releasing his report on March 31, 2005, none of this was his business - "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry."
So, yes, technically no one has concluded anyone in the administration was playing fast and loose way back when with junk data about how we just had to go to war at that moment. That no investigation has yet covered the issue proves that manipulation never happened?
No wonder this man comes off so badly on "trustworthiness" in the polls. They should poll people who have taken courses in symbolic logic. That poll would be devastating.
And this business about everyone working from the same data - that everyone looked at the same intelligence? The Post points out no president shares the most sensitive intelligence, things like the President's Daily Brief (PDB), with any lawmakers. And too, the National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community's views about the threat from Iraq was given to Congress "just days before the vote to authorize the use of force in that country." No one had time to read it, which was probably the idea. And all the doubts and "maybe this isn't so" stuff wasn't in there anyway. Ah well.
Democrats in Congress seem to be saying that most of what they knew about Iraq before the war came from briefings from the administration and the Pentagon, and now feel they were lied to - consistently and systematically.
Poor babies. Of course you could argue that since the world is made of only fools and knaves, as Swift famously formulated it, the worse things is not to have a good bullshit detector. Everyone lies. That's life. The greater blame goes to the fool who doesn't see the lie - and the greatest blame to the perceptive man who sees the lie and won't say anything for fear of being called unpatriotic or some such thing. Heck, liars are a dime a dozen. You expect that in government.
Of course some tell the truth. The Post drags out a news conference in February 2001 in Egypt with Colin Powell - Secretary of State at the time - saying of the economic sanctions against Iraq were just fine and there was no threat: "Frankly, they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction."
Just who is rewriting history? No one noticed at the time?
And the "smoking gun" October 2002 joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq never did mention the removal of Saddam Hussein from power and occupying the country. It was in support for "diplomatic efforts" to enforce "all relevant Security Council resolutions," and for using the armed forces to enforce the resolutions and defend "against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."
These guys didn't even vote for the war and occupation. One might mention that, but of course Kerry did and got smashed in the media as a flip-flopper.
Ah, he should have known - they should have known. Had they never dealt with a Texan before?
But then there's more.
What you also hear in the new offensive from the White House is much more of the charge that everyone thought there was a real big threat - all foreign governments and even the previous administration said so. This is the "Don't blame us - we were all wrong!" argument, the one where "we" excludes Scott Ritter and Hans Blix of course.
That argument relies on everyone having an amazingly bad memory or short attention span, or whatever. Juan Cole in his collection of such things notes, from the BBC in mid-February 2003, this -
And Cole notes reports like this - the Russians were even more skeptical.
France, Germany and Russia have released an unprecedented joint declaration on the Iraq crisis, demanding more weapons inspectors and more technical assistance for them.
... "Nothing today justifies a war," Mr Chirac told a joint news conference with Mr Putin. "This region really does not need another war." He said France did not have "undisputed proof" that Iraq still held weapons of mass destruction.
Just who is rewriting history? (By the way, Juan Cole's site Informed Comment is blocked in Iraq and Afghanistan - our guys cannot get to it.)
But then there's more - evidence that if there ever is an official inquiry in "manipulating" things there's a bit to explain.
There's just leaving things out - like how the Osama dude had flatly prohibited any al Qaeda operatives from cooperating with that heretical secular Arab nationalist, Saddam Hussein. We had that from informants. We had on record. That never got into any intelligence report, but the 9/11 Commission found it. Oops.
And as mentioned in these pages last week - here, section two, and in the Juan Cole roundup - there's the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The man who was the source of all the lies about Iraq training al-Qaeda operatives, even though the Defense Intelligence Agency and other high-level intelligence operatives had already dismissed this information as unreliable. Well, as Newsweek reported, this was a test case to see what we could get from torture - the fellow spent some time in Cairo. Didn't work out.
Add this. No supporting evidence. Cole: "It should be noted that no money traces showed al-Qaeda funds coming from Iraq. No captured al-Qaeda fighters had been trained in Iraq. There was no intelligence that in any way corroborated al-Libi's story. And, it was directly contradicted by two of his superiors."
But Powell took it to the UN, after all the times the administration hyped it. Cole has all the citations.
Kevin Drum more here in a nifty table - "a list of five key dissents about administration claims, all of which were circulated before the war but kept under wraps until after the war." He lists this liar, and the famous "Curveball," and the aluminum tubes that turned out to be something else, the hypothetical yellowcake from Niger, and those drone planes that we coming. It's all there, as a preliminary list.
And he adds this:
Yeah, and they're still at it.
... the issue here is not who was right and who was wrong, or even whether the overall weight of the evidence was sufficient to justify the war. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the White House to present all the evidence pro and con and then use that evidence to make the strongest possible case for war. But that's not what they did. Instead, they suppressed any evidence that might have thrown doubt on their arguments, making it impossible for the public to evaluate what they were saying. In fact, by abusing the classification process to keep these dissents secret, they even made it impossible for senators who knew the truth to say anything about it in public.
This is not the way to market a war. It's certainly not the way to market a war that requires long-term support from citizens in a democracy. But that's how they marketed it anyway.
As mentioned last weekend, it was Glenn Reynolds, one of the most influential voices on the right, who said this -
Yeah, but who's lying?
"The White House needs to go on the offensive here in a big way - and Bush needs to be very plain that this is all about Democratic politicians pandering to the antiwar base, that it's deeply dishonest, and that it hurts our troops abroad.
And yes, he should question their patriotism. Because they're acting unpatriotically.
James Walcott notes the idea, that all this wanting the truth stuff is unpatriotic, is spreading, and not working -
Could that be so?
Bill Kristol said something similar today on Fox News Sunday, explaining Bush's falling poll numbers regarding Iraq (especially on the "trust issue") as being the product of certain Democrats and their allies in the liberal media. No one better embodies the creamy elitism of the neocons than does Kristol, who believes that the American people are a lumpy mass easily manipulated and are incapable of arriving at judgments of their own. But they can, they do, and they have. They have turned against this war and slowly come to the conclusion that they were deliberately misled. Questioning the patriotism of the war's critics isn't going to work because a majority of Americans now share that criticism and don't think of themselves as unpatriotic. Bush's counteroffensives are no longer effective because he's lost the confidence of the American people: they've had it with this guy.
Does Josh Marshall speak for America here? -
Oh my, that's a bit overwrought, but then, Nixon only had to say "I am not a crook" and feel desperate. The smart-ass kid from Texas has to say, over and over, "I did NOT con you into a war using bullshit, and hiding things from you, and now your kids are dead, but you bought the crap so it's your fault." Nixon had it easy. They're now calling the frat-boy bully a liar to his face, and bringing up just why they're saying that.
What a sorry, sorry, unfortunate president - caught in his lies, his half-truths, his reckless disregard ... caught with, well ... caught with time. Time has finally caught up to him. And now he doesn't have the popularity to beat back all the people trying to call him to account. He could; but now he can't. So he's caught. And his best play is to accuse his critics of rewriting history, of playing fast and loose with the truth - a sad, pathetic man.
... In the president's new angle that his critics are trying to 'rewrite history', those critics might want to point out that his charge would be more timely after he stopped putting so much effort into obstructing any independent inquiry that could allow an accurate first draft of the history to be written. In any case, he must sense now that he's blowing into a fierce wind. The judgment of history hangs over this guy like a sharp, heavy knife. His desperation betrays him. He knows it too.
One suspect he resents that, and resents that saying the clear facts really mean nothing is getting nowhere. Were they that hard on him a Yale when he turned in an embarrassingly dumb-ass paper, as he did quite often as many have mentioned? There he could laugh it off - he was the son of a famous Yale father and Yale grandfather so what were they going to do?
Well, he has his base of screw-them-all wannabe bullies, but that has its limitations, as Ron Brownstein explains here -
And that will tick off his base.
After Tuesday's election results, the threat is most visible for Republicans. From the federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case to the unsuccessful attempt to add private investment accounts to Social Security, President Bush aimed his 2005 agenda mostly at the preferences of his Republican base. That followed the pattern of his first term. Bush's top political goal has always been to mobilize a massive turnout of Republicans by pursuing an unapologetically polarizing agenda, even at the price of straining his relations with moderate voters.
That strategy helped power the GOP victories in 2002 and 2004, but its limits have grown increasingly apparent in the last year, and never more so than in the last week. The great political risk in this approach always was that it left Bush without much of a margin for error. Because his sharp-edged agenda and uncompromising style antagonized so many centrist voters, he lacked a deep pool of goodwill to draw from when times got tough.
And tough times have arrived in waves this year. Battered by miscalculations (Schiavo, Social Security), bad news (high gas prices), missteps (the faltering federal response to Hurricane Katrina), ethical controversies and the grinding war in Iraq, Bush has seen his approval rating among independent voters fall to an almost unimaginable 29%.
Last week's elections demonstrated those numbers have consequences. Jerry W. Kilgore and Douglas R. Forrester, the defeated Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, were routed in socially moderate, upscale suburbs. Their deficiencies as candidates obviously contributed to those results. But few Republicans denied that swing voters' disillusionment with Bush compounded the problem.
... Bush can't ignore his base. But if he stays this weak in the center, turnout alone probably can't protect the GOP next year.
The man cannot be very happy. And now it's even harder to start another war to fix it all.
Note: Digby at Hullabaloo on how to discuss this all with your conservative friends, an excerpt from a longer item -
Again, establishing a fact is not the same as persuading others to accept that fact. The fact - the president is a liar - has long been established. Now, how do you get others to accept it? Say it: The president is a liar. Say it again: The president is a liar. And when someone demands proof, you repeat: The president is a liar.
Now, suppose they say, "But you've shown me no proof. That's just your opinion. Prove it." Now what? You say, "The president is liar."
Now to us liberals, this may appear at first to be a bit, how shall I say it, irrational and unfair. It is not. First of all, the person you are trying to convince is perfectly capable and in fact probably has read many of the same articles you have read, in which the lies of Bush are so painfully apparent. Their ability to reason is skewed, not their ability to read. Attempts to "set their reason straight" by advancing reasoned arguments merely reinforces the delusion.
The important thing to remember is that a deeply held delusion is invested with deep emotional attachment. One's self-esteem, one's positive opinion of oneself, has become deliberately intertwined with maintaining that delusion at all costs. Dangerously so. It is that emotional attachment you must confront. When that has been dealt with, the ability to reason is freed to arrive at the obvious conclusion: The president is a liar.
Now in dealing with someone on the emotional level, there's no reason to be cruel, but you need to be firm. You need to weaken, in the face of enormous resistance, the emotional glue that binds the deluded to his/her delusion. You don't humiliate as in, "Schmuck! Any moron can see the president is lying through his teeth. WTF is wrong with you?" That further binds the delusion to the person's sense of self, which now feels attacked and therefore becomes defensive. Instead, you simply repeat, "The president is a liar."
Eventually, the repetition will permit the idea to seep enough into their consciousness to make the deluded start to wonder whether it is worthwhile investing their sense of self so deeply in someone who just may be, in fact, a liar. Your clue that this is happening is a change in the way the way the discourse is conducted. Instead of, "Oh yeah? Prove he's a liar!" you'll start to hear things like, "I guess he did cherrypick the intelligence a bit and in a sense, that's a lie. But you don't think Bush made stuff up out of whole cloth, do you?"
At which point, you respond, "The president is a liar" but, as Sean-Paul says, don't go into the details. Remember, they've already heard them but they can't reason about them properly yet and the problem they are having is emotional, not intellectual. They've started to wake up, but they are still entangling their own sense of integrity with Bush's.
It's only when they respond, "Okay, he's a liar. He lied and manipulated intelligence to get us into the war. But we have to support Bush now if we are not going to embolden the enemy" that you ease up slightly. You say, "The president is a liar. He lied to your face. Over and over. He lied to the soldiers who are now fighting for their lives over there. The president is a liar. You owe him nothing. He owes you the truth."