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January 10, 2004

Falling water

Posted by Phil on January 10, 2004 2:55 PM

It's good for George W. Bush's 2004 candidacy that revelations about his administration's perfidy in taking us to war in Iraq have been gradual and piecemeal. When unsavory information comes out in dribs and drabs, those inclined to support someone have a tendency to believe his opponents are hysterically overreacting each time, without ever stepping back and considering the sum total. Also, nobody wants to feel naive, so they scoff at each incremental up-tick in the seriousness of the allegations. It becomes numbing, and difficult to sort out what is false, what is new, what is trivial, and what is true, to create a coherent storyline and, out of that, a record that can be accurately judged.

But let's try, shall we, just from what's happened this week? Nothing that follows is going to surprise anyone with the ability to read, a bias towards the truth, and some skill with Occam's razor. I've got another post in me about the recent charges of anti-Semitism, against anyone criticizing "neoconservatives" or even labeling them as such, made by people-who-until-recently-self-identified-as-"neoconservatives" and their columnist cohort, at least one of whom went even farther and flat-out called Dean Hitler and his supporters Brownshirts. For now I'll just take a hopeful view and call it an incoherent and possibly desperate attempt to go nuclear-negative on the Democrats before the dribs and drabs add up to a steady stream. (Links, as usual, courtesy Cursor, Tom Tomorrow, and my own bad self.)

Drib: Via Matt Drudge via Tom Tomorrow, Paul O'Neill's revelation that the Bush administration "began laying plans for an invasion of Iraq including the use of American troops within days of President Bush's inauguration in January of 2001." (UPDATE, New York Times, 1/11: "It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it," said O'Neill. "The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this.'")

Drab: The report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace specifically identifying intelligence lapses and projections that, through Oval Office alchemy, became concrete evidence of an imminent threat. With some edits, but nothing irresponsible:

Jessica Mathews, president of the think tank and one of the [report's] authors, in one example said U.N. weapons inspectors said the amount of biological growth medium that Iraq had could produce three times as much anthrax as it had declared if it used all that growth medium to produce anthrax.

President Bush in an Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Ohio, said: "The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for and is capable of killing millions."

Mathews said this was an example of how a possibility cited by the inspectors became a likelihood and then a "stockpile" in Bush's speech. [My italics and quote marks. pk] "And finally, biological agent [has to be] transformed into weapons," which would require highly sophisticated delivery systems [to be] capable of killing millions, she said.

Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at Carnegie and an author of the report, said administration officials dropped caveats. "In that process they changed something that is an opinion into a fact, and they consistently did this," he said at a briefing on the report. -- Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters, Jan. 9, 2004

Drib: "Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper":

The most significant point in Amin's letter, U.S. and European experts said, is his unambiguous report that Iraq destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons. Amin reminded Qusay Hussein of the government's claim that it possessed no such arms after 1990, then wrote that in truth "destruction of the biological weapons agents took place in the summer of 1991."

It was those weapons to which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell referred in the Security Council on Feb. 5 when he said, for example, that Iraq still had an estimated 8,500 to 25,000 liters of anthrax bacteria. -- Barton Gellman, Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2004

Drab: Powell nonetheless lamely sticks by his guns on the weapons issue. However, with an acknowledgment that is shockingly not shocking, Powell admits that there is no "smoking gun" evidence of a Saddam-Osama connection, despite his own allegations of a "nexus" between same early last year. Still, it does fit with Bush's admission that Saddam didn't seem to have anything to do with 9/11, either. It fits, because it's the truth.

But I think this has the clarity of poetry in crystalizing the often messy business of reality: "We could have done a lot in this lab, but the fact is that this lab never existed."

Indeed. Powell appears to have one foot out the door whether or not Bush is reelected, and, living by a code that curiously chooses loyalty to management over loyalty to country, apparently wasn't and could never be the moderating influence we hoped for. And Bush and his supporters will repeat until they're blue in the face that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power--as indeed it is--and that their zeal for his dismissal, however misleading and/or blind to the facts it made them, will, in the end, be for the good of history and humanity.

Time, and their ability to finish the job, will tell. I hope for an accurate accounting of the cost in Iraqi and American lives--including those wounded--every step of the way, lest history be unable to fairly judge. For the purpose of judging Bush as president, isn't it enough that he lied to and deceived us every step of the way towards a war whose planning pre-dates the catastrophic crime that we have been told was its motivation? Or does the public merely interpret each new kernel of evidence and the angry response it provokes as more hysteria in the American political soap opera, without ever putting it all together as something meaningful to them?

That, of course, is what Bob Dole said of the American voter with regards to Bill Clinton. It goes without saying that people like me are equally driven to distraction at the apparent willingness of the American voter to believe and vote for a candidate who, to us, seems patently dangerous and dishonest.

I can imagine how howlingly infuriated moralists and GOP partisans were that people like me were not as appalled as they over Bill Clinton's Oval Office indiscretions--which is to say, appalled enough to declare his administration over. Heck, I was appalled. It was one of the most appallingly stupid things a president has ever done--and it was done by one of our smartest presidents. You could argue that any man capable of such stupidity is simply unfit for the presidency, and there's no question that it changed the way I view Clinton's administration.

But there is personal morality, and there is public morality. This era's Republicans, who declare there can be no distinction, benefit from the magnanimity of we who say there can, because our inclination to believe that, and their supporters' inclination to ignore their indiscretions, frees them of both accountability and the stench of hypocrisy.

This is both a strength and a weakness for liberals. Clinton wasn't impeached; the public didn't believe that what he did merited dismissal. And yet, Americans still like a little (maybe a lot of) preaching from their politicians. They like to hear our vaunted morals ringing in the air from time to time, even if they know that they and those who serve them have feet of clay.

I believe that personal indiscretions are just that, but hypocrisy involves public morality. A politician's hypocrisy is, by definition, public, and it shows him to be arrogant, opportunistic, shameless, and dishonest. It shows a lack of understanding of himself and, more important, a lack of compassion for others. Because we are all moral strugglers, every day of our lives. Moralizers who fail have failed twice, and damaged more people by so doing, because they have removed another fraction of charitability from the public discourse without any more authority than the persons they have condemned.

So that's how I square my excusal of Bill Clinton's dishonesty with my outrage over George W. Bush's. And that's why I say, "No, you're wrong," when people lazily attribute Democrats' rage over Bush to a desire for revenge for Republicans' pillorying of Clinton. Bill Clinton betrayed his family. George Bush has betrayed America.