An anti-war coalition of mostly liberal groups ran a newspaper ad quoting six alleged lies about Iraq by President Bush and others.
But, like movie blurbs, the quotes sometimes look different when read in full context.
And while much of what the ad calls lies was indeed wrong, there’s evidence that the President and his advisers believed the falsehoods at the time.
The ad carried a bold-faced headline saying “They Lied,” and six brief quotes from Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Rice (now Secretary of State). It also carried a list of American military personnel killed in Iraq, along with the words “They Died.”
The ad appeared Sept. 22 in USA Today and more than a dozen other newspapers. The sponsor, “Win Without Wars,” is a coalition made up of groups including MoveOn.org Political Action, and using Fenton Communications, the same media consultant used by MoveOn.org.
The brief quotes all seem starkly false in hindsight. But some are a bit too stark – they look a bit different when read in full context. Furthermore, calling them lies suggests Bush and his advisers knew they were wrong at the time. And a bipartisan commission concluded earlier this year that what the Bush administration told the world about Iraqi weapons – while tragically mistaken – was based on faulty intelligence.
“We Found the Weapons”
Bush is quoted as saying “We found the weapons of mass destruction,” but that’s not all he said. The quote is from an interview with Polish television given May 29, 2003 – weeks after the fall of Baghdad, as Bush was starting to face questions about why no Iraqi stores of such weapons had been found.
Reading all of what Bush said makes clear he was referring both to “weapons” and to “manufacturing facilities” and was still clinging to what intelligence officials had told him about Iraqi mobile laboratories that supposedly were used for manufacturing biological weapons.
The full quote:
Q: Weapons of mass destruction haven’t been found. So what argument will you use now to justify this war?
Bush, May 29, 2003: We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations resolutions, and we’ve so far discovered two. And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.
In the end, neither weapons nor manufacturing facilities were found. Bush was wrong about the mobile laboratories, of course. He was repeating a claim transmitted to him by the CIA, which based its intelligence reports on an Iraqi source, code-named “Curveball,” whom it later determined to be a fabricator. But the CIA didn’t formally recall Curveball’s reporting until May 2004, according to the report of the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. That CIA reversal came roughly a year after Bush’s interview with Polish television.
The intelligence commission, though appointed by Bush, included several Democrats including co-chair Charles Robb, a former senator and governor from Virginia. Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, was “of counsel” to the commission. One of the Republican commissioners was Sen. John McCain, Bush’s opponent in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries.
“Saddam Hussein had al-Qaeda Ties.”
The ad quotes Bush as saying, “There’s no question Saddam Hussein had al-Qaeda ties.” Bush said that September 17, 2003, after months of fruitless searching for evidence of WMD’s in Iraq.
However, the full quote shows Bush also made clear that he was not claiming that Saddam had any connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In fact, he was knocking down a suggestion made four days earlier by Vice President Cheney, who said on NBC’s Meet The Press that it is “not surprising that people make that connection” when asked why so many Americans believed Saddam was involved in the attacks.
Bush, Sept. 17, 2003: We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th. What the Vice President said was, is that he has been involved with al Qaeda. And al Sarawak, al Qaeda operative, was in Baghdad. He’s the guy that ordered the killing of a U.S. diplomat. He’s a man who is still running loose, involved with the poisons network, involved with Ansar al-Islam. There’s no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties.
Since the word “ties” can cover any connection, however weak, Bush was in fact stating the truth. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission later cited reports of several “friendly contacts” between Saddam and Osama bin Laden over the years, and cited one report that in 1999 Iraqi officials offered bin Laden a “safe haven,” which bin Laden refused, preferring to remain in Afghanistan. But nothing substantial came of the contacts. The commission said: “The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides’ hatred of the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.”
“We Will, in Fact, be Greeted as Liberators”
Cheney is quoted as saying, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, “We will in fact, be greeted as liberators… I think it will go relatively quickly… [in] weeks rather than months.”
Those quotes are actually from two separate interviews, and they do give a rosy prediction that failed to include the bloody insurrection and resistance that continues to this day.
The first Cheney quote comes from an NBC Meet the Press interview March 16, 2003. The full quote makes clear – as the ad’s blurb does not – that Cheney is stating his own “belief.” Thus, the statement would be true if that’s what Cheney actually believed at the time.
Cheney, March 16, 2003: Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . .
Q: If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
Cheney: Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. . . . The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.
The second quoted fragment is from another interview the same day on CBS’s Face The Nation . The full quote shows Cheney qualified his prediction of quick victory, by saying the “really challenging part” may come in the “aftermath” of a quick military victory. That turned out to be quite accurate.
Cheney, March 16, 2003: I’m confident that our troops will be successful, and I think it’ll go relatively quickly, but we can’t…
Cheney: …we can’t count on that.
Cheney: Weeks rather than months. There’s always the possibility of–of complications that you can’t anticipate, but I’m–I have great confidence in our troops. The men and women who serve in our military today are superb. Our capabilities as a force are the finest the world has ever known. They’re very ably led by General Tommy Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld. And so I have great confidence in the conduct of the military campaign. The really challenging part of it to some extent may come in the–in the aftermath once the military segment is over and we move to try and stand up a new government and–and turn over to the Iraqi people the responsibilities to their nation.
US, British and other coalition forces invaded Iraq March 20, and on May 1 the US declared an end to “major combat operations.” At that time 139 US armed forces personnel had been killed. But 1773 more died after that, plus five civilian employees of the Defense Department, according to official Pentagon figures as of Sept. 26, 2005. By that measure the “aftermath” has been more than a dozen times deadlier to the US military than the initial combat phase.
“We Know Where [the WMDs] are.”
The ad quotes Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as saying “We know where [the WMDs] are” on March 30, 2003 – at a time when US forces were within 65 miles of Baghdad.
This quote doesn’t look much different even in full context. Rumsfeld was reacting to a question about why no weapons of mass destruction had been found, and he said US and coalition forces didn’t yet control the areas where weapons “were dispersed.”
Q: And is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction?
Rumsfeld, May 30, 2003: Not at all. If you think — let me take that, both pieces — the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.
Subsequent events have proved Rumsfeld wrong. Whether his statement was a lie or a mistake depends on whether or not he knew at the time that the weapons weren’t there.
“[Saddam] is Actively Pursuing a Nuclear Weapon.”
This quote is from Condoleezza Rice on September 8, 2002, months before the war began, in an interview with CNN. Rice was then Bush’s National Security Adviser and later became Secretary of State.
Q: Based on what you know right now, how close is Saddam Hussein’s government — how close is that government to developing a nuclear capability?
Rice, September 8, 2002: You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance — into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to — high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.
We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device.
The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
What Rice said then is an accurate summation of what the US Intelligence community was saying at the time. Here’s what the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction said last March, after a year-long study:
Commission on Intelligence Capabilities, March 31, 2005: On the brink of war, and in front of the whole world, the United States government asserted that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, had biological weapons and mobile biological weapon production facilities, and had stockpiled and was producing chemical weapons. All of this was based on the assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community. And not one bit of it could be confirmed when the war was over.
Looking back, it is now clear that much of what is quoted in this ad was, even in context, false or misleading. To say Bush and the others “lied,” however, requires evidence that they knew the intelligence they were getting was wrong. The unanimous finding of the Intelligence Commission argues against that idea.
Interview of the President by TVP, Poland, Office of the White House Press Secretary, 29 May 2003.
Report to the President , Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, 31 March 2005.
Remarks by the President after meeting with Members of the Congressional Conference Committee on Energy Legislation, Office of the White House Press, Secretary 17 Sep 2003.
The 9/11 Commission Report, Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 22 July 2004.
“Interview with Vice President Cheney,” Meet the Press, NBC, 13 Mar 2003.
“OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) U.S. CASUALTY STATUS”
AS OF: Sep 26, 2005, 1000 a.m. EDT, US Department of Defense, 26 Sep 2005.
“Donald Rumsfeld” This Week with George Stephanopoulos, ABC (Transcript) 30 Mar 2003.
“Interview with Condoleezza Rice,” CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, 8 Sep 2002.