Did Bush Lie?

In several recent articles, I have been harping on the claim that, if no weapons of mass destruction turn up in Iraq, then Bush and his subordinates are guilty of lying us into war. I thought my argument was incontrovertible, since Bush concluded his State of the Union case for war by saying, 'If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm for the safety of our people, and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.'

As I thought about it, though, I realized that this wasn't quite true. Even though Bush claimed, repeatedly, that Saddam Hussein currently had (not merely sought) nasty weapons, and even though it now appears that this charge was simply false, from this it doesn't yet follow that Bush was lying the whole time. The reason, of course, is that it's entirely possible that Bush truly believed Saddam had those weapons, even if the intelligence reports couldn't quite confirm the fact.

This sort of thing happens all the time, in everyday life. If you start with a basic assumption about something, it's really quite amazing how many contorted explanations you can come up with to shield your belief from any amount of evidence to the contrary. For example, I used to think that girls never liked me, but then one day realized that the whole time most of them had just been really intimidated by me. (When I'd be at some party, trying to talk to a freshman, I'd crack really subtle jokes with a completely deadpan expression. The girl would look uncomfortable, and I'd get mad and think, 'Why does she seem so happy to talk to those idiot guys, but not me?' What I didn't realize is that, since I was a senior who was obviously very clever and capable of accurate insults, of course this young girl is going to tense up around me. The idiot guys didn't scare her, because they were too stupid to come up with some remark that really hit close to home.) Fortunately, I'm happily married now so I don't have to worry about this nonsense.

Or take another example. Have you ever been playing Twenty Questions, and you just, well, went down the wrong path? I mean, you know it's an abstract thing, and involves religion, so you're guessing, 'The Holy Spirit? Sin?' But really, it's something obvious like 'Christmas.' But once you get that hunch, that feeling in your head, no amount of questioning will demonstrate your mistake, because you don't even realize which questions you should be asking.

I think that explains a lot of what happened with the Bush team and Iraq. I think it's entirely possible that most of the people in the Administration were stunned to discover that, apparently, Saddam either had no weapons all along, or somehow got rid of them on the eve of invasion.

Let me confess that it shocked me, too. I had just assumed all along that Saddam had those weapons, and that the issue was whether it was moral for the U.S. to invade another country because of the mere threat of attack. (My answer was, and is, no.) It had never occurred to me that so many Bush officials could be passing on bogus information.

But you know what? I bet it never occurred to many Bush officials either. In other words, even though any individual staffer in the C.I.A. had doubts about, say, the letters from Niger, I bet he would think, 'Okay, this particular piece of evidence is B.S., and in a perfect world the president wouldn't be referring to it in his State of the Union, but c'mon, we can't all be wrong.'

Again, this sort of thing happens all the time. In my own life, I've seen it in the economics profession. As an Austrian economist, I believe that much of what passes for economic 'science' is in fact garbage, and what is worse, garbage that serves to justify immoral government actions. But let me assure you, your average mainstream economist is not a duplicitous or evil person, at least not any more so than your average dentist.

What happens in mainstream economics is that incoming Ph.D. candidates have to endure a transformation. They have to stop thinking about the real world and instead think about economies consisting of one good and one agent who lives forever. (I'm not kidding.) And in these ridiculously unrealistic models, yes, boosting inflation is the way to fix a recession. They never refer to it as 'robbing people of their savings'; they would shudder at the thought. No, they refer to it as 'increasing M-2' or 'targeting the interest rate.'

In the same way, young interns go into politics and start learning that mode of thinking. We're not invading Iraq, for crying out loud! We're liberating them! (When someone'I think the head of the U.N.'said that the U.S. had to follow the rules for an occupying power, Rumsfeld said something like, 'But we don't have occupying troops there; we have liberating troops.')

Anyway, back to Bush. Several columnists (e.g. Joe Sobran, Charley Reese, and I think Richard Cohen) have recently suggested that Bush may have simply been duped by his handlers, and that the warhawks convinced him soon after 9/11 that he had to attack Iraq. There's also the suggestion that Bush truly thinks God is telling him to make the world safe for Republicans. In either case, Bush wasn't really lying in the months preceding the U.S. invasion, since Bush could have honestly believed (apparently erroneously) that Saddam truly had all those nasty weapons.

I suppose there's something to be said for those suggestions, and they're no doubt true to some extent. Obviously Bush must feel inferior around someone like Cheney (or his dad), and probably writes off his own doubts to his own ignorance. ('Foreign policy is just above my head. I don't understand these satellite photos the way Colin does.')

But after having said all of that, I still think Bush is a liar. Why? Because he doesn't strike me as a doddering old man, the way Reagan tried to appear. No, Bush strikes me as a bully, one who is undeniably dull but nonetheless who knows what he's doing. (In other words, the very worst sort of person to be in charge of the most powerful military in human history.)

Why do I think this? Well, there's the fact that Bush made fun of the woman he executed. But what really freaked me out was this excerpt from his State of the Union address:

All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries.

And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.


Call me a pansy, but something just creeps me out about the commander-in-chief bragging about how he whacked some towelheads.

So in conclusion, I still think President Bush consciously lied to the American people to gain their support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. After all, you could make the same sort of defenses I listed above to show that, say, Ted Kennedy might actually believe he's helping women and minorities'but c'mon, do we really think that?

No, the Democrats are a party of thieves, and that explains why so many people hated Gore and voted for Bush. But at the same time, the Republicans are a party of killers, and that explains why so many people hated Bush and voted for Gore. What a great system we have in this country. And it's the grandeur of this system that supposedly justifies blowing up Iraqi children.

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Bob Murphy's picture
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