Iraq, with hindsight

As we near the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, liberals still cling with canine ferocity to the idea that President George W. Bush and his administration duped us into an unnecessary war which ultimately accomplished nothing. It’s an attitude deftly summed up by the bumper sticker, cum antiwar rally cry, cum Upper West Side yoga mantra, “Bush lied. People died.” What do liberals believe Bush lied about? In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, he claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and thus needed to be removed from power. Who died? Several thousand Americans soldiers — and, depending on whom you believe, perhaps a million Iraqi civilians.

So let’s unpack these claims, shall we?

What does it mean to say that a person lied? Dictionary.com defines lying as “to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive.” That seems straightforward enough. Thus, when President Clinton stood before the cameras and uttered the immortal words, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” that would seem to qualify as a lie. But not so fast. As we eventually learned, Clinton subscribed to a very narrow definition of sexual relations that did not include the act of fellatio. (Perhaps Clinton’s most notable legacy consists of hundreds of thousands of teenage boys trying to convince their girlfriends that oral sex doesn’t count as sex.) Seizing on the definitional wiggle room, Clinton’s squadron of lawyers later claimed that the president’s denials — both under oath in court, and off the cuff in public — of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, although misleading, were not technically lies.

There’s always a way, in other words, to claim that someone who seems to be lying isn’t lying. But let’s hold President Bush to a higher standard. No Clintonian deconstructions. Let’s stick with the dictionary definition of lying and the plain sense of Bush’s own words. On October 5, 2002, six months prior to the invasion of Iraq, Bush said, “Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons.”

We now know those words to be false. Iraq had no stockpiles of WMDs, and no evidence has ever been found that the regime was rebuilding facilities to make them. Therefore, we are half way to the Dictionary.com definition of lying. President Bush did speak falsely. All that remains is to establish that he did so knowingly. Here, of course, it’s helpful if you’re allergic to evidentiary standards. Then you can skip the next step and simply claim that “everyone” knew Iraq had no WMDs — as liberal commentators are now wont to insist. If everyone knew, then Bush must have known. Ipso facto, Bush lied.

But if you’re interested in evidence, you’ve got some pesky facts to overcome. Here’s a partial list:

“There is no doubt that … Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of an illicit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.” — letter to President Bush signed by Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, 12/5/01

“[Saddam] has systematically violated, over the course of the past eleven years, every significant U.N. resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do.” — Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), 9/10/02

“We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.” — Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), 9/19/02

“Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue as long as Saddam is in power. … We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.” — Al Gore, 9/23/02