WEINSTEIN: Obama lied, Bush was mystified

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

President Obama’s “you can keep your health insurance” lie is now being compared to President Bush’s “lie” that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The problem with the comparison is that only one of the claims was a lie.

“What about President Obama, did he tell the exact truth? I’d have to say no,” liberal radio host Bill Press said last week. “Should he have conditioned it? Yeah! He should have said, and Congressman John Yarmuth said this yesterday on our show, the president probably should have said 99 percent, he would have been absolutely right on. Or he should have said, by far most Americans, and he would have been absolutely right on. He didn’t, but I just have to say, for the Republicans to make a big deal of that, I remember another president saying Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and we had to invade that country and we did.”

The technical term for this is “total nonsense.” Obama lied, Bush was mystified.

Let’s start with President Bush’s pre-war claim that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. We may not have found the W.M.D.s in Iraq, but that’s not because George W. Bush concocted the idea the weapons existed in order to trick America into war. Bush believed Saddam had such weapons because that’s what the American intelligence community, in general, believed. How do we know this?

1.) Read the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s W.M.D programs. “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade,” the report reads. The report goes on to say it has “high confidence” that “Iraq possesses proscribed chemical and biological weapons and missiles” and “Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grad fissile material.”

2.) Read Bob Woodard’s account of then-CIA director’s George Tenet’s briefing of the George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war. According to the Washington Post journalist, Tenet told Bush that it was a “slam dunk case” that Iraq had W.M.D.s. Tenet later said he was taken out of context, but that doesn’t seem to be the case and, in any event, Tenet doesn’t deny he was fundamentally confident that Iraq possessed W.M.D.s.

3.) General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq in 2003, writes in his book that he was not only told by Egyptian and Jordanian leaders that Iraq possessed W.M.D.s, he was also told that Saddam would use them against invading American troops.

4.) Former CIA agent Kenneth Pollock has noted that the world’s most vaunted intelligence agencies, including some of those who opposed the war in Iraq, all believed Saddam Hussein possessed W.M.D.s. These include the intelligence agencies of Germany, Israel, Russia, Britain, China and France.

5.) As President Obama contemplated whether to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, he was told by CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell that the evidence indicating that Iraq had W.M.D.s before the Iraq war was “much stronger” than the evidence that bin Laden was living in the Abbottabad compound. “And I’m telling you, the case for W.M.D. wasn’t just stronger—it was much stronger,” he told the president.

Now, it turned out there weren’t stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. But it isn’t a lie if Bush believed the best estimate of the American intelligence community. Indeed, from accounts, we know he was mystified when the W.M.D.s didn’t turn up.

“What if we don’t find them,” Bush asked his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice two months after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, according to Peter Baker’s recently released “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House.”

“Oh, we’ll find them,” Rice retorted.

They didn’t — but not because Bush and his administration didn’t believe they were there to begin with. You can debate whether Bush made the right call on invading Iraq. But there is really no debate over whether he believed Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed W.M.D.s.

Contrast this with President Obama. Like Bush saying Iraq possessed W.M.D.s, Obama repeatedly told the American public, “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan. Period.” But now millions of Americans are losing the health care plan they liked — and despite what Bill Press said, the percentage of Americans affected is far greater than 1 percent.

The key difference is President Obama almost assuredly knew what he was saying was a lie.

NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets, have reported that Obama administration officials were well aware of the deception as the president was promising Americans they could keep their health insurance if they liked it.

“If President Obama himself believed this the first time he said it, he was poorly advised,” Christopher Conover, a health care economist at Duke University’s Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research, told The Daily Caller earlier this week. “The problem is that he said it at least 24 times, most of which occurred after his own rule-writers had estimated that 49-80 percent of small employer plans would have lost their grandfather status by 2013, along with 34-64 percent of large employer plans.”

“The same rule estimated that each year 40 to 67 percent of non-group plans not already grandfathered would lose their grandfather status,” he continued. “Given how extensively presidential statements — especially to a joint session of Congress — are vetted and fact-checked, it is pretty inconceivable that President Obama was not aware that he was engaged in some degree of truth-twisting.”

Comparing any aspect of the Iraq war with Obamacare sounds silly for the very good reason that it is kind of silly. But in terms of presidential truth telling, the facts seem pretty clear.

Say it with me: Obama lied, Bush was mystified.

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