Politics

WEINSTEIN: Obama lied, Bush was mystified

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.