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WEAPONS OF MISDIRECTION (PART 2)! Bush’s critics are asking real questions. Judis and Ackerman list them:

TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2003

THE REAL QUESTIONS: David Rosenbaum laid it on thick in Sunday’s New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/03). Bush didn’t “actually lie” about Iraq, the scribe said; he only “exaggerated” and “overemphasized.” And everyone does it, Rosenbaum said—indeed, a president has to! Did Bush’s conduct cross the line? Only history will be able to judge! In what posed as a news analysis, Rosenbaum practically offered bribes as he begged Bush’s critics to stop.

But Bush’s critics shouldn’t stop, because they’re asking serious questions. Of course, you’d never know that from Rosenbaum’s piece, which managed to sidestep all the real questions informed critics have actually asked. Rosenbaum began with a silly, vague straw man—Dems have said Bush lied on Iraq. When he showed that Bush hadn’t “actually lied,” his great misdirection was finished.

In fact, few major Dems have said that Bush “lied”—in part, because presidents rarely have to. Lying is rarely needed in public life; professional communicators can completely mislead an audience without making a single false statement. How do they do it? By “exaggeration” and “over-emphasis”—by putting certain facts out on the table, and keeping other facts hidden from view. Has Bush “actually lied” about WMDs? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But that isn’t what Bush’s critics have charged. What they have charged is well worth reviewing, despite the efforts of many pundits to lead you away from their actual claims.

Indeed, the Bush Admin’s spinning has been so rank it has actually waked up the press corps! On Saturday’s Capital Gang, for example, Al Hunt gave a spirited synopsis of some of the questions the critics have raised. “We’re going to find some WMDs,” Hunt predicted. But then he turned to the actual questions:

HUNT: We’re going to find some weapons of mass destruction, but the much more relevant issue…is, Were we told the truth? And when Donald Rumsfeld said that there was, that he had “bullet-proof evidence” of an al Qaeda-Saddam connection and they started talking about this Atta meeting over in Eastern Europe, was that the truth? When George Bush delivered the State of the Union and talked about importing nuclear materials from Africa, did the White House, in fact, know that wasn’t true? When they planted the stories about aluminum tubes to build nuclear weapons, did they know that wasn’t true, as their own Energy Department did? And when they said there are unmanned aerial vehicles, the president said, that can hit the United States, and we find out they only have a 300-mile range, he’s 5,700 miles off—did he know that?
Hunt listed four specific, significant points on which the public was misled. And there are many, many other such points, although you’d never know it from Rosenbaum. In the current New Republic, for example, Spencer Ackerman and John Judis offer a brutal review of the Bush Admin’s “selling of the Iraq war.” How bad is the picture they paint? This bad—during the course of their lengthy piece, they even question Dick Cheney’s conduct! In March—with the U.S. saying something different in private—Cheney was out there on the stump, pretending Saddam had nukes:
ACKERMAN AND JUDIS: [A]lthough the United States conceded most of the IAEA’s inconvenient judgments behind closed doors, Vice President Cheney publicly assaulted the credibility of the organization and its director-general. “I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong,” Cheney told Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on March 16…Incredibly, Cheney added, “We believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
The writers suggest that Cheney lied in Tim’s face. But then, they show Condoleezza Rice deceiving Russert at another point in their piece. Frankly, it’s hard to escape the notion that the Bush Admin now sees Russert as someone to toy with. We wonder how the Meet the Press maven will respond to what he sees in this piece.

Although few major Dems have used the L-word, Ackerman and Judis throw it into the stew. “In some cases, the administration may have deliberately lied,” they judge. But at any rate, Bush “has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decisions a government must make…He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war.” These judgments are harsh, but they’re well supported. Indeed, Ackerman and Judis even drag in the pundit corps’ Queen of Untouchables, Condi Rice. Among other things, Rice is roughed up for her public comments about those aluminum tubes which Hunt cited. Behind the scenes, intelligence agencies had said that the tubes probably weren’t designed for nukes. But out in public, Rice kept saying different:

ACKERMAN AND JUDIS: Many of the intelligence analysts who had participated in the aluminum-tubes debate were appalled. One described the feeling to TNR: “You had senior American officials like Condoleezza Rice saying the only use of this aluminum really is uranium centrifuges. She said that on television. And that’s just a lie.”
Where was she saying it? On Meet the Press! And hold your hats! Ackerman and Judis even suggest the worst about King Untouchable, Colin Powell. “Powell’s presentation [at the UN] was by far the most impressive the administration would make,” the scribes say, “but it was still based on a hyped and incomplete view of U.S. intelligence on Iraq.” Details follow in the TNR piece.

Ackerman and Judis cite specific examples of apparent deception—over and over and over again. These specific issues have been on the radar screen for some time, but you won’t hear about them from pundits like Rosenbaum. Be careful! Bush apologists will look for ways to direct you away from his critic’s real concerns. Those real questions are listed in TNR’s piece. In the next two day, we’ll continue to examine the way major pundits have tried to direct your gaze elsewhere.

TOMORROW: What Kagan said.

MUST READ NYT: Also citing the TNR piece, Paul Krugman reviews these matters in this morning’s Times. Note that Krugman deals with specific questions about specific instances in which the public seems to have been misled. These are real questions which deserve real review. Rosenbaum’s readers were carefully kept from knowing what these real questions are.

The Daily update

SPINNING HILL: We’ve received several comments about one part of the Rosenbaum piece—the part where he mentions Hillary Clinton:

ROSENBAUM: In the speech in March, on the eve of war, Mr. Bush declared, “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

There is no evidence the president did not believe what he was saying. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and other Democrats said last week that intelligence briefings they received justified Mr. Bush’s statements.

Once again, Rosenbaum is far off the point with the question he raises, as we’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow. But when exactly did Clinton say that “intelligence briefings she received justified Mr. Bush’s statements?” Rosenbaum gives the impression that Clinton has taken Bush off the hook, but this is a highly selective account of what Clinton has been saying about these matters. On June 14, for example, the NYT’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Adam Nagourney reported Clinton’s reaction to the growing questions about Bush’s credibility:
STOLBERG/NAGOURNEY: On Capitol Hill, Democrats who were largely silent during the war have begun to challenge Mr. Bush. Some, like Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, have suggested that administration officials may have embellished intelligence reports during the buildup to war in Iraq.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said in an interview that “serious questions have been raised that need to be answered.”

In her recent interviews, Clinton has taken a nuanced view of these matters. For example, here is part of a June 19 interview on NPR’s Morning Edition:
JUAN WILLIAMS: Do you regret having voted to authorize the president to go to war against Iraq?

CLINTON: …From my perspective, the vote I made, which was a very difficult vote, was based on my assessment of the evidence presented to me. In my mind, the jury is still out as to whether or not that evidence merited my vote or anyone else’s.

WILLIAMS: We’re talking weapons of mass destruction?

CLINTON: We’re talking weapons of mass destruction. But I knew, from my husband’s administration, that—he certainly received the same kind of intelligence reports—that here was a man who was intent, obsessed with having weapons of mass destruction. He had thrown the inspectors out in ’98...He certainly acted like someone who had something to hide. So I’m not ready to say either that the intelligence was wrong or that the intelligence was selectively applied and skewed for a certain result. But I think it is essential that we get to the bottom of whether or not either of those were true.

In the full interview, available on NPR, Clinton specifically says that she wants to know about the uranium-from-Africa matter. “I’m not ready to jump to a conclusion that people deliberately misled someone, although there are some specifics like the claim out of Africa about enriched uranium which causes me some grave concerns,” she says. She complains that her intelligence briefings made specific assertions which turned out to be false. But Rosenbaum’s readers were handed a narrow perspective on what Clinton has been saying. In the real world, real people are raising real questions—real questions which deserve real study. And then, there are forces of misdirection. Tomorrow, more on their slick sleight-of-hand.