Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bush's Unending Lies: Why Deceptions about Iraq May Be His Only Legacy

by Nomad

Former president George W. Bush's recent comments about Iraq demonstrated that his skill at deception and self-deception is undiminished by time. 
It will probably be the only thing he will be remembered for.

The other day former president George W. Bush was on NPR plugging his book on his father, 41: A Portrait of My Father. While presumably whitewashing his father's career, Bush took a moment to whitewash his own. 

In that interview Bush was asked whether he thought Iraq was safer now compared with when Saddam Hussein was in power. What would Iraq be like today if we hadn't invaded?  
"One could envision a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq. The man, Saddam Hussein, would have a lot of revenue as a result of high prices of oil."
Actually this is an outright lie. 
Since 1991, sanctions on exports and imports administrated by the UN had made all exports of oil tightly controlled. Admittedly it wasn't perfect and Saddam was able to find some loopholes. (This is the Middle-East where no rule is entirely fixed and black markets can be found everywhere.)

However, to claim that Iraq could have found the financing for a atomic weapons program is absolute nonsense. In fact, The government of Iraq declined UN offers to ease sanctions which would have enabled Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to meet its people's needs. Saddam refused in order to effectively hold his own people hostages and to have all sanctions removed. 

The UN did not let up the pressure on the Iraqi government and set up the much-criticized Oil for Food Program in 1995.  Corruption might have been rife in that program but there was never any evidence that money was diverted for any atomic weapons project. 

In fact, 25% Iraqi oil export proceeds allowed under the sanctions were used to the Compensation Fund for war reparation payments, 2.2% went to United Nations administrative and operational costs and 0.8% for the weapons inspection program. The rest (72%) went to humanitarian purposes.
That doesn't leave very much to spend on a clandestine nuclear weapons research program.

Breaking it Down
Immediately after this statement, to preempt reality from wrecking his myth- he added
"And even though there wasn't, you know, a -- we found a dirty bomb, for example -- he had the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And so there's -- you know, it's all very hypothetical."
The statement is typical of his fumbling oratorical style but there's more to it than mere incoherence. Bush tries to cram so much misrepresentation in one remark, it's hard to know how to break it down.
Let's give it a shot.

Bush seems to start off admitting the truth (which most people already know) but then detours into an eye-rolling lie.
Did Saddam actually have the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as Bush claims? 

Well, as far as chemical weapons, any nation that has any kind of industrial sector at all can come up with makeshift weapon. For example, the Dow Chemical leak in Bhopal killed thousands and it required no committed chemical weapons program. Saddam had used chemical weapons on his own people, it is true, but it is also true that, despite administration claims prior to the invasion, no mobile chemical factories like the one that Colin Powell claimed in the UN were ever found.

They searched the whole country and didn't find any. But the best evidence that Saddam didn't have any kind of chemical weapons program is by the very fact that when the ultimate crisis occurred and Coalition troops were at his doorstep, he did not have any such weapons to use.  

In fact, according to a 1,000-page report in 2004 from the Iraq Survey Group — an international group composed of civilian and military experts Iraqi military biological weapons programs had been abandoned during 1995 and 1996.
"The ISG has not found evidence that Saddam possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but [there is] the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq, although not of a militarily significant capability."
Saddam's Bomb
As far as nuclear weapons. The claim that Saddam was "this close" to building the Bomb was something that was repeated by Dick Cheney and John McCain and many other war-hawks before the invasion. (They just as quickly dropped the claim again afterwards.)

Even so, behind closed doors, the intelligence agencies were having serious reservations about those claims. One researcher, Greg Thielmann, former director of the State Department’s Bureau for Intelligence and Research (INR) Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office, said:
“there was no solid evidence that indicated Iraq’s top nuclear scientists were rejuvenating Iraq’s nuclear weapons program,”
(More complete point by point breakdown of the nuclear bomb allegations can be found here.)
Others claimed that an Iraqi bomb- in the hands of a man as unstable as Saddam- would naturally trigger an arms race between Middle East nations.   
The possibility of a Middle Eastern arms race conveniently leaves out the fact that such an bomb-building frenzy in the Middle East wouldn't have started with Iraq or even Iran.

Israel allegedly has its own small arsenal of atomic bombs. An arms race in the Middle East is much more likely (or just as likely) to be started as a result of an Israeli nuclear weapons program as anything Saddam might have thrown together. Of course, because of this on the ground reality, any talk of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East is an absolute non-starter. 

Even then, if Bush had actually been concerned about an arms race, his focus should have been on Pakistan and India. That was actually where an arms race was more likely to erupt into calamity.

Of course, the theory that Saddam ever had the potential to produce an atomic bomb was highly unlikely. (Acquiring one, however, is a different story but that was not something Bush claimed.) Before the invasion, the idea seemed plausible to the less informed. Certainly, Senator John McCain and others talked it up before the decision to invade. They just as quickly dropped the claim again afterwards.

His mention of a dirty bomb plays upon the ignorance of the listener. Making a dirty bomb for a nation is not something that requires much expertise. Make a bomb and add a little radioactive waste, set timer and run. Most of the things you need can found even in most developing nations. No special program is required to build such a device.

A Safer Place Without Him
In the interview, Bush continues his fantasy with a definitive statement.
"I could argue that we're much safer without Saddam And I would argue that the people of Iraq have a better shot at living in a peaceful -- a peaceful state."
Indeed Bush could argue it. Conversely, others could argue that the world would be an even safer place with George Bush or Dick Cheney. Any topic can be argued. (Just look at any comment section online.) 
If he had a hankering, Bush could argue that cream cheese and cow manure are equally delicious. The problem is it requires holding one's nose and not looking at the obvious. It also requires the other person to do the actual tasting.
In this case, the people of Iraq. 

We can be sure that sandals were not thrown at President Bush out of gratitude for giving them "a better shot at a peaceful state." It was a demonstration of the type of anger that the fish feels the moment it realizes the frying pan wasn't so bad after all. 

In fact as Bush enjoys his retirement, smug in the fantasy that he has done his best for those people, horrific car bombs have become a daily way of life in Baghdad. The day to day misery caused by the destabilization of Iraq continues over a decade after Bush ignored wise advice and proceeded to destroy the country.

Just as the French ambassador warned in the UN in the days before the invasion, foolish and poorly-thought-out actions may seem bold and impressive but they also may also have long term risks. Namely,  the resulting power vacuum would create an ideal environment for terrorists. 

M. Dominique de Villepin told the UN:
To those who think that the scourge of terrorism will be eradicated through the action in Iraq, we say they run the risk of failing in their objective. The irruption of force in this area which is so unstable can only exacerbate the tensions and divisions on which the terrorists feed.
Were these the words of some kind of psychic? No, it didn't take the Great Kreskin to see what would happen. Simply a little intelligence.
"... Terrorism is fuelled by organized crime networks; it thrives within the bounds of lawless areas; it proliferates on the back of regional crises; it profits from all the divisions in the world; it utilizes all available resources, from the most rudimentary to the most sophisticated, from the knife to the weapons of mass destruction it is trying to acquire.
On October 16, a few days after the Bush interview, a fresh wave of car bombs killed at least 50 people and wounded another 50. The attack had all of the hallmarks of the terrorist group ISIS. 
At least the families of the victims can sleep well at night knowing the George Bush thinks that Iraq still has a shot at peace.

Bush's Idea of Peace and Democracy
Has Bush expressed any kind of doubt in his decisions both to outflank the UN and launch a superpower-wrecking and  war in Iraq? Has he ever offered any kind of reflection or hindsight that maybe just maybe things could have been handled differently? Has he ever apologized to the families thousands of Americans who died and to those were maimed for his crusade?
Instead he concluded his defense by blaming Obama for the problems. Bush told his interviewer that all of the problems in Iraq (and by extension, Syria) are a result of Obama's failure to maintain a troop presence in the country. 
In the NPR interview, Bush resorted again to a bit of subterfuge to prove his fantasy. He pointed out that 
"in 2009 and 2010, the violence in Iraq was settling down. And the democracy, even though it was not perfect -- kind of like ours was initially not perfect -- was beginning to work."
"Settling down" is the key phrase. The situation might have been settling down but only compared to 2007. Here is a list of the attacks in that year:

It set a new record in bombings in Iraq and no amount of American personnel could stop it. It was however a death trap for American servicemen and women. 
Furthermore, as much as Bush would like us to believe, none of these attacks can be blamed on Obama and as bad as things are at the moment in Iraq, it has not gotten as bad as 2007.

(For an excellent interactive map of the violence in the Iraqi capital during the up to 2007, go to this BBC page.)

Settling down therefore does not any overall improvement of the situation there, as he is suggesting. 

Our Man in Baghdad
Bush's definitive statement that Iraqi democracy was "beginning to work" until Obama went and fouled things up is hardly worth debating. However it needs to be addressed if only because lies take on a patina of truth when they are repeated often and go unchallenged. 

conservative source this summer pointed out that several weeks before Obama took office, the Bush administration signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) agreement with the "ingrate" Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki

At the same time, Iraq was making nice to America's declared enemy, Iran. Meanwhile American soldiers were fighting to protect "Maliki’s fledgling government from al-Qaeda jihadists — jihadists that the insidious mullahs were also supplying with money, training, and IEDs."

An article in The New Yorker, by Dexter Filkins, a journalist that covered the wars for the New York Times, details how al-Maliki was actually a CIA choice to lead the new Iraq back in 2006. 

Strangely enough, according to the article, despite the CIA support, Maliki was largely unknown. Within a year, it became apparent even to the Bush administration that the man was not working out and actually sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Baghdad to give him a stern talking-to. The problem was, of course, you cannot talk up democracy one minute and then force out a democratically-elected leader the next.  

Such was the nature of Bush's Iraq sprouting democracy- based on the duplicity of a wrong leader the officials had invested so much of its trust. The full scale of the blunder and how Maliki's leadership would be a disaster for Iraq  would become more and more clear over time. 

Even so, it didn't take a genius to see that as far as the jihadists were concerned, the SOFA agreement was a gift from Allah. The conservative source notes:
In the SOFA, the Bush administration agreed to strict withdrawal deadlines that invited al-Qaeda to catch its breath, wait out the United States, then resume the jihad as Americans were leaving — the better to make it look to the world like they were chasing us out. All American combat operations were to cease in mid 2009; and, at the end of 2011, all American forces would pull out of Iraq.
So Obama, according to Bush, is responsible to consummating agreements that the Bush administration made with the Iraq government. The SOFA agreements, the conservative columnist points out, "promised a resumption of Islam’s eternal, internecine bloodletting" between Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq. 

Of course, George Bush knows all this but he expects the public is just too stupid to recall the details. That's been a winning formula for his whole career. 

A President that Kept His Promises
Bringing troops home was a position that Obama successfully campaigned on, and it was a promise he kept. So shame on him, right? 

In April 2008, 63% of Americans were saying the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. That figure is notable because it was the highest negative rating ever measured for a war in progress "surpassing by two points the 61% who said the Vietnam War was a mistake in May 1971."

Much of President Obama's time was wasted by attempting to make the best of (or undoing) ill-advised and expensive Bush policy. Now he is getting the blame for implementing exactly those policies.  

In the end, George W. Bush will never change. It is ingrained in his character. Some could say it is part of Bush genetic makeup. 
Clearly the facts mean nothing to him and history, (as he will undoubtedly prove in his book on his father) can be whatever he wants it to be. That will be true, at least as long as he is alive and there are interviewers who will allow him nodding unchallenged respect he doesn't deserve. 

In another interview back in 2009, Bush was already attempting to mold his forlorn legacy by misrepresentation. He had, he said, protected Americans from the terrorist threat. He explained:
One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take...
The interviewer- obviously"liberal biased"- had the audacity to point out that that this became true only after the US invaded. There is very little credible evidence that Saddam tolerated al Qaeda prior to the invasion. 

When confronted with that truth, Bush looks slightly disoriented, like a man who has been awaken from a very sweet dream. He simply said:
Yeah... that's right. So what?
In that five-word reply, Bush exposes himself as a man who is incapable of facing facts. 
*      *      *
Bush will continue to work through his lonely mission for historical redemption even as the evidence of his lies and the failures of his policy pile up.  
Sadly there are people who- out of their unparalleled hatred of Obama- who will happy to participate in Bush's semi-private fantasy. They believed his lies then and they believe them now. 
For his part, all  Bush has to do is to keep repeating the same untrue things again and again until his last breath.  He cannot look back. He cannot admit he made a catastrophic mistake.
He can only pile on more deceptions and self-deceptions. 
As he said back in 2005:
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”