Monday, November 14, 2005

The Big Lie and the Lying Liars That Tell Them

It seems we have circled back again to the same subject with an even more rancorous discourse, with certain political elements now pushing the agenda of their least credible and most fringe elements.

Did the president "lie" or "mislead" us into war?

Since I've been having discussions with certain members of the left regarding this subject, I decided to address them here. Mainly because, while many others have taken the time to respond to these arguments here, here, here (at the bottom of this one is a quote from Bill Kristol that ably represents my continued support for regime change in Iraq since 1991) here, just to name a few.

However, in my discussions with others, I thought it was pertinent to make some salient points above and beyond all this "evidentiary" findings of perfidy on any one party's part. I am wondering if the American conscience and memory are so short term that either political party feels they can make statements about something that occured over an entire decade that can be proven false, not only by actual statements that can be looked up on the internet, but by the memories of the American citizens. Do people believe that the American citizen is so lacadaisical?

Let me start by reminding any readers who have not read here from the beginning of the blog, I was a member of the Democrat party and voted Democrat since my first election. That is, until 2004. So, my memories are not those of a partisan Republican attempting to discredit an opposite party, but from the position of principles and beliefs which I have held since before Gulf War I. I suppose, in many respects, this makes me a "Christopher Hitchens" liberal, but with all due respect to the parties involved, you cannot really have a discourse about the alleged lies of one party or the other without looking at this story from the widest scope possible, beginning with the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war.

The public's memory cannot be erased. I was not long out of high school when we saw the videos of the Anfar campaigns in the Kurdish north. I recall also that we were greatly concerned with the possible use of chemical weapons against our own troops in Gulf War I and the rush to create vaccines against it. I also remember that the President was very succinct when he said that the use of chemical weapons against our troops would result in a much more robust response against the entire state of Iraq.

Those are things that the public cannot and should not forget in this discussion. The existence of and the use of chemical weapons was well established. The end of the fighting in Gulf War I saw the ceasefire agreement which insisted on inspections and sanctions until these weapons and Iraq's nuclear ambitions were destroyed.

The American memory should also recall that there were calls at the time to not stop at the Iraq border, but continue to Baghdad to take out the dictator who had committed attrocities against the Kuwaitis and his own people. Conventional wisdom at the time and the use of a UN mandate prohibited this action. We stood by while people were massacred.

My own memory reminds me that I was appalled at the slaughter of the retreating Iraqi troops. Largely because it was the first time I saw the affects of war in live time on my television. However, within two weeks, I remember my own response to the slaughter of the Shia. That response was that the slaughter of the retreating Iraqi troops had apparently not been enough and we should have gone down town to Baghdad. As a matter of fact, I was arguing with people at the time that we should consider these actions a violation of the ceasefire agreement and go back to finish the job. Again, conventional wisdom and political realities seemed to rule the day and we simply decided to provide "no fly" zones to stop the use of helicopters in the endeavors. It didn't really stop the slaughter and I was greatly frustrated.

For the next eight years, I remember with clarity and without having to look up every statement that, during the entire Clinton administration, we were continually having to enforce the tenets of the ceasefire agreement; insisting on the return of UN inspectors who were routinely thrown out and obstructed; routinely bombing sites in Iraq whenever our planes were targeted, fired upon or when Saddam refused to allow the inspectors back in. On these occassions, the President, as well as Senators and Congressmen, made statements about the continuing danger of the undestroyed and unaccounted for weapons and materials to justify the continued sanctions and attacks.

I do recall that Republican members of congress tried to accuse the President of using this issue to distract people from his own issues on the domestic front. Frankly, I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. From my perspective, the domestic political issues were separate from the continuing problem of Iraq. Particularly since the number of targeting and firing upon our planes in the "no fly" zone had indicated the secession of hostilities was a barely maintained farce.

I recall thinking on many occasions during those eight years, that we should have ended that farce long ago and I was extremely frustrated that we hadn't. The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act had gotten my hopes up, but we did not follow through.

Speaking of 1998, that was the year that Al Qaida blew up our Kenyan and Tanzania embassies. It was the first time that I saw reports indicating that there was a possible connection between Al Qaida and Iraq. In fact, Hussein had offered Osama bin Laden assylum in Iraq. So, the idea of operational potential between these two entities was not first heard in a speech by President Bush, but in comments by Richard Clarke, President Clinton and other officials in 1998.

However, I will admit that, during that time I was not as alarmed about the potential connection as I was after 9/11. Why? Maybe because, while we had info on Saddam and he had been roundly villified for a decade, we had received very little information about Osama bin Laden and his network. It was treated as an organization that could attack us, but only somewhere else and, for some reason, the concerted terror attacks were treated as if they were just something that we had to deal with. We continued to see Iraq and Al Qaida as separate problems that would be addressed separately with separate solutions.

September 11 did change my view on the danger posed by non-state terrorist organizations and their potential state supporters. I believe that these same events over the long period, coupled with the continued intelligence and statements from, not just the President, but Senators and Congressmen from both parties that continued to support the allegations and concerns, is what convinced me of the appropriate actions.

However, I do want to make something clear about my own assessment of the situation and over points I do believe people are missing.

Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction. It had materials. It had weapons that were also precluded by the ceasefire agreement. These materials and weapons that we were aware of were under lock, key and seal by the UN. In my own assessment, then and now, it was not the unknown weapons and materials that I was worried about, but the known. Coupled with the continued obstruction of inspections, the last several years of attempts to lift the sanctions against Iraq (and now the known fact that the oil for food program had been essentially completely undermined), the continued rhetoric from Saddam about destroying the US and the, all be it "tentative", contacts with Al Qaida which we knew about during the Clinton administration, it seemed and seems clear to me that the danger, after suffering such an egregious attack on 9/11, was "clear and present".

Frankly, these are the same concerns I have with Iran which we know is seeking nuclear capabilities and we know they are "hosting" al Qaida leadership and possibly lending material assistance to the operations in Iraq. But, I do not want to digress. Rather, this point is only to emphasize the original point: it is and was the "known" which concerned me more than vague possibilities of secret facilities.

It is true that Iraq provided a 10,000 page report allegedly showing their actions that destroyed or dismantled their capabilities, facilities and weapons. However, at that time and since then, these records did not equal the amount of materials originally recorded by the UN inspections. This appeared and still appears to indicate that at the least, Iraq was extremely lacadaisical about their materials that could fall into terrorist hands and, at the worst, indicated that the regime was hiding something. Frankly, to this day, the disposition of these unaccounted for materials and weapons has not been explained to my satisfaction. But, I won't digress to conspiracy theories on this point. I only make it to indicate that these issues coupled with the reality of the previous decade represented the case for war as part of the "growing concerns" after 9/11.

My questions to those who continue the attack on the "intelligence" as "misleading", what about the "known"? Are they now saying that, even if it was under UN seal, they felt comfortable and secure with Saddam's possession of these materials? Are they saying that the tentative contacts between Al Qaida and Saddam, coupled with the known materials and weapons, did not make them concerned? Were they only a "little" concerned or, after the 9/11 attacks were they "very" concerned? Did the level of contact change the level of concern? When a mass murdering dicatator with WMD and materials has contact of any sort directly with the terrorist organization that killed 2987 of our citizens, are there really differing levels of concern? Or, should we not assume that, if they are not operationally involved for that attack, there was a "clear and present danger" that they would, at some point, become operationally kopacetic? Were we to trust this man with those materials and, in essence, our continued safety after a decade of incidents that seemed to prove him untrustworthy?

These are questions I would like answered.

To me, what we have not resolved adequately is not the question of whether Iraq represented a danger to US security or if he had WMD and materials or if he had direct operational contact with Al Qaida for 9/11 or if the potential operational cooperation presented a larger danger given the history and materials. The answers are "yes", "yes", "no" and "yes".

To me, the presence of that single "no" regarding actual cooperation for 9/11 does not negate the over all danger and does not indicate any "lies" or "misleading" or hiding "exculpatory" information that might have changed someone's mind. It did not and does not change my mind on the necessity to take down Saddam Hussein's Regime.

The worst part about this whole discussion is that it does not address the real problem which was the lack of better intelligence regarding the unknown extent or lack of weapons. It does not affect the decision to go to war, but does indicate a problem that is more extensive than the Iraq question. If we lack this kind of ability in a state that we had been in a constant low intensity war with for a decade, what is our ability to obtain information and prosecute actions against terrorists, to maintain our intelligence regarding other hostile regimes?

What does it say about the intelligence community? And, after 9/11 have we really addressed these problems and made steps to improve our intelligence? Are these accusations about "lying" a distraction from these important questions that actually do impact our security including the question of nuclear and other weapons in the hands of the Iranians and North Koreans, much less the Pakistanis?

What is the lie? Who is telling the lie? Why?

Are the American citizens going to allow their memories to be subverted in order to advance a purely political agenda that harms our national security, not because "dissent" indicates a lack of patriotism, but because doing so has no real benefit in advancing our national security?

There is obsfucation and lying going on, but the liars are members of the minority party who seek to set up the political conditions for re-election in 2006 and possible presidential elections in 2008. It has little if anything to do with the ethics of this administration or the security of the United States and her citizens.

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