James Joyner has already written most of what I would have written about the report from The Center for Public Integrity cataloguing the erroneous statements about Iraq made by various members of the Bush Administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
My strong suspicion, though, is that Rumsfeld knew that an unequivocal “Sure” overstated the case. This, I think, reflects the consensus view of all but the most rabid pro- or anti-Bush observers that the administration 1) thought Saddam was dangerous, 2) believed he had an active WMD program if not WMD possession, 3) feared Saddam would transfer said technology to terrorists and other enemies of the United States and 4) cherry picked information that bolstered their case for action while downplaying dissenting views and evidence.
I didn’t vote for George Bush in 2000. If I’d been in the Senate in 2002, I wouldn’t have voted for the Authorization to Use Military Force and I think the protestations of those who did and came to regret their decisions are absurd on their faces. We elect senators to make hard decisions not to bend any which way the wind blows. If their just fell off of the turnip truck explanations for their votes are true, they shouldn’t be senators at all.
If I’d been the president in 2003, I wouldn’t have ordered the invasion of Iraq if for no other reason than that I thought it was a political blunder. The invasion would (obviously to me at least) be followed by a lengthy, expensive, and painful occupation and I didn’t believe that the American people had the patience for that and didn’t understand that’s what they were signing up for.
A lie has three components. First, the statement made must be untrue. Second, the person making the statement must know it is untrue. Third, there must be an intention to deceive.
The report from the CPI, at least judging by what I’ve read of it, devotes an enormous amount of space to the first component, listing more than 900 statements now known or believed to be untrue although, as James points out in his post, a number of those remain contentious. I wish they’d produced more that demonstrated the remaining two components.
I’ve read a half dozen posts in the blogosphere this morning in reaction to the report condemning the lies of the Bush Administration. The irony of the statement is that those making it are using precisely the same approach used by the Bush Administration: they’re going beyond what the report says and voting their hearts, saying what they believe to be true rather than what can be proven to be true. The difference is that the Bush Administration bears the burden of responsibility.
One more point: the report takes journalists to task for failing to examine the statements made by various members of the Bush Administration more critically. In my view that’s one of the enormous weaknesses of the wholesale distribution model of newsgathering, particularly national and international newsgathering, that’s in use today. A failure in the centralized newsgathering mechanisms is proliferated through the entire system with incredible facility.
I find it hard to believe that anyone could not have known that the authorization was a prelude to invasion. I never doubted it. It was patently obvious that Mr. Bush meant to take Iraq and remake it and thus, he hoped, transform the middle east. Which is why my criticism has not been so much “he lied” as “he screwed up.”
The “he screwed up” case makes itself.
That’s exactly what I mean, Michael. Is it a coincidence that every Democratic senator who’d seriously considered a presidential run voted for it? That’s ridiculous and the story now seems to be either: 1) the dog ate my homework; or 2) I’m so stupid I’ll fall for anything either one of which is a disqualification for the presidency.
I wonder what this group might find if it expanded its timeline to include at least Clinton’s second term. After all, we now know that virtually all the statements about Iraqi WMD made by his administration are false as well.
For all the talk of “lies” is very clear from the publicly available information how both Administrations and IC came to the erroneous conclusions that they did. I’ve spent a lot of time on various blogs over the years pointing them out, but it seems most are not interested preferring instead simplistic memes like “Bush lied, people died” or fantastical conspiracies about Russian Spetnaz taking all the WMD away.
You are also right to point out the circumstances necessary for a lie to be an actual lie. It’s amazing the number of people that don’t understand that. I would add that there is another kind of deception – one that I think characterizes the Bush administration’s pre-war arguments best, and that is deception by omission – omission or obscuration of alternative evidence and explanations and omission or obscuration of the relative strength of evidence. It’s also apparent the administration was engaged in some serious confirmation bias in their “analysis.”
I’d be curious to know how you would analyze this case in your framework.
I have no idea. Specifically, I have no idea whether the termination of Department of Justice attorneys was politically motivated (I suspect it was), whether Tony Snow actually knew the reasons for their termination (I suspect he didn’t), or whether in the second clip he remembered what he had said in the first clip.
If, more generally, you’re asking do I think that people in the Bush Administration lie, of course they lie. All presidents, all administrations lie. It’s simply the way it is. I think there’s been an increasing trend towards pathological lying. So, for example, I think that both President Clinton and President G. W. Bush are absolutely incapable of telling the truth if they think that a lie will damage them politically.
If you’re suggesting that the Tony Snow clips suggest a pattern of lying that’s somehow different from what goes on under any presidential administration, I don’t see it. And I don’t see the relevance to the issue of whether the Bush Administration lied to get us to invade Iraq.
BTW, back on the subject of the Gonzalez mess, I think that AG Gonzalez and the Bush Administration erred in their handling of the matter. I think the immediate response when asked should have been Yes, we terminated those attorneys for political reasons. We’re entitled to do that. So what?
FWIW here is what I thought.
“A lie has three components. First, the statement made must be untrue. Second, the person making the statement must know it is untrue. Third, there must be an intention to deceive. ”
“First” – clearly the statement “We never said that” is false.
“Second” – not at all clear that he would remember exactly what he said three months ago – I don’t
“Third” – I don’t know what to think. I would say that if he didn’t remember, I’m not so sure he is even intending to deceive so much as he is trying to advance plausible arguments in support of a party line.
As to what I was suggesting, it was that even in a case as simple as this, it may not be so simple.
As for people pathologically lying, I don’t know if that’s a recent trend or confined to politicians. There is a scene in “Crime and Punishment” where Raskolnikov’s mother is trying to defend him, and Dostoevsky describes it as her making up one thing after another, then believing them passionately. (I may be a bit murky on the details – it’s been 30 years since I read it)
As for pathology, I recently read Jason Zweig’s “Your Money and Your Brain” which has some material on the various weird things the brain does, and I believe one of those things is that it retrospectively does the equivalent of a database purge of things that are contradictory. I.e. I believe it really *is* pathological – the neurons are actually rewired.
In any case, I thought your post did a good job of explaining what would be required to establish what lying would look like.