Erik Larson

Jan 13, 2009

Why It's Outrageous to Call Bush a Liar

Yes, I know he bungled many aspects of the war in Iraq (including the decision to wage it, in my view). Yes, I know about Mission Accomplished. Yes, I know there were no WMD.

But here’s why it’s outrageous to say that Bush lied to the American people about the existence of the WMD to get us into Iraq. To begin, if it was all a lie, President Bush must have known that there would be no mushroom cloud, and no biological weapons, and that therefore there was no imminent threat, because Saddam Hussein had no active WMD . We have to believe he knew this (it’s in fact necessary to believe this to get the liar charge off the ground). Two, given that President Bush knew this, he still committed his staff, the international community, and thousands of American troops to wage a war that he knew was not necessary at all.

Now, we need these two claims to support the “Bush lied” charge. This is the logic (in a simplified version, but adequate to make the present point clear). And here’s where the liar charge starts to unravel. We are to believe that President Bush, ignoring the best intelligence from the CIA, from Great Britain, from France, and indeed China and Russia, had some independent information , that in fact Iraq did not have WMD. That’s, right, President Bush has this secret intel— independent of the conclusions of the entire world intelligence community — and that he therefore knew (or at least strongly suspected) that there were no WMD in Iraq. That’s what we have to believe. Put aside worries about how possibly a guy commonly accused of being a bungling ignoramus had such personal, penetrating intelligence about weapons in Iraq; to make our “Bush is liar” charge we must simply suppose that he did.

Second, given that he has this independent source of intel that shows no WMD in Iraq, he yet decides to launch a full scale attack, in the process pulling the rest of the world into a pit of mortars and explosions and violence. In Hitler like fashion, the diabolical Bush, knowing there were no WMD , still lets slip the dogs of war. And the rest of the world goes along with it (make sinister sounds of laughter now).

Now, if you believe these two claims — that Bush knew there were no WMD in spite of the consensus of the intel community, and that he nonetheless claimed that WMD were there (that’s the lie part), then, well, you should go around charging that Bush lied to us.

But if you find any problem with these claims (say, for instance, that Bush had no such super-secret intel from some unknown, Godlike source), then probably you don’t mean that he lied about the existence of WMD in Iraq. Probably you mean that you’re against the war, and that it was a bad idea, and that even if Iraq had some mustard gas, it would have been far preferable to let the UN inspections proceed to an outcome that might have avoided war. (This is pretty much what I believe.)

So, for those still inclined to use the word “lie” anyway, I’d say it’s outrageous (also fallacious, also disengenuous, also provocative, tendentious, contentious, maddening, and, of course, itself mendacious).