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The Administration "Re-wronging" History

Vice President Dick Cheney - November, 2005: "The president and I can not prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone -- but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history..."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on whether the invasion would have taken place if there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

February, 2004: "... there would have been no war."

November, 2005: "... probably yes."

Clearly, "rewriting history" is part of a usual day's work in the Bush Administration. And its employees are quite good at it - they just don't seem to be doing a very good job of explaining crucial discrepancies when they are discovered.

To get a feel for the thinking that gives rise to the false "righteous indignation" exhibited by Dick Cheney and others in the administration, consider the following statements a senior Bush advisor made to Ron Suskind, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of The Price of Loyalty, as reported in the New York Times Magazine.

First, Suskind states that the advisor pointed out that he (Suskind) lives "... in what we [the administration] call the reality-based community." The advisor defined that community as being those who ''believe that solutions emerge from 'your' [presumably the rest of us] judicious study of discernible reality.''

The unnamed advisor went on to explain:

"That's not the way the world really works anymore... We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality, judiciously, as you will, we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors, and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do."

Perhaps it's worth taking a look at the "empire's own reality" and "history's actors" and their roles in it - if only to explain how we got from:

February 2004

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said in your opening remarks, sir -- you described it as two paths that nations can take, and you noted that Saddam Hussein, had he opened up his country to the UN resolutions, there would have been no war.

Rumsfeld: Was what I said today correct? Yes. There would not have been a war. I mean, that's just a fact.

To here:

November 2005

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos: If you had known that no WMDs would be found, would you still advocate invasion?

Donald Rumsfeld: If I... I... the answer is probably yes.

The stunning reversal by Rumsfeld is an example of the fast and loose manner with which the administration is playing with its "position" on Iraq. Goalposts are moved constantly. Targets are never defined, and costs in lives and treasury are under- and/or unreported blatantly.

The reason the fundamental WMD issue is important is that it prevents an honest debate about how to end this war. The events on the ground have certainly changed and must be dealt with, but without keeping in mind that we entered into this war to prevent a supposedly catastrophic, imminent threat presented as coming in the form of a "mushroom cloud," no reasonable solution can be found to end this war in a satisfactory manner.

In 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy defense secretary, gave an interview to Vanity Fair's Sam Tannenhaus in which Wolfowitz was quoted as saying:

"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

A Pentagon transcript (as opposed to the reporter's transcription; this comes from USA Today) shows that Wolfowitz said:

"The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason..."

Suspicions about motive began to rise at home and abroad, so the Pentagon attempted to "clarify" the statement. Supporting pundits and periodicals did as well. Should the argument arise that officials have been arguing this since 2003, well, that is an undeniable fact... as undeniable that the arguments began after the war started and was declared "Mission Accomplished." The lead-up to the war is a far different matter.

On May 28, 2003, the Pentagon, in an effort to stem criticism of Wolfowitz's statements, allowed an interview between Wolfowitz and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post to "correct" the record. The following is an excerpt:

"DeYoung: OK, let me just... But do you think that you might have oversold the whole WMD thing last fall? With the sort of, not only do they have production facilities, they actually have weapons that are ready to be used?

Wolfowitz: I don't think so. I mean, I think we were working from, as I told you, one of the most widely shared intelligence assessments I know of.

DeYoung: And even if we end up not finding...?

Wolfowitz: We're a long way from...

Kevin Kellems, a Pentagon public affairs officer: We can't go there. Karen, come on! [Laughter] That was a trick question.

DeYoung: Oh, it was? I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to be.

Kellems: I was just kidding.

DeYoung: No, I didn't.

Wolfowitz: No, there was no oversell.

Trick question? Apparently, DeYoung didn't check her "empire's own reality" and "history's actors" handbook of allowed questions.

Thereafter, pundits and writers entered the debate to explain what Wolfowitz said.

On June 2, 2003, the National Review published "Vanity Unfair" by James S. Robbins. In part, he wrote:

"William Kristol's Weekly Standard article has all of the details, so I don't need to repeat them... There is something of a straw man being erected in the debate, namely the suggestion that Saddam's WMD arsenal was the only reason for the war. Certainly, it was the most highly debated issue. But was it the reason? No, and no one in the administration ever said that it was."

An interesting point is that Robbins' article (dated and titled online as "June 2, 2003 - Vanity Unfair WMDs controversies") refers to an article found online in the Weekly Standard as, "What Wolfowitz Really Said: The truth behind the Vanity Fair 'scoop'" by William Kristol (dated June 9, 2003) .

First, a fundamental question must be asked: Since neither of these publications are blogs, but rather magazines with an online presence purportedly representing conservative thought, how could a writer refer to a competing periodical, say it contains "all the details" (presumptively making his own superfluous), and then provide a link from his employer's site to his competitor's?

Major publications often refer to other articles, but generally provide additional "details" or a much more cogent explanation of same. Questions should arise as to timing, coordination, and glaring ommission.

Note the dates appended to the two articles: Robbins' (June 2, 2003) and Kristol's (June 9, 2003). An explanation has been offered for the fact that the Robbins article (which refers to Kristol's) is dated seven days prior to Kristol's: In order to avoid turning a debate over a substantive issue (the war and what was said to make a case for war) into a debate over publishing dates, it is left to the reader to treat the dates as he or she would.

The following is an excerpt from the Kristol piece (by the way, Kristol also brought us the Project for the New American Century which, in turn, brought us the war in Iraq):

"Let's be clear: Though Paul Wolfowitz has friends and admirers at the Weekly Standard, we would be surprised and more than a little distressed had he actually said what he's supposed to have said in this instance... In short, Wolfowitz made the perfectly sensible observation that more than just WMD was of concern, but that among several serious reasons for war, WMD was the issue about which there was widest domestic (and international) agreement."

Those unfamiliar with the National Review can see many of its staffers on television as pundits and read their writings in numerous publications. The following is a brief listing of some of its more visible apologists for the war and excusers of a lack of WMD presence in Iraq:

All of the above parrot the Bush Administration's talking points continuously, making very minor criticisms of certain actions to cloak themselves in faux "objectivity" while appearing on various television shows and writing op-eds. Similarly, the Weekly Standard's line-up can be found alternatively in their publication, on television, in the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and as targets and/or potential targets of investigations.

To get a flavor for the breeding ground that fosters these "journalists" and "opinion writers," an interview given by a Weekly Standard senior writer, Matt Labash, is helpful. It provides some insight into the thinking that drives these currently influential policy makers: Why have conservative media outlets like the Weekly Standard and Fox News Channel become more popular in the past few years?

Matt Labash: Because they feed the rage. We bring the pain to the liberal media. I say that mockingly, but it's true somewhat. We come with a strong point of view and people like point-of-view journalism. While all these hand-wringing Freedom Forum types talk about objectivity, the conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it, actually.

Subjective journalism, feeding the rage, a racket, and having their cake and eating it too. One can not argue with their success.

The Robbins and Kristol articles (and others like them) did not address Sam Tannenhaus' explanation of his Vanity Fair interview with Paul Wolfowitz. Tannenhaus gave an interview to CNN about the piece; the raw CNN transcript is dated May 30, 2003, and a relevant excerpt follows:

CNN's DARYN KAGAN: ...[Y]our piece kind of goes on and on, but this is the nugget that's getting people talking.

SAM TANNENHAUS, VANITY FAIR: Yes, it seems to happen with this sort of story.

KAGAN: Let's go ahead. I know we saw all of it. So let's go ahead and put it up on the screen, what we've taken out of -- There we go. "For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." Now, the Pentagon, you just saw in [CNN senior Pentagon correspondent] Jamie [McIntyre]'s piece, is saying he is taking that out of context. Did he say that? Did he not say that and what was the nuance that you took it as, as you talked to Paul Wolfowitz?

TANNENHAUS: Well, what's important to know is that this comment of the deputy secretary's came out of a slightly earlier discussion we had in the same interview. It was a very long interview. In fact, I was told it may have been the longest uninterrupted interview he's given, about 90 minutes, the third of three sessions. And in it the deputy secretary discussed how there were aspects of the war in Iraq that were being overlooked, that its benefits that had come from the war that no one was talking about. One of them was that America could now remove its troops from Saudi Arabia because Saddam Hussein was no longer there as a threat.

KAGAN: Well, I want to get to that point in just a second. But to me, it sounds like when you say this came from an earlier part of the interview. Are you saying it was taken out of context?

TANNENHAUS: Oh, no. Actually, what I'm about to say is that the secretary's comments are as striking as the way the article presents them, if not more so because what he goes on to say is, after citing that as a very important attribute, a benefit of the war, he then goes on to say, when I asked him if that had been part of the strategic thinking all along, yes, the truth is for these questions of bureaucracy, we agreed on weapons of mass destruction, that was the one issue everyone could agree on, which means they didn't agree on the others.

KAGAN: You're standing by what is in Vanity Fair there and in your article.

TANNENHAUS: Absolutely.

KAGAN: We have that. We also have more. Jamie mentioned in his piece that the Pentagon posted the transcripts.


KAGAN: So we actually have that we can put up, too. This is how the Pentagon says. They say it was like this: "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with US government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason" -- I think we have more up there -- "but there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism and the third is criminal treatment of the Iraqi people.

It doesn't show up like that in Vanity Fair.

TANNENHAUS: No, although what the piece says is that there are several reasons and the trouble is actually what this transcript says is that there were many reasons when, in fact, what we were told that many thought, particularly in Europe, the countries that signed onto this despite opposition from their own people was that there was compelling evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Now, turn the clock back a few weeks ago, to when I spoke with the deputy secretary. May 10 was when this long interview occurred. What was he trying to do? He was trying to explain how, even though no smoking gun had surfaced, this was a war still worth fighting. Why? Because other benefits accrued. Hence, he says the truth is weapons of mass destruction were not the sole compelling reason.

KAGAN: So in your eyes he seemed comfortable with the idea, well, yes, we said that, but really, the greater good has taken place. You've seen the US military moving. They're moving out of Saudi Arabia. The fall of Saddam Hussein. This is all taking place, it's all kind of happening like it was supposed to.

TANNENHAUS: Not only in my eyes. If you look also at the Defense Department's link where transcripts are reproduced, you'll see an earlier interview he did with a Washington Post reporter who was picking up on my story. ...There, the Washington Post reporter quoted precisely as I worded it the phrase about bureaucracy and the deputy has not backed down from it at all. It was only after this became a scandal, a concern in Europe, that the Defense Department realized that the deputy secretary had been too candid and that's always a price to pay.

This is where Donald Rumsfeld's unequivocal statement about "no war" becomes important. First consider the following timeline:

The following headline appeared in USA Today in March, 2003 : "US advises weapons inspectors to leave Iraq":

In the clearest sign yet that war with Iraq is imminent, the United States has advised UN weapons inspectors to begin pulling out of Baghdad, the UN nuclear agency chief said Monday... "Late last night ... I was advised by the US government to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad," ElBaradei told the IAEA's board of governors.

To further set the tone being created, CNN reported: Saying the "danger was clear" that the Iraqi regime would provide terrorists with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, President Bush gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 48 hours for him and his sons to leave Iraq before military action begins, "at a time of our choosing."

The CNN article has nine links in it that all go to the fury which was built up just prior to the launch of the war. One of the more notable reads, in part: US officials tell CNN there is "recent" and "fresh" evidence that Iraq is planning to use chemical weapons, perhaps against US forces or Iraqi citizens.

"They clearly have given some chemical capability to some Iraqi forces," said one US official.

Officials stress they have not yet seen Iraq move any chemical munitions but say they have "information" that Republican Guard units south of Baghdad have been issued chemical munitions.

Officials are reluctant to disclose the specific intelligence, but several sources indicated there is "increased chatter" among Iraqi military officials about the use of chemical weapons. This "chatter" has been heard in the past few days and led to the officials' conclusion. It is not clear where the chemical munitions are that Iraq might be planning to use.

"Clearly there are current plans for Iraqi forces to use chemical weapons," one senior Pentagon official told CNN.

To round out, in the interest of "fair and balanced" reporting, the point that it was US threats that caused the departure of the inspectors, consider the following from FOX:

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday ordered all UN inspectors and support staff, humanitarian workers and UN observers along the Iraq-Kuwait border to evacuate Iraq after US threats to launch war.

Also, in November, 2003, Rumsfeld spoke on troop numbers. This came after questions about the toppling of Hussein, the troop presence, rotations, etc., became louder and the "when the Iraqis are ready to stand up, we will stand down" justifications began:

So we've gone from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing security in that country, and our plan calls for us to go over 200,000 by next year...

What's happening is the total number of security forces in that country have been going up steadily. We've come down from 150,- to 130,000 troops. The coalition troops of about 30,000 have stayed about level. And what's changed is the Iraqi troops have come up from zero to 100,000, heading towards over 200,000 next year...

I have trouble believing that the security situation in that country will require additional US troops.

Then something odd happened to the message. Rumsfeld slipped.

The following was not heard because it wasn't reported widely. Compare the transcripts from a 2004 press conference with comments Rumsfeld made on Nov. 20, 2005, when he appeared on ABC's This Week.

In 2004, Rumsfeld was asked by a reporter about all of the various reasons that we went to Iraq, about why we continued to stay, and about the acceptance of Saddam staying in power without WMDs: Department of Defense Transcript, excerpt of Sec. Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2004.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said in your opening remarks, sir -- you described it as two paths that nations can take, and you noted that Saddam Hussein, had he opened up his country to the UN resolutions, there would have been no war.

Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm.

Q: And it intrigues me because about a year ago you said the same thing, he had the choice between war and peace and he had chosen war. If I follow your thought correctly -- and I'm sure you'll tell me if I'm not -- (Laughter.) -- in his case, if he would have opened up the country, let the UN come in, the United States come in, whoever, to search for the weapons of mass destruction, he would have still been in power today, correct? Okay. And that would be an acceptable position -- or you chose the word of the "position" -- vis-à-vis no war, Saddam Hussein still in power, with a whole year of us hearing about all the other reasons why it was important to remove him.

Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm. In my view it is -- the world is fortunate, the Iraqi people are fortunate, and the region is fortunate, that he's not there. And I think anyone who has looked at the mass graves and the torture rooms and heard the stories of what took place in that country has to feel the same way.

Was what I said today correct? Yes. There would not have been a war. I mean, that's just a fact, just like -- I mean, what will Libya look like two, four, five years from now...

There would have been no war... If Rumsfeld had let the UN come in... (see CNN, FOX, and other reports as to why the weapons inspectors left).

Before addressing last Sunday's Donald Rumsfeld-George Stephanopoulos interview, let's look at another set of statements made before the US Senate as reported by UPI on Oct. 3, 2005:

The Senate heard testimony last week from some of America's top generals that the war in Iraq is going worse than ever and that only 1 out of 119 Iraqi army and security battalions can operate by itself in combat situations without US military backup.

Top US generals admitted in testimony Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee that only a single Iraqi battalion was prepared to operate on its own without US military support. This was a stunning decrease from the three battalions that US generals had assured Congress in previous testimony were ready to operate independently. The Iraqi army consists of 119 battalions. But the generals' testimony meant that after two and a half years of US efforts, only 750 men out of 200,000 can be relied upon to operate and obey orders independently in combat situations.

Now, we move to the Nov. 20, 2005 This Week interview, where Rumsfeld directly repudiates his 2004 statement and contradicts the generals' testimony before the Senate. On troop levels he says, in part:

"The Iraqi Security Forces are now up to 212,000... They are engaged in the fight... They've got over 100 battalions that are functioning in one way or another."

Rumsfeld was asked by George Stephanopoulos about the number of 700 Iraqi troops being reported as ready with 20,000 that can lead but that need to be heavily supported. His answer:

"Most of our forces need support... the comparison you're casting is clearly confusing to the listener... The argument the US has a plan. They have a strategy. They are implementing that. They have trained over 212,000 Iraqi Security Forces. ... We currently have about 159,000 troops in Iraq. We plan to bring that down to 137,000-138,000 after the election which has been our baseline."

Rumsfeld goes on to explain his opinion and position on the war, which directly contradicts his 2004 statement.

Stephanopoulos: If you had known that no WMDs would be found, would you still advocate invasion?

Rumsfeld: I didn't advocate invasion.

Stephanopoulos: You didn't?

Rumsfeld: No. I wasn't asked. If you read all the books on the thing...

Stephanopoulos: You weren't? But why weren't you asked? That's very puzzling.

Rumsfeld: No. I'm sure that the president understood what my views were... but... but... as a technical matter, did he ever look and say, "What should we do - should we do this or not do that" - this is something that the president thought through very carefully.

Stephanopoulos: Are you trying to distance yourself on the war with that...

Rumsfeld: Of course not. I agreed completely with the decision to go to war. And I've said that 100 times and don't even suggest that...

Stephanopoulos: I'm just asking...

Rumsfeld: Yeah. Well you know better.... uhhh... Look, the interesting thing to me about the pre-war intelligence is clearly it was wrong. It was wrong (inaudible). But everyone saw the same thing in the Executive branch, in the Legislative branch, in the other countries, it was presented at the UN.. uhhh...

Stephanopoulos: But would you have been for an invasion if we had known that?

Rumsfeld: If I... I... the answer is probably yes. Our planes were being shot at every day, every week in the no fly zone. Here was a man who was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide killers. Murderers who were doing it. Zarqawi was in that country during that period. He's a person that used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, had invaded Kuwait...

Asked about reasons for how and on what basis the US decided to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld offers another opinion:

I think the kind of re-hashing and suggesting that there was anything manipulative about the intelligence is really a disservice to the country.

The above is from a rush transcript of the Nov. 20 show. ABC offers a thorough transcript (for a fee) at ABC News and one should also appear at the Defense Department Web site, although one should be cautious, as government deletions from transcripts have taken place - for an illustration, see CNN's "Pentagon deleted key comment from Rumsfeld transcript."

As one works toward getting back to the present, hopefully with the timing and words of the pundits, the quotes from officials, and most importantly, Secretary Rumsfeld's own statements in mind, consider this: On Nov. 11, 2005, the Washington Post published "Bush Aide Fires Back at Critics On Justification for War in Iraq" by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley:

Hadley noted that the presidential commission, led by retired judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), said it found no evidence that administration officials manipulated intelligence. But the panel was not allowed to examine how policymakers used the information.

On Nov. 15, 2005. USA Today published an article called, "WMD not only reason" by J.D. Crouch, the deputy national security adviser to the president. In it he states:

Some administration critics believe Operation Iraqi Freedom was strictly about weapons of mass destruction. The reality is that Saddam Hussein's WMD programs were only one reason for the liberation of Iraq. We went to war for several reasons...

Perhaps the most interesting new twist in the evolution of the "revision" is contained in an article by the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, in which he compares FDR handling of World War II to the current debate. One paragraph opens a new avenue for argument. Goldberg states:

The Bush Doctrine is not chiefly about WMD and never was. Like FDR's vision, it balances democracy, security and morality. Still, the media and anti-Bush partisans have been bizarrely unmoved by the revelations of Hussein's killing fields, his torture chambers for tots, and democracy's tangible progress in the Middle East.

With a few pixels and strokes of a pen, Goldberg takes the argument away from the reason for going into Iraq and transfers it into the general "Bush Doctrine." He also compares the "Doctrine" to FDR's vision (notwithstanding the fact that George W. Bush had repudiated FDR's "visions" during his days at Harvard Business School). The argument is interesting - as a distraction from the main point. Nonetheless it is there and is sure to be repeated.

Anyone still wondering why all of this wasn't tracked and reported more closely by the media should refer to the Seattle Times' "Why media ownership matters":

The media organizations in charge of vetting our images of war have become fewer and bigger - and the news more uniform and gung ho. Six huge corporations now control the major US media: [Among them,] Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 television stations)... In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less diversity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR [Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting] found that just three out of 393 sources - fewer than 1 percent - were affiliated with anti-war activism.

Perhaps all of the above helps explain why we've gone from a "catastrophic success" to debating a "recipe for disaster - and why the Bush Administration should look at itself before accusing others of rewriting history.


Additional Resources:

Sen. Carl Levin - (Newly Declassified Information Indicates Bush Administration's Use of Pre-War Intelligence Was Misleading (Nov. 6, 2005)

Sen. Carl Levin chart comparison - Bush Administration Statements with Intelligence Community Statements on Pre-War Iraq Intelligence (Nov. 18, 2005):

The easiest to read and most illuminating chart (if only for the starkness of the difference in statements and truth) is contained at the Carnegie Endowment, which contains numerous documents relating to this issue. The chart specified by the following link is notable because it shows the evaluation placed on the threat by the UN, the NIE, and the subsequent Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq- mostly "No", "Maybe" and "Probably Not," while the Administration's given statement on each pre-war concern was a definitive "Yes."

For an excellent rundown on all the factors that went into "creating" the war and the subsequent assertions that the Senate and House had the "same access" to intelligence, see: The Facts: The Case for War by Emily Messner of the Washington Post (Nov.21, 2005; registration may be required).

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