Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2004 / 14 Shevat, 5764
Bush needs to become prosecutor, not defendant
In view of chief weapons inspector David Kay's conclusion that there are likely
no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, George W. Bush faces a threat to his
presidency that is only amplified by the decision of the Democrats to nominate
someone who can actually be elected. The question for Bush is very simple:
Will he be the defendant or the prosecutor?
With the conclusion that our intelligence was flawed, Bush can either be the
outraged client angry at being misled or the manipulative president who
deliberately lied to the nation. It is really his choice which role he chooses.
By defending the bureaucracy a natural urge for a man whose father once
headed the CIA Bush could wind up in the dock, convicted in the minds of
the public of falsifying the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But
by attacking the bureaucracy, and demanding to get to the bottom of the bad
intelligence he received, Bush can escape blame and lead the charge to purge
the intelligence establishment of those who misled him and the nation.
Presidential lies stay with presidents who are perceived to have uttered them.
Lyndon Johnson's body counts, Richard Nixon's denials of culpability in
Watergate and Bush 41's "read my lips" statement stand in history as
unfortunate milestones in their presidencies. Bill Clinton's denial of sex with
Monica Lewinsky is the flagship in the fleet of presidential misrepresentations.
George W. Bush did not, I believe, lie to the American people. Having been
involved in the preparation of two State of the Union addresses, I believe that it
is virtually impossible for a president to lie in this speech and get away with it.
The checks and counterchecks are so extensive of each sentence in the
address that a lie would be found out early and leaked to the newspapers
before the ink was dry. Particularly in the realm of national security, the input
from the foreign policy establishment is so structured and controlled that it is
impossible to vary from the pre-ordained text, much less add material and lie.
Still, there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The more Bush bets that they are there, the more he makes himself suspect in the eyes of the American people.
If the president is misled by his intelligence community to believe that weapons
are there when they are not, there should be hell to pay. Heads should roll in
the intelligence community and those who sent inaccurate intelligence up the
food chain should be forced out. The alternative is to side with the deceivers
rather than to identify with the deceived.
With Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as Bush's likely Democratic opponent, this
election, like the last one, will be decided by a very narrow margin. Bush
cannot afford for it to become conventional wisdom that he misled the
American people. The scandal has been tossed into the middle of the table:
David Kay has made clear that somebody misled somebody. Bush needs to
side with the victims and move against those who committed the fraud.
In the executive branch, there is a natural tendency to protect one's own.
Doubtless, the CIA or other intelligence operatives who came to faulty
decisions have performed able and commendable services for the American
people. They may well have played a part in the laudable record of this
administration in protecting us from terrorist attacks.
But President Bush needs to look beyond their individual records and to understand that his personal credibility is at stake. The American people must be persuaded that the president was misled. Otherwise, they will believe that he did the misleading. That's the choice the president has, and he must act with boldness and clarity.
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