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White House smear campaign
By GENE LYONS
Ask Karl Rove for an apology? Not me. Apologies are appropriate for foolish remarks made in the heat of argument. Rove read from a script. The White House handed out copies. Besides, what would an apology from that flabby little apparatchik be worth? He's the human equivalent of a fear-biting dog: His Master's Voice.
"Conservatives," Rove said, "saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to submit a petition. I am not joking."
No, he was fabricating. The House voted President Bush the authority to attack the Taliban and Osama bin Laden by 420-1. The Senate voted unanimously, 98-0. To my knowledge, nobody mentioned therapy.
The usual Washington pundits say Rove wasn't attacking Democrats, only "liberals." Oh really? Rove claimed that party chairman Howard Dean opposed fighting the Taliban. In fact, Dean supported the Afghan war. He criticized Bush for letting bin Laden escape to pursue his obsession with Saddam Hussein.
Rove also alleged that Sen. Dick Durbin's, D-Ill., poorly-worded response to an FBI report detailing torture by American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay "certainly (put) America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."
See, it's not torture that inflames opinion in the Muslim world; it's what American politicians say about it. According to Bush's right-hand man, Durbin, the Senate Democratic whip, wants to see American soldiers killed.
That's how desperate the White House has become to distract attention from the disaster in Iraq and the propaganda campaign that got us there. The idea is to pump up the Bush cult of personality, equate dissent with disloyalty, and warn wavering Republicans that they too can be smeared. It's as cowardly as it is contemptible.
In response, let's return to that famous Downing Street Memo of July 22, 2002. Written by the head of British Intelligence, it stated that Bush had already decided to overthrow Saddam, "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Instead of debating the meaning of "fixed," Bob Somerby's inimitable Web site "The Daily Howler," asked a simple question: What happened next? Based on Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack" (Simon & Schuster, 2004), a book Bush personally urged the reporter to write, Somerby lays out the evidence. It ain't pretty.
That summer, President Bush insisted publicly that war wasn't what he wanted. To White House chagrin, his father's foreign policy team, Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, wrote articles warning that invading Iraq could become a major strategic blunder -- basically what Gen. Colin Powell also thought.
While Bush vacationed in Texas during August 2002, Vice President Cheney gave bellicose speeches declaring there was "no doubt" that Iraq would soon acquire a nuclear arsenal. He warned that "Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."
In reality, the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate didn't mention an Iraqi nuclear threat. It claimed only that Saddam maintained an "infrastructure capable of producing" chemical weapons.
In September, the drumbeat became relentless. Using the anniversary of 9/11 as its focus, the administration leaked to the New York Times a bogus story about Iraq acquiring aluminum tubes for centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Cheney, Rummy and Condi appeared on the Sunday talk shows. Rice memorably warned "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Again, that's not what intelligence experts thought, as John Judis and Spencer Ackerman showed in an unjustifiably-neglected June 30, 2003 article in The New Republic. Next came Rummy claiming "bulletproof," evidence of operational links between Iraq and Al Qaeda which didn't exist.
On Oct. 7, 2002, Bush himself warned that "(t)he Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons." He claimed that Iraq had "unmanned aerial vehicles" capable of "missions targeting the United States." Their actual range was 300 miles; too short to allow, say, Oklahoma to target Austin, Texas.
During his State of the Union Message in January 2003, Bush made his now infamous reference to Saddam's supposed attempts to buy uranium in Africa, based upon a crudely-forged document whose suspect origins were already known.
Did they fix the evidence? To borrow a phrase, it's a "slam dunk."
Karl Rove doesn't want you to know it.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000).