By GILBERT CRANBERG
August 20, 2005
As polls show that Americans increasingly believe the war in Iraq to have been a mistake, so, too, do they show a growing conviction that the Bush administration lied the country into war.
To be sure, pollsters do not use such blunt-edged words as "lie." Instead, they ask, as the Washington Post-ABC News poll did recently, "In making the case for war with Iraq, do you think the Bush administration told the American people what it believed to be true, or intentionally misled the American public?" "Intentionally Misled" topped "What It Believed to Be True" 52 percent to 48 percent.
When the poll substituted "intentionally exaggerate" for "intentionally misled," 57 percent said in substance that the case for war was deliberately overblown. Each version of the question has been asked three times since 2004, and in each subsequent poll, ever-greater percentages said, in effect, that they had been duped.
The Gallup organization had the same experience the five times it asked whether the administration "deliberately misled" Americans about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Only 31 percent believed in 2003 there had been deliberate deception, but that had climbed to 50 percent by last April.
A lie is a knowing mizsstatement of fact. "Intentionally misleading" and "intentionally exaggerated" simply are euphemisms for the same thing, and it is clear that a large chunk of the public believes it was lied to by the administration.
Just because many people believe something, of course, does not make it so. But neither can it be ignored. Yet the administration seems to be doing exactly that. When it created the Commission on the Intelligence Capability of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, in February 2004, it carefully walled it off from any investigation of possible misuse of intelligence by the administration. Instead, the commission was told to examine only the "intelligence community."
At about the same time the president established the commission by executive order, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a press release that appeared to say the committee would explore the very issue Bush had barred his commission from investigating. The Senate committee said it would examine whether "public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information." To eliminate any ambiguity, the committee's vice-chairman, John Rockefeller, announced, "We will address the question of whether intelligence was exaggerated or misused . . . "
Except it didn't; the committee got cold feet and quietly let it be known recently that it would not look into the misuse of intelligence.
So the American people are left to figure out for themselves whether the administration lied. Increasingly, they are deciding that it did. The mainstream press may be beginning to find its voice with the same conclusion. The Minneapolis Star Tribune, for one, editorializing May 30 about Iraq, declared, "President Bush and those around him lied . . . Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes." The editorial-page editor describes reader reaction as generally supportive.
Whether the Bush administration lied is immensely important, not only because of the lives and limbs lost, but because reliable, accurate information is a bedrock of democratic government. Aldous Huxley warned, "The survival of democracy depends on the ability of large numbers of people to make realistic choices in the light of adequate information." A public fed a heavy diet of misinformation cannot make the adequately informed decisions democracy requires of them.
President Bush says the mission in Iraq is to spread democracy in the Middle East. It would be bizarrely ironic if the administration knowingly hoodwinked Americans and thereby subverted a basic tenet of democracy in the name of advancing it. The widespread belief by Americans that their government deceived them makes it urgent that Congress quit ducking the questions the Senate Intelligence Committee promised the country to address.
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