George W. Bush is a goddamn liar. On the one hand, he constantly says he hasn’t made up his mind about attacking Iraq, but the troop buildup and his latest utterances that “time is running out” for Saddam Hussein give the lie to his “statesmanship.” Bush is determined to go to war, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop him.
“So far I haven’t seen any evidence that he has disarmed,” said Bush. “I’m sick and tired of games and deception.”
Well, you know what, Mr. President? So are we. We are tired of the softshoe act your administration is putting on, and the mixed signals given out daily. What kind of signals? In this press briefing by Ari Fleischer, he offers these “statements”:
Q Can we presume that the President is very happy that Mr. Blix says there is no smoking gun in the search for weapons in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the problem with guns that are hidden is you can’t see their smoke. And so we will still await to see what the inspectors find in Iraq and what events in Iraq lead to.
What the hell does that mean? “The problem with guns that are hidden is you can’t see their smoke”? What kind of koan is that supposed to be and how does it give any information to the press and, by extension, the American people? Obviously, it’s not supposed to give any information out.
Here’s the rest of the exchange (again, my comments in italics):
Q But it wouldn’t be disappointing, would it, if there were no weapons there?
MR. FLEISCHER: We know for a fact that there are weapons there. And so — the inspectors also went on —
Q What’s the search all about if you know it so factually?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me cite to you what was — what the inspectors have said at the United Nations. And this if from their reports. “In order to create confidence that it has no more weapons of mass destruction and proscribed activities related to such weapons, Iraq must present credible evidence. It cannot just maintain that it must be deemed to be without proscribed items so long as their is no evidence to the contrary.”
Now, continuing in the words of the inspectors, “A person accused of illegal possession of weapons may indeed be acquitted for lack of evidence. But if a state which has used such weapons is to create confidence it no longer has any prohibited weapons, it will need to present solid evidence or present remaining items for elimination under supervision.”
And they continue, “If evidence is not presented which gives us a high degree of assurance, there is no way the inspectors can close a file by simply invoking a precept that Iraq cannot prove the negative. In such cases, regrettably, they must conclude, as they have done in the past, that the absence of a particular item is not assured.”
So while they’ve said that there’s no smoking gun, they said the absence of it is not assured. And that’s the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is Iraq is very good at hiding things.
And so is North Korea, as evidenced by the advanced nuclear program they supposedly halted in 1994 when the Clinton administration agreed to food and energy aid. But now Bush is prepared to, I don’t know, take Kim Jong Il’s word for it that they will halt it again if they get more of the same?
Q The heart of the problem is there is a lack of confidence in anybody speaking the truth there, isn’t that —
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you accusing the inspectors of not speaking the truth when they say that it’s not assured
Typical Fleischer: Attack the questioner rather than answer the question.
Q No, I think they’re speaking the truth, and the country won’t accept it.
MR. FLEISCHER: So when they say the absence of the particular item is not assured, you accept that as the truth. You agree with the President. I’m very proud.
Q I mean, the point is, wouldn’t you be happy if there were no weapons there?
MR. FLEISCHER: There would be nothing that would make the President happier than there being no weapons in Iraq. And the best way to make certain that there are no weapons in Iraq is for Saddam Hussein to disarm himself of the weapons he has.
Q The inspectors have also said that there’s no deadline to their inspections. They need time. Prime Minister Blair has said that they need time and space, that the January 27th report that they’ll deliver should not be seen as any kind of deadline. And Secretary Powell said that, as well. Is this an indication that the President is willing to let the inspectors go at this for a good, long while?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I’ve never heard the President put a time line on it. [Although he said today he was “sick and tired” of delays. — Ed.] The President wants the inspectors to continue to do exactly what they are doing, which is to do their level best to carry out the search, given the fact that Iraq has thrown up hurdles and isn’t complying in all aspects, continuing with what the inspectors have reported in New York.
They cited a number of issues that are real causes for concern by the United States government. And among the things that the inspectors themselves have said are discrepancies and inconsistencies. These deal with special munitions, illegal imports on a relatively large number of missile engines, contradictions involving the chemical agent VX, inadequate response by Iraq to provide the names of all personnel who have been involved in weapons of mass destruction programs. Indeed, the inspectors found that the list that Iraq provided of who has been involved in the weapons of mass destruction programs left out known names of people who have been involved in the weapons of mass destruction programs.
The inspectors themselves have concluded that Iraq failed to make a serious effort to respond to this information that the world has required. Inspections that the IAEA conducted, which the IAEA, per their rights under the U.N. resolution, asked to be conducted in private without any Iraqi minders were rejected. The inspections could only take place if Iraqi minders were in the room — hardly a welcoming environment if anybody has information that they want to share. And so there were a number of things that were said that still give cause for concern in this report.
There’s a lot more, which you read at the link up above, but my favorite meaningless and empty statement from Fleischer is this:
Q Is there not a contradiction, on the one hand, for the President to say publicly he will have zero tolerance for Iraqi non-compliance, and for the administration to say the burden is not on the inspectors to find things, the burden is on Iraq to show what happened to its weapons programs — and then on the other hand, say, as you just said, that even the inspectors say Iraq left out names of scientists known to be working in the weapons program, has not accounted for mustard gas, other chemical agents known to be there in the last violation? Why doesn’t the President say, zero tolerance, failed the test?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is why I began this by saying, taking the broad view about what we learned in New York today. What we learned in New York today gives further concern for people who want to keep peace, because Iraq has failed to comply with the United Nations resolutions. The President has said that he will have zero tolerance for this. The President has also said that Saddam Hussein will have to figure out exactly what zero tolerance means and when he means it. (Emphasis added)
(Open-mouthed gawking…) What? Just what is going on? Does anyone know? It’s like a game, trying to figure out what the administration is saying. A game played with the lives of thousands of Iraqis and American GIs in the balance. And the goal posts of this game keep changing. First, Saddam was involved in 9/11. Then he was harboring al Qa’ida. Then he was making weapons of mass destruction. And now, he’s not providing complete information to weapons inspectors.
As Iraq’s offenses against the world community shrink in significance, Bush’s rhetoric heats up. At this point, only a bravura performance in which the United States offers incontrovertible proof that Iraq is manufacturing WMD and poses an threat to world order, alá Adlai Stevenson in 1962, would be enough to get France and Russia on board. Chief inspector Hans Blix has asked for more time, and even Britain has hinted that inspections should be given more time to work. (By the way, be sure to check out George Paine’s entry over at War Blogging. Excellent plan for a workable sanctions regime.)
To the American people, North Korea seems the greater threat, yet because it has no oil or anything else that matters to him and his cronies, Bush treats it with kid gloves and even floats the idea of cutting a deal to put the breaks on a nuclear program that is years ahead of anything Iraq might be capable of. Yet, he constantly boxes Saddam Hussein into a corner, setting him up to fail.
This is a bit of a rant, true, but yesterday was just one of those days when the hypocrisy of those in power over the American people boiled over. Despite the wishes of a substantial minority in this country — and while the rest of the world that calls for more time — this administration seems ready to flout the public’s wishes.
In a possible check on Bush, his numbers have dropped five points, from 63 percent to 58 percent, in a week — although the slip is within the poll’s margin of error of three points. Still, the numbers are at their lowest since 9/11. A poll from the Christian Science Monitor and TIPP shows that only 40 percent of Americans think it is “very important” to tackle Iraq within six months, down from 47 percent in December. And while a majority continue to see Saddam as a threat, the number has fallen to its lowest point in five months. Almost 40 percent don’t believe he poses an immediate threat to the country. (The Monitor/TIPP poll was conducted Jan. 6-11, with 903 respondents with a margin of error of 3.3 points.)
Look, I’m not saying Saddam isn’t someone we need to deal with, but for God’s sake — or at least the lives of innocent Iraqis and American troops — let the inspectors do their jobs before killing thousands, destabilizing a region and alienating allies. Despite the dubious method of his rise to power, Bush should remember we live in a democracy, still, and going to war is not the prerogative of one man. The voices of the people of the United States need to be in this debate — all of them, not just those of the hawks and political supporters.