Tall Tales From the Front

It seems as though Lyndon W. Bush is intent on reminding us that government is run by liars. Some day soon, somebody with a loud voice and a good platform will start chanting the phrase “credibility gap,” and then this election cycle really will become interesting.

Let’s review for a moment some of the events and arguments of the past year or so. We were told that Iraq’s madman had weapons of mass destruction and that we had little choice but to send in our troops to disarm him. In fact, that is how the White House announced the opening of Operation Make the Arab World Safe for Democracy, or whatever it was: The administration spokesman got in front of a podium and said that the disarming of Iraq was underway. Television screens soon were showing pictures of impressive explosions in Baghdad.

In the weeks leading up to this disarmament, the Murdoch press had great fun depicting Iraq’s leaders as men who told the most horrid lies, the kind only a Frenchman or a German would believe. You may remember the clever, subtle way in which the New York Post made this point: It ran a front-page picture of Iraq’s U.N. ambassador with a Pinocchio nose as he issued a tiresome denial of W.’s W.M.D. charge. Later, once the invasion was underway, the war whoopers laughed hysterically at the war whoppers told by an Iraqi government spokesman nicknamed Baghdad Bob, who would issue forth taunts and lies about turning back the elderberry-smelling Crusaders even as coalition forces were doing their victory laps outside the presidential palace. Oh, that Baghdad Bob! What an incorrigible liar!

Well, now: We are masters, sort of, of Iraq, but as of this writing-and this could change at any minute-we have yet to turn up any W.M.D. As the presence of said weapons was given as the reason we had to go to war, one might conclude that we were told lies not only by Baghdad Bob, but by White House George. Oh, and remember that bit in the State of the Union speech about Saddam’s African shopping expedition? That statement has been rendered inoperative. The President, you see, misspoke. Brave man! He even admitted his error! What courage! What character! Did you-know-who ever admit his lies? No, sir! He had no character!

In war, Churchill said, the truth is so precious that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies. But this time around, the bodyguard was the vanguard. It led the advance on truth, wiped it out before it had a chance, and those who called attention to this surprise attack were deemed weak of heart, soft of brain, devoid of courage. When the German foreign minister, upon hearing Colin Powell’s case for war, dared to say that he was unconvinced by assertions which now turn out to be lies, he was assailed as a latent goose-stepper. He was unconvinced, was he? Apparently he wasn’t listening to the intelligence that was pouring in from Iraqi defectors. These were people-brave people-who were on the ground in Iraq. The horrors they described, their tales of W.M.D., were simply astounding.

As it happens, the stories from those brave defectors were actually lies. Some of them, anyway. The defectors got Yankee dollars for their stories about Iraq’s biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, but now we learn that the Defense Intelligence Agency thinks these tales were mere flights of imagination-inspired, like so many great works of fiction, by thoughts of a big payday.

So, to summarize and elaborate: We went to war to disarm Iraq of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons it did not have. The people who told us about these weapons lied or exaggerated their stories in return for money. And now the President of the United States fairly demands that other countries help pay the cost of Iraq’s reconstruction, which was brought about for reasons that are now discredited.

As of this writing, the Murdoch press has yet to process this terrible realization, i.e., that maybe the Iraqis were telling the truth when they said they didn’t have the W.M.D. we said they had. When Fox News cheerleader Brit Hume “interviewed” the President the other day-on the eve of Mr. Bush’s United Nations speech-the closest they got to mentioning lies was their discussion of Mr. Bush’s golf game.

The removal of Saddam is not and never was a bad thing. There was a case to be made for his removal even without the W.M.D. accusations and other tall tales. But the administration never made that case.

The Bush White House told us that the madman had W.M.D. and so could pose a threat to the United States. He talked about how inaction might lead to a mushroom cloud over an American city.

The credibility gap has become a chasm.

Tall Tales From the Front