Friday, June 13, 2003

WMD and belief

Nicholas Kristof has a new column out today that discusses the issue of the forged Niger documents that were used by Bush to show that Iraq was actively trying to acquire uranium for a nuclear weapons program. He neatly points out all the flaws in the current spin from the White House that attempts to paint this as a case of massive communication failure rather than an administration that was so hot to find something to justify an attack on Iraq that it was willing to "overlook" certain vital information, such as the fact that many people already knew the documents were forgeries. I urge you all to read it and pass it along to others. It's a good column and it lays out the case against the administration's spin very nicely. But that is not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the conclusion to Mr. Kristof's column:
I don't believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq's nuclear programs — and then deceived the American public as well.
Why does Mr. Kristof feel it is necessary to add this qualification to his column? He could have left his column as a simple statement of the problems with the administration spin and then concluded by asking how the White House can resolve the problems with their current storyline. But instead he chooses to end with a statement that essentially absolves the President of any malicious intent and suggests that, at worst, Bush was simply deceived by his underlings. Now, do I know that Bush "deliberately lied" on these matters? Do I know that he wasn't a dupe of his underlings? No. I do not. But Mr. Kristoff has nothing to backup his assertion of the opposite. All he has to go on is his "belief" that Bush wouldn't do something like that. On what does he base that belief? A naive assumption that American leaders simply aren't like that? A psychological aversion to even considering the idea that our president might willfully deceive us on an issue of such grave import? The fear that he would be labelled a "kooky conspiracy theorist" if he didn't add that disclaimer? Like the "but of course Dean can't win" meme, the "Bush wouldn't deliberately lie about something that important" meme has become a reflexive response from the pundit corps. So reflexive that Kristoff felt it necessary to knee-cap his otherwise excellent column by including it in the concluding paragraph. There is no factual reason to assert that Bush did not deliberately lie on this matter. Nor is there any reason, other self-serving desire to cover-your-ass, to conclude a column filled with factual evidence with nothing more than wishful thinking. Don't tell me what you believe Mr. Kristoff. Tell me what I need to know so that I can decide for myself what I should believe.


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