After recently moving out of Washington after more than 22 years there, I realize now more than ever how divorced from reality (and the ethics of the rest of the country) the nation’s capital has become. What is regarded as deception and even lying everywhere else is just good clean fun on the banks of the Potomac. A case in point is the administration’s admission that President Bush’s State of the Union reference to Iraq’s alleged quest to buy uranium from Africa should not have been inserted in the speech.
The media and Democrats are rushing to thrust, with a twist, the verbal dagger into the Bush administration over the “gotcha” in the speech. The administration so richly deserves acerbic criticism over its bellicose invasion of a sovereign Iraq and its subsequent botched attempt at nation-building there. But the real question is why it took so long for the criticism of administration duplicity to be exposed and debated. This question goes to the heart of culture of the nation’s capital.
Many Washington reporters, policy analysts and politicians--even Republican ones--knew before the invasion of Iraq that the administration’s multiple reasons for going to war were shaky. For example, in a speech on October 7, 2002, President Bush stated flatly, “Iraq could decide on any given day [my emphasis] to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.” But a National Intelligence Estimate from the U.S. intelligence community, released on October 2, contradicted the president’s statement. The estimate said that Saddam Hussein was likely to use chemical and biological weapons, or give them to terrorists, only if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime--that is, the administration’s very policy. The full estimate was only declassified recently but, at the time, the then-chairman of the intelligence committee pressured and succeeded in compelling CIA director George Tenet to make public that conclusion.