By week’s end, Tenet had been compelled to issue an extraordinary statement taking full responsibility for the falsification, in what was widely understood to be an effort to protect National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Cheney and Bush himself.
After a week of conflicting claims from CIA and White House aides about the preparation of the State of the Union speech, Bush and Rice both categorically declared Friday that the CIA had approved every word of the text which Bush delivered on January 28. Two hours later, Tenet issued a carefully worded statement that had reportedly been discussed for several days with White House aides, accepting responsibility.
Bush declared that he had full confidence in Tenet and was prepared to “move on.” There is an aspect of the bizarre in this transparently self-serving statement. The issue is not Tenet’s standing with Bush, but Bush’s role in flagrantly lying to the American people.
The exposure of lying in the State of the Union speech produced a wide public reaction, not because of the intrinsic significance of Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Africa, but because this statement was part of an enormous web of lies used by the administration to drag the American people into war.
The entire Bush administration case for war with Iraq was based on serial falsifications of the most grotesque and flagrant character. The claim that Iraq possessed vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, the claim that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a powerful military threat to his neighbors and even the United States, the claim that Iraq had close ties with Al Qaeda and would share weapons of mass destruction with the terrorists, all these are lies which have been exposed by the events of the war and its aftermath.
Even if one were to accept the convoluted White House account of how flagrant misinformation was incorporated into the State of the Union speech, it amounts to a devastating self-indictment of the US government.
The Bush administration has propounded a new and unprecedented strategy for US national security, under which the US government assumes the right to attack preemptively any other country which it believes might pose a military threat to the United States. Preemption necessarily requires the US government to rely on intelligence estimates to distinguish between real and purely hypothetical threats in selecting targets for military assault.
But the Bush administration has now admitted that in the State of the Union speech, the most important annual address delivered by the president, and the one which is most carefully prepared and reviewed, the White House highlighted “intelligence” reports that were based on a crude forgery. Not only that, but all indications are that the lies about Iraq uranium purchases were inserted into the speech over the objections of the CIA, which had informed officials, up to and including Rice and Cheney, that the charge was dubious.