Bush and Rove Launch ‘Legacy’ Campaign to Rewrite History

On Tuesday, Stephen Hayes, a conservative columnist and analyst for CNN, revealed that George Bush and Karl Rove have launched a new propaganda campaign with the monumental goal of rewriting the history of the past eight years. The newspeak title of the enterprise is the “Bush legacy project.”

The campaign rolled out this week, first in an “exit interview” Bush gave Charlie Gibson of ABC News and then in an Oxford-style debate in Manhattan in which Rove argued against the proposition that “Bush 43 Is the Worst President of the Last 50 Years.” In the separate venues, both men attempted to reposition Bush’s role in the invasion of Iraq from resolute war president, as he depicted himself at the time, to a reluctant warrior who was misled by bad intelligence into making what many analysts rate as the worst military decision in U.S. history.

Bush was up first, on Monday night, with the interview with ABC’s Gibson, but notice how Bush whiffs on the revisionist script when he is supposed to second-guess the decision to invade:

(This snippet starts at 1:10 in the video above.)

CHARLIE GIBSON: You’ve always said there’s no do-overs as President. If you had one?

GEORGE BUSH: I don’t know — the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn’t.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you’re saying. You know, that’s an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can’t do. It’s hard for me to speculate.

There he is caught in amber: Bush, the pathological dissembler, as presented by Mark Crispin Miller in his brilliant book published in 2002, The Bush Dyslexicon. When Gibson asks the money question — “If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?” Bush responds with a falsehood he’s told so many times that it is now too-often taken as the truth. “Yes,” Bush says brightly, “because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld.”

In reality, Saddam Hussein allowed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors into Iraq in December 2002, four months before the war began. The inspectors destroyed Iraq’s remaining stockpiles of al Samoud missiles in early 2003, a move that independent analysts saw as a serious effort by Saddam to disarm in order to avoid war. On March 7, Hans Blix, the head of the IEAE inspection team, told the UN that “at this juncture we are able to perform professional, no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveys.” Immediately after Blix’ report, however, Bush warned the inspectors to prepare to leave Iraq. Ten days later, he ordered them out of the country. The invasion began three days later, on March 20.

Of course, Gibson makes no effort to challenge Bush on these facts, in part because Bush immediately changes the subject, commandeering the interview by asking himself a question he’d prefer to answer: “In other words,” Bush says, by way of introducing his self-interrogatory, “if [Saddam] had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.”

But when Gibson asks the correct question a second time, Bush responds with utter guile, “Oh, I see what you’re saying,” and then dismisses it with, “That is a do-over that I can’t do” [because it would mean admitting I was wrong]. He finally shuffles away from the subject, muttering, “It’s hard for me to speculate,” even though he’d been speculating quite easily five seconds earlier when he wished “the intelligence had been different, I guess.”

In the debate in Manhattan the next night (PDF transcript), Karl Rove sticks to the revisionist script:

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: The question is for Mr Rove. Had the intelligence been accurate prior to the invasion of Iraq, would the invasion have still taken place, in your view?

KARL ROVE: No. In the aftermath of 9/11 the concern was about a tyrant guilty of enormous human rights abuses, but possessed with weapons of mass destruction and an intention to use them as a state sponsor of terror. Absent that, I suspect the administration’s course would have been to work to find more creative ways to constrain him than he’d been constrained in the 1990s. The president did have an enormous concern about the human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein. He also had a concern about the deterioration of the credibility of the United Nations, which had passed sixteen resolutions calling upon him to abide by the outcome and the agreements that he made in the aftermath of the ’91, of the first Gulf War, that he’d not lived up to. But absent weapons of mass destruction, no, I don’t think there would have been an invasion.

The newly revised version of Bush’s role in ordering the invasion stands in stark contrast with what Bush told Brit Hume of Fox News two years ago this month:

BRIT HUME: Can you say today that if you had known then what you know now about the weapons, that you would have made the same decision.

BUSH: I said it today, and I said it at the last speech I gave. And I’ve said it throughout the [2004 presidential] campaign to the American people. I said I made the right decision. Knowing what I know today, I would have still made that decision.

HUME: Now if you had this — if the weapons had been out of the equation, because the intelligence did not conclude that he had them, it was still the right call?

BUSH: Absolutely.

In fact, there were indications as early as a year before the invasion that Bush was “absolutely” going into Iraq and that the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons was being rewritten to support his objective. According to the Downing Street Memo (DSM), a secret document prepared for the British government by their security officials in Washington, in early 2002, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Bush’s long-standing determination to invade Iraq has been confirmed by former Bush staffers, including Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, national security team member Richard Clarke and, most recently, Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

The rollout of the legacy project this week is likely a preview of what’s to come as Bush, Rove and the other dead-enders spend the coming years falsifying and re-arguing Bush’s record until the truth is upended and facts are blurred beyond recognition.

Unfortunately, this strategy is likely to work. American memories are famously short, for one thing, and, for another, propagandizing is something Bush actually does well. But mainly Bush will succeed in reframing his presidency because no serious efforts are in the works to investigate, much less litigate, his record of misdeeds and misjudgments.

With no official investigative findings or verdict hanging over his head, and using his $500 million “freedom institute” in Dallas as a platform, Bush is free to spend the rest of his life reinventing his record and recasting his role in its disasters as Victim in Chief. In fact, the only thing that stands in the way of the Bush legacy project is the same force that hobbled his administration in its second term: the legions of ever-vigilant truth-squadders out there, armed with the facts.

7 Comments

  • Kuni
    December 5, 2008 - 3:41 am | Permalink

    You gotta love the lie that all the “pre-war intelligence all said that Saddam had WMD’s”.

    Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 30 June 1999, Unclassified Report to Congress from the Director of Central Intelligence, February 2000
    http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/bian_feb_2000.htm
    . . . We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs . . .

    Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 July Through 31 December 1999, Unclassified Report to Congress from the Director of Central Intelligence, August 2000
    http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/bian_aug2000.htm
    . . . We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs . . .

    Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 30 June 2000, Unclassified Report to Congress from the Director of Central Intelligence, February 2001
    http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/bian_feb_2001.htm
    . . . We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs . . .

    And notice how the Right can NEVER find a quote from any Democrat in Congress that says Saddam had WMD’s during the period after Desert Fox, back when the Intelligence found that Saddam had a bit of VX left over; till after September 2001 when Bush signed an Executive Order restricting the Intelligence that Congress got to see and started feeding them the crap that his political appointees in the OSP started to churn out? Not a single quote.

  • Garryinnola
    December 5, 2008 - 10:27 am | Permalink

    I would argue that Bu$h isn’t the worst president of the last 50 years but rather the worst president ever. If you look honestly at each index concerned, whether it was his insistence on invading Iraq will little reason and his “misunderestimating” how difficult it would be, or his “abstinence only” approach to sex education or the loss of stature the U.S. has suffered since he was appointed in 2000 by the Supreme Court to be our president, he is, by far the WORST. And many of the horrors of his administration will not be known for years hence. It will be impossible to rehabilitate his legacy no matter now much they try to spin it.

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  • December 5, 2008 - 5:40 pm | Permalink

    fyi

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