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November 21, 2005


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Stone writes, "It is one thing to believe that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction with sufficient confidence to justify sanctions or inspections. It is another thing entirely to believe that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destructions with sufficient confidence to justify a full-scale preemptive invasion with the consequent loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives."

First point: This issue has nothing to do with "levels of certainty" about the facts; it has to do with tolerance for risk based on agreed upon facts. And hawks, and most Americans, had much lower levels of tolerance for risk after 9/11, whether the risk of Saddam's misuse of existing WMDs or his development of newer, more dangerous ones. This is a philosophical difference that you try to misconstrue as one of facts.

Second, Stone is being seriously misleading--whether out of ignorance or mendacity, I can't tell--to deny that Saddam had ties with terrorists. He sheltered the Achille Lauro terrorist, Abu Nidal. He had paid funds to Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombers in Israel. And he had made a number of (until then) unsuccessful outreach efforts to Al Qaeda as documented in the 9/11 Commission Repot in great detail (and received such outreach efforts from bin Laden in turn). It's true they were not "in cahoots," but it was also true that his intentions and sympathy were with anti-American violent extremist groups. When coupled with his (then believed) WMD capability and potential WMD capability, this presented a volatile combination.

Three, Stone abuses the language by repeating the weasel-worded charge that Bush misled the Americans, which is the most favored diction of Dean, Kerry, and other Democratic spokesmen. It's frankly misleading to say Bush "misled" the American people. The words is meant to imply one thing--that he intentionally misled us--when in fact the evidence only can show that he was wrong.

"Misled" has at least two meanings, as in, "The policemen misled us to believe it was only 3 miles to the next gas station. I guess he was mistaken," versus "Why did you mislead me into believing we would continue to make love after we were married?"

The real question is whether Bush did so intentionally, that is, whether he actually lied. Most high profile Democrats have not crossed that line of accusing Bush of outright lies. But some have. And it's a charge that should be responded to by Bush and his adminsitration forcefully. It's frankly a ridiculous charge. The intelligence services of the US and other nations provided Bush with the info on WMDs. If, to gather support for a war that he in his judgment decided to pursue based on the facts at hand, he did not hedge 10 ways to Sunday in the peripatetic manner of a law school professor, so be it. It's called the art of rhetoric. Once Bush decided the war was in the US best interests, it was his duty to sell it, not walk the Americans through all of the arguments and coutnerarguments after he had made a decision.

Let's remember what Bush was told by his advisors, especially Tenet's "slam dunk" comment. Bush would have to have disbelieved these experts, for no particular reason, to have been proved to lie. Why? Because lying requries a present sense that one is not disclosing the truth. His critics by taking their own flimsy evidence of, at most, a mistake and calling it a "big lie" show that they're simply scoring points when they, and he, and everyone in between believed Saddam had WMDs prior to the US invasion in 2003.

Finally, it was no secret from the get go that this was a multipurpose war: to depose Saddam, to disarm Iraq of WMDs, to shake up the pathologically illiberal Arab world, to show a "bias for action" to nations that might defy US demands in the war on terror, to create a model democratic regime in the Mideast etc. It's true the most prominent argument put forward has yet to be proven in grand fashion. Illegal nuclear programs, illegal science programs, and illegal "Al Sanud" missiles were found, but not the massive stockpiles of feared chemical and biological weapons. That said, the secondary and tertiary reasons advanced for the war were no secret and at least some of those promises have been fulfilled.

Stone contributes little to this debate above, unless worn out democratic talking points acquire a new luster when repeated by a law professor of some prominence.

John J. Almond

Geoff, you're far off base on this one. I don't know where to begin but several salient points:
(1) As for the possession of stocks of WMD, I'm sure you will recall that the existence of those stocks had been verified by the U.N. inspection regime before Saddam expelled the inspectors in 1998. None other than Hans Blix reported, I believe in December 2002, not only that the Iraqi regime had failed to account for these stocks or verify their disposal, clearly a step that would have been in the self-interest of a regime threatened with invasion if that regime had in fact disposed of the stuff, but that inspectors had indeed discovered additional facts previously unknown (and which the regime had been obligated to disclose) that only pointed to the likelihood that the inspectors were seeing but "the tip of a submerged iceberg". It was my reading of Blix's reports that convinced me that we had no alternative but to take out the regime. And, oh yes, there was the NIE conclusion made in 2002 that "Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material."
(2) I will spare you a recitation of the litany of public statements of those who now wish they hadn't spoken and many of whom are now adding their voices to the - yes, shameful - accusation that Bush and Cheney "lied" when they said essentially the same things that countless others (e.g., both Clintons, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Carl Levin, Jay Rockefeller, John Edwards, George Tenet, Sandy Berger, Ken Pollack, Tony Blair, Hosni Mubarak, every Western intelligence service, etc.) were saying and had been saying for years. One quote should give a flavor: It is that well-known Bush fan Joe Wilson who said in the summer of 2003, AFTER the invasion, that "I remain of the view that we will find biological and chemical weapons and we may well find something that indicates that Saddam's regime maintained an interest in nuclear weapons." It is beyond my meager abilities to comprehend how some of those same people can in good conscience charge that Bush, et al., were "lying" when they themselves were saying the same things, presumably in all good faith. I, for one, am quite sure that many of those joining in the "Bush Lied" chorus are themselves uttering deliberate falsehoods, that is, that they know in fact that Bush's statements were made in good faith based on the same intelligence that they had available to them. (The fact that many of those people are uttering these slanders for purely political purposes has led some - though NOT Bush or Cheney - to label the speakers' actions as unpatriotic. And if the notion of "unpatriotic" action encompasses making false charges in the attempt to delegitimize the effort in Iraq for one's personal political advantage, then such a charge is well-founded.)
(3) I'm not sure just what statements of Dick Cheney's you refer to in regard to Iraq's connections with al Qaida and other terrorist groups but it is absolutely NOT true to say that such assertions were "flatly and unambiguously false". The Iraq/al Qaida connections have been widely reported on and the evidence of those connections is substantial - though one would not know it from reading only headlines or certain of our newspapers. When Mr. Clinton was weighing an attack on bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, it was Richard Clarke of all people - a supposed expert on bin Laden and the region - who, in his own words, counseled against it on the ground that "wily ol' OBL" would in that event simply "boogie on down to Baghdad". As, indeed al Zarqawi did when he was wounded in the Afghan fighting in 2001. As did the maker of the bomb used in the World Trade Center attack in 1993. And, as I understand it, Czech intelligence continues to believe that Mohammed Atta made two visits to Prague in 2000/2001 to meet Iraqi intelligence. I could go on for quite a while on these "connections".
(4) Is there a legitimate debate about whether the war should have been undertaken? Sure. About how it is being waged? Sure. About targets or deadlines for withdrawal? Perhaps. But for members of Congress to demonize and vilify the President - in my view and that of many others falsely but, in any event,in a way designed to undermine the President and the war effort - that is more than just arguably irresponsible. And calling them on it and pointing out that the "Bush lied" meme is false is not a free speech issue and it surely is not in the least inimical to democratic values. No one is silencing these people. Though they certainly seem to wish to muzzle any response from the White House.

Geoffrey Stone

I appreciate Chris Roach's and Jack Almond's comments, though I disagree with them for the reasons set forth in my initial post. I want specifically to correct one of Chris Roach's misstatements -- that "mislead" is a weasel word and that all we should care about is whether George Bush intentionally lied to the American people. This is simply wrong. One can mislead others by negligently or recklessly making factually false statements, and one can mislead others by making statements that are negligently, recklessly, or intentionally deceptive, even if not factually false. The Bush administration was, at the very least, guilty of both of these forms of "misleading." To suggest that public officials should not be held accountable for such conduct, especially when it comes to launching a preemptive war that has cost the nation dearly, is nothing short of extraordinary.

Kimball Corson

Geoff, you are too charitable to the Bush administration on this one. As the well-researched New York Times' editorial of November 15th makes clear, members of Congress, and derivatively the American public, were affirmatively and deliberately mislead by the Administration's withholding of much key intelligence critical of its position and by the presentation of intelligence conjecture (based on old or questionable information) as solid fact, both acts of knowing manipulation and deception. George Tenent was the sacrificial lamb on this one when the truth became clear. The war against Iraq was in the planning stages well in advance of 9/11 and George Bush was still rankled over Saddam's assassination attempt on his Father and Powell's advice to Bush Senior during the first Iraqi invasion, not to take Baghdad and get Saddam. Wolfowitz was also well known to have held in advance the position that if America could acquire indirect or puppet control over Iraqi oil production and sales, it could then seriously undermine OPEC's oligopolistic price levels established by coordinated supply restrictions, another reason for invasion that was not clearly put on the table by the Administration. Candor was clearly and intentionally lacking and the psychological elements you identify were merely used for self justification and rationalization.

Kimball Corson

Geoff writes, ". . .Cheney, Rumsfeld, Pearle, and Wolfowitz, were deeply committed to the neo-con position that the United States must oust Saddam Hussein in order to establish stability in the Middle East."

In fact, Saddam probably provided much of what stability there was in the Middle East that is sorely lacking now. He kept the Shiites and the Sunnis from each other's throats within Iraq; he engaged Iran in war and confrontation so as to neutralize effectively both Iraq and Iran, instead of having them unite against a common enemy -- us; and he did so without directly promoting or significantly aiding terrorism, which could later challenge him or his regime, as the Saudis learned too late. Aside from the fact he was awful, he was pretty useful in the Middle East, as we are belately learning.

Kevin Learned

Prof. Stone,

I find it troubling that you do not see the hipocrisy of taking to task the the Bush administration for attacking its critics as "reckless," "shameless," and "irresponsible," while at the same time you yourself are accusing the Bush administration of being "negligent", "reckless", and "intentionally deceptive". Pot, meet Kettle.

Similarly, while you argue that the Bush administration interpreted intelligence information in ways that were influenced by their established policy positions, you can not see that your own interpretation (in hindsight even) is colored by your own liberalism. And your bias cannot be glossed over. In describing the administration's confidence level, you state that Bush and Cheney were either ignorant or dishonest, an assertion that would require evidence that the Bush administration had or should have had information that it ignored, of which there is no evidence. On the question of whether Saddam had WMDs, you claim it to be "flatly and unambiguously false," which belies the real question of whether we reasonably believed that he had such weapons as described by Messrs. Roach and Almond above.

Who is being negligent / reckless / shameful / irresponsible / deceptive / dishonest?


Hopefully this blog will remain about legal issues - there are plenty of other places to blog on politics.


Misled is a "weasel word" not because it lacks the meaning that Stone attributes to it, but because it is a vague word with meanings ranging from "honest mistake" to "intentional lie" and tending more towards the latter in usage. (I said as much in my post above). Bush's critics exploit this ambiguity and are imprecise in their criticisms. It may perhaps be a sustainable and important argument that Bush was reckless or negligent in his assessment of the facts on Iraq prior to the US invasion. But one should say that precisely if that is what one means. It's obvious that the word "misleading" is most commonly used, precisely because of its multiple connotations, some very negative.

This is no accident. It is not a hedge that Bush's critics employ so as not to question his good faith. They know that to call someone a liar directly and publicly is a bold act that can easily boomerang upon the speaker, suggesting that he is too quick to engage in defamation and to willing to question another's good faith.

There is kind of an ethics of rhetoric point here. One should speak directly if one is calling someone else a liar, because that is important information for the public to know, especially when it concerns a powerful figure. But one should also refrain from insinuating as much if one does not have the courage to say so outright and accept the consequences.

Douglas Hoffer

Prof. Stone said:

"One can mislead others by negligently or recklessly making factually false statements, and one can mislead others by making statements that are negligently, recklessly, or intentionally deceptive, even if not factually false. The Bush administration was, at the very least, guilty of both of these forms of "misleading." To suggest that public officials should not be held accountable for such conduct, especially when it comes to launching a preemptive war that has cost the nation dearly, is nothing short of extraordinary."

I think what many find extraordinary is that people such as yourself lay all of the accountablity at the President's feet, and none at the feet of any Democrats. Don't you feel that condemning President Bush's alleged mistakes while excusing Democrats of similar actions leading up to the war calls your motives into question? In order to be consistent, shouldn't you also be condemning the words and actions of John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Sandy Berger, etc.? By not doing so, are you not yourself guilty of "suggest(ing) that public officials should not be held accountable for such conduct, especially when it comes to launching a preemptive war that has cost the nation dearly"?

Clearly you feel differently than I do on the justification for the Iraq war, but aren't you troubled by the double standard on this issue?

Kimball Corson

For some critiquing comments, here goes: Roach is right that Geoff fell into some error by pulling and recharacterizing his punches at the Bush Administration. The hypocrisy Kevin accuses Geoff of totally escapes me. Where is it? As for Douglas believing the Dems are responsible too, he either does not believe or did not read comments here that the information provided to Congress was sanitized and stilted and not really what the White House had available to it. As for AR's comment on separating law and politics, since when have men ever been able to separate the two -- even Congress is mostly lawyers. Political beliefs are at the foundations of law and substantially form it. Both matter.

Douglas Hoffer

In response to Kimball, I do not believe the information provided to Congress was sanitized and stilted to a level that eliminates accountability for Congress. This seems to be a weak excuse for Democrats unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. They had access to enough intelligence to make an informed decision. Either they too were convinced Saddam Hussein was a threat, or they lacked the courage of their convictions fearing election year reprisals.

Kimball Corson

Doug, we disagree and let me explain why.

Only when Democrats urged completion of the congressional investigation into the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence did the White House responded that investigation of their handling of the intelligence was not warranted because both the White House and Congress possessed the same flawed reports and came to the same incorrect conclusions. Too many have since echoed this argument, but have added nothing substantively. However, the contention the White House and Congress saw the same intelligence ignores too much. First, considering the Presidential Daily Briefing and other intelligence information routinely received and sought, the White House typically has access to very much more intelligence than do members of Congress. This was so too with prewar intelligence on Iraq. Also, the White House began raising the Iraqi threat months before Congress received any significant intelligence. Next, the administration received information directly from alternative intelligence sources as well, such as the Office of Special Plans and the Iraqi National Congress that Congress did not get. Finally, there was virtually no discussion of Wolfowitz’s adopted suggestion that the US attempt to get indirect control over Iraqi oil production and sales to compromise OPEC’s pricing and aid the US economy without injuring Iraq, as a reason for going to war.

Moreover, the procedural aftermath is most telling. On November 1, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) forced the Senate into a closed session and demanded a pledge that the Senate Intelligence Committee complete phase two of its investigation into prewar intelligence, as the committee's chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), had previously promised. Phase one addressed the intelligence community's failure to provide accurate intelligence on the Iraqi threat. It was completed in April 2004 and showed the intelligence Congress received was flawed, as was some of what the White House received, but with caveats. Upon learning this during the course of phase one, Democrats on the Committee then reached agreement with the Republican members to conduct a second phase of the investigation, looking into, among other matters, how and what intelligence the White House determined was to be provided to Congress and also the public. However, nineteen months after this agreement, and more than thirteen months after Sen. Roberts said phase two would become a priority, Democrats on the Committee claim that they have not been able to make any progress despite repeated efforts to push the investigation forward.

In response to Democratic demands for completion of phase two, the Republican National Committee began arguing that just a few years back, Democrats were warning about WMDs in Iraq, and quoting various Democrats who said in late 2002 that Iraq posed a significant threat to the United States. Since then other Republicans and the White House have picked up on this theme and of late have become most aggressive about it. Meanwhile, Republican Committee members stall the phase two investigation. Why should Republicans stonewall the second part of the investigation and launch a counteroffensive verbal assault, if in fact Bush is correct that everyone had the same information? If what Bush says is true, let the investigation go forward and prove Bush right. Why stonewall? We all know the answer. The resolution of this matter could well determine Bush’s legacy and the White House knows that. The stonewalling continues and a later discovered cover-up effort would not surprise me one bit. The handwriting is on the wall, as I see it, and the full truth will eventually out, to Bush's great detriment.

Jason Steed

You seem to accuse Stone of equivocating on “misled” -- using the word in order to “exploit” its ambiguities and to be “imprecise” in his criticism of the Bush administration. You want Stone to call Bush a liar if he thinks Bush is a liar, and to call Bush “reckless or negligent” if he thinks Bush was reckless or negligent. You accuse Stone and Bush critics in general of using “misled” in order to “hedge” their criticisms; in short, you seem to think that Bush critics use “misled” in order to accuse Bush of lying without accusing Bush of lying. And you think this is rhetorically unethical.

I have a few points in response to this:
1. I don’t see how it is equivocation to accuse someone of X if what that person did fits at least one of the acceptable definitions of X. To accuse Clinton of “sexual relations” is perfectly fine, because we can all accept oral sex as one possible definition of “sexual relations” -- though there might be other ways of defining “sexual relations” that are inapplicable. Conversely, when Clinton says “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” he is truly equivocating, because in truth he did not have sexual intercourse, but he says “sexual relations” because he wants his audience to believe he did not even have oral sex (when in fact he did). To accuse Bush of “lying” would be like accusing Clinton of “sexual intercourse.” It is a narrower charge that is more easily refuted. To accuse Bush of “misleading” is NOT an equivocation, it is simply a broader claim (like “sexual relations”); under an acceptable definition of the word, Bush did mislead the nation. Conversely, if Bush were to claim “I did not mislead the nation,” he (like Clinton) would be equivocating -- using “mislead” to mean “lie” while hoping his audience would accept the broader implications of his refutation. Notice Bush doesn’t do this. He and his supporters always try to turn the accusation immediately into a narrower question of “lying.” I am perfectly willing to allow that Clinton did not have sexual intercourse; but he cannot escape the charge that he had sexual relations. I’m likewise willing to allow that Bush (possibly) did not lie; but you seem to want to release him from the charge that he misled. That's a no-go for me.

2. Despite the above, I assume you will continue to object to the use of “misled” because it continues to be taken (by some) as an accusation of lying without solidifying into an actual accusation of lying. As one of the above comments points out, the evidence (SO FAR) shows only that Bush was very wrong about a number of things (which is grounds enough for the accusation of “misleading”), but it does not (YET) show that he intentionally lied about anything. But evidence might eventually be discovered or presented to show (or at least to suggest) that, indeed, Bush et al was intentionally misrepresenting the facts, and could be fairly accused of lying. What is wrong with accusing him of the broader act of “misleading” (for which there are grounds) and leaving open the possibility of later accusing him more pointedly of the narrower act of lying? (This sort of “order of accusations” occurs all the time, does it not? We accuse someone broadly of “misdeeds,” and those misdeeds are more narrowly defined as the evidence mounts.)

Indeed, one might even argue that using the broader "misled" is the MORE (not less) ethical choice, in making the accusation, because the evidence is not yet sufficient for making a narrower accusation.

3. I think it is interesting that you speak of “rhetorical ethics” and that you deplore the Bush critics’ use of “mislead” because it is rhetorically unethical; I cannot help but think of the claims that the Bush administration made in the buildup for war. Is it really necessary to pull out all the soundbites wherein Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfeld rhetorically linked Saddam Hussein to 9/11, in an effort to tie those two to one another in the public mind, in order to garner support for an invasion of Iraq? Wouldn’t you call this “rhetorically unethical”? Wouldn’t you call it “misleading”? At one point, late last year, the Bush administration was facing so much criticism for rhetorically linking the two that Bush finally had to come out himself and state explicitly that there was no evidence for such a link. But by that time, the damage had been done: we had already invaded, and polls showed that some 60% of the general public still believed that Saddam was behind 9/11. (I still have students in my classroom who assert a link between the two.) Are you as critical of the Bush Team’s rhetoric as you are of the Bush critics’ rhetoric?


On the last point, sometimes.

I also think the 9/11 connection was real, but that most people didn't get it. 9/11 mattered because it shook up our awareness of potential threats and the costs of complacency. I don't think Bush or his cohorts implied some operational tie between the attacks and Saddam. That said, most Americans rightfully lost patience with one of the very few world leaders to praise the attacks and build monuments in its honor. I can't say that the prewar rhetoric was unethical in the same sense that the current charge of Bush "misleading" us is.

One interesting thing about the WMD "Lies" thesis is very practical. Our Soldiers and Marines in Iraq were wearing full NBC protective gear up until the point US forces reached Baghdad. For 3 weeks from March-April 2003 in the 90-100 degree desert heat they wore heavy parkas, trousers, rubber boots and other gear designed to address a WMD/NBC threat. This gear is heavy, uncomfortable, creates heat casualties, and lots of other inconvenienes.

Does anyone think that the military did not believe that Iraqi forces had WMDs they might use in their defense, with operational intelligence in support? Does anyone believe Bush would hamper the effectiveness and tempo of military operations by mandating full NBC/MOPP gear if he in fact knew or had substantial reason to doubt the presence of Iraqi WMDs?

It's truly a ridiculous proposition.

Final point on the ethics of rhetoric. Precision is, of course, preferable to promiscuous accusations of lying and bad faith. But the word "misleading" has such a wide range of meaning, that in this context one gets the impression that different meanings are employed simultaneously and selectively, some in offense and others in defense. To my ears, the constant refrain of misleading is meant as an accusation, a charge. It's no mere attempt at exactness, stating that the evidence only can show that Bush was merely negligent or reckless, and not intentional in his WMD statements. In this sense, by attemping to deflect responsibility from the speaker, it exhibits, like certain uses of the passive voice, a kind of cowardice. It sounds to me like a hit and run style that allows a quick retreat when one is forced to defend the very strong charge of bad faith.

I am having a hard time coming up with analogs, but consider ethnic terms like "Jew" or "Mexican." They are denotatitively neutral. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I'm a Jew" or "I'm a Mexican." But such terms can also be used negatively, and context, intention, and all the rest go into the equation of what is really being said. It adds insult to injury when such terms are used negatively, but the speaker does not have the honesty to say what he means and defend it.

Jason Steed

Roach, you say: "I don't think Bush or his cohorts implied some operational tie between the [9/11] attacks and Saddam."

Really? But polls as recently as October 2004 showed that 41% of all voters and 52% of Bush supporters STILL believed that Saddam DID play a direct role in planning and/or supporting the 9/11 attacks. (And those numbers were much higher just prior to our invasion -- as high as 60-70% of all voters!) Cheney and Rice and Bush himself had made countless statements in which Saddam and 9/11 were "linked" rhetorically -- and Cheney even made some statements that came dang close to asserting direct involvement in 9/11 on the part of the Saddam regime. (His statements were so close to explicit assertions of a direct link that Bush was forced -- FINALLY -- to "clarify" things late last year, by stating plainly that there was no evidence of any direct link between the two.)

The attempts to link Saddam to 9/11 rhetorically were so frequent and obvious that they were a constant topic in the blogosphere, from pre-invasion 2002 until Bush's after-the-damage-was-done disavowal of the connection in October 2004.

For you to try to suggest that the "connection" consisted only in that 9/11 "shook up our awareness of potential threats" is quite ridiculous. Certainly 9/11 did "shake up our awareness" -- but the American public did not spontaneously draw a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks; they did not come to the conclusion, all on their own, that Saddam was directly involved in the planning and/or supporting of those attacks. No. Nobody was thinking about Iraq after 9/11 until the Bush administration brought it up. The Bush administration frequently drew that connection rhetorically -- and, at times, even came close to asserting it explicitly.

You say that the prewar rhetoric was not as unethical as the current charge of "misleading" is. How, exactly, do you assess the ethicality of something? Bush and Cheney played good cop/bad cop for months -- Cheney would strongly assert (rhetorically) a connection between Saddam and 9/11, then Bush would soften that assertion -- and the result was a steadily increasing belief among the general public that there was, indeed, a direct connection; this led, then, to widespread support for the invasion of a nation that posed no immediate threat to the U.S. (Bush said himself, prior to the invasion, that Iraq might not be a threat for FIVE YEARS -- even if he was RIGHT about WMD!!)

Today, some 30,000 Iraqis have been killed; some 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed; who knows how many thousands have been injured, or made homeless and/or jobless; the Middle East is more unstable than ever, and the U.S. is more unpopular worldwide than ever. None of this would have occurred without the invasion of Iraq, and the invasion was only possible with general public support, and general public support was (at least in part) the product of a widespread belief that Saddam was directly involved in 9/11 -- and that belief was the result of the Bush administration's prewar (and postwar) rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Bush critics are accusing Bush of "misleading" the nation in the buildup for war. That might mean that Bush was simply wrong, and wrongly led us to war on false and/or incorrect information and/or beliefs; but it also might mean that he deliberately exaggerated claims, that he made claims he knew to be false or at least untrustworthy (such as the claim that Saddam was trying to purchase nuclear materials from Niger), and/or that he willfully allowed the American public to believe something that he knew to be false (such as waiting until well after the invasion to finally clarify that Saddam had no direct connection to 9/11). The result (at least in part) of these charges of "misleading" the nation is that Bush's popularity is at an all-time low, and Republicans no longer have any coat-tails to ride into the 2006 elections. Oh, and the pull-out from Iraq might just occur more quickly, and more American lives will be saved, than would have been the case if Bush were more popular.

Somehow, by your estimation, this latter use of rhetoric -- the charge of "misleading" the nation -- is more unethical than the former use of rhetoric -- the drawing of a connection between Saddam and 9/11.

I guess I don't understand your sense of ethics.

One final word, on your attempt to find an analog to "misleading" in terms of identity such as "Jew" or "Mexican." First of all, "Mexican" is not an "ethnic" identity, it's a nationality. "Latino" or "Hispanic" would be terms of ethnic identity. Second, I disagree with your claim that these terms are "denotatively neutral." They are assertions of identity, either positive or negative. If I say, "I am a Jew," I say so because I find some positive value in saying so. You're right to say there is "nothing wrong" with saying this, but you are wrong to assume that this constitutes a "denotatively neutral" value. If the value were somehow truly neutral, then the ascription of the identity would not be made, as there would be no value in ascribing it. To say, "she is a Jew" or "he is Latino" is to ascribe identity, and thus/thereby to ascribe value -- either positive or negative, depending on context.

But all of that is irrelevant to our present discussion, because even if we accept your assertion that these terms are "denotatively neutral," and that the negative use of them is "rhetorically unethical" because it masks what the user "really means" -- we still wouldn't have an analog to the use of "misleading."

When we charge the Bush Team with being "misleading," this is not the use of a "denotatively neutral" term to begin with; "misleading" is a negative term, plain and simple -- its negativity deriving from the prefix "mis-" which is a negation of the word to which it is attached. It is not possible to come up with a context in which "misleading" does not have a negative hue to its meaning. And not only do we begin with a word that is not "denotatively neutral," but when we make the charge, when we use this term, we are NOT masking what we "really mean" (as you suggest is the case in the negative use of ethnic or racial identity terms).

When I say Bush has "misled" the nation, I don't "really mean" that he lied. I mean what I said: that he misled us -- and all that that word entails: that he led us wrongly, either (or perhaps both) in motivation and direction; that he lead us into an undesirable outcome or situation; and perhaps even that he deliberately deceived us.

All of these meanings inhere in "misled," and when Bush critics use the term, they mean what they say. According to you, the use of the term is unethical because you think it is disingenuous -- because you think the critics "really mean" to charge Bush with lying, but they lack the backbone. This is simply not the case. "Misled" is a broader accusation than "lied," and the Bush critics (myself included) intend a broader indictment of Bush's actions.

There is nothing rhetorically unethical in charging Bush with misleading the nation. By contrast, there has been a great deal that has been said by the Bush administration, over the past five years, that has been incredibly rhetorically unethical. If you want, we can start putting together a list....

Jason Steed

FYI: Here are a couple reports on the Bush Team's possibly unethical and "misleading" use of prewar intelligence. The first only mentions use of intel at the end; the second expands on this a bit:



Jason Steed

You know, it's also worth adding that I'm much less concerned about "lies" and "lying" than I am about the generation of "myths" and even an entire "mythology." (See the 'Bonus Quote of the Day' at my blog.)

The Bush administration has been actively involved in generating a mythology that posits the U.S. as the savior of the world, with an "axis of evil" to act as its antagonist; the rhetoric is highly religious, mythic, and even apocalyptic. And it's the generation and perpetuation of this mythology that is far more worrisome than any given "lie" that may or may not have been told.


With respect to the American people, they probably think Iraq was involved in 9/11 because both groups of people are Arab, Muslim, and anti-American.

I note that you did not find one offending quote by Bush or Cheney that suggested a connection. Your argument is all based on circumstantial evidence based on the public opinion polling of Americans. I don't see why it's the adminsitration's responsibility to make sure the public not only supports the war they decided was in our security interests, but that they support it for the exact reasons that they publicly stated in speeches and elsewhere to be the basis. It's not their job but that of individual people to inform themselves.

I'm no more concerned about this and no more inclined to blame Bush and Cheney than I am to blame them for the fact that many Americans don't know what decade WWII took place in. Even such people have a vote, and if the administration can garner their support for a war becuase of their confusion and lack of education, they should.

Jason Steed

I made my argument from information I knew off the top of my head about polls and public opinion -- I didn't feel it necessary to take the time to hunt down the offending statements. You seem to be unaware (perhaps willfully unaware) of the arguments that took place over this very issue for two years.

If I may, can I toss Rumsfeld's maxim back at you? "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence." Rummy used this to ward off criticism of the failure to find WMD. Continued searches proved there really wasn't anything there. I'll use the same maxim in response to your criticism that I didn't provide any of the actual statements in question. You can do your own searches to find out whether or not any such statements actually existed.

On some level you're right: the Bush administration can't be held responsible for what the public does or doesn't believe. But I find it interesting that in our previous discussion (on that other thread) you were insistent that the consequences of the words we use matter very much. Indeed, your insistence that the use of "misled" is "rhetorically unethical" suggests that you believe word usage and rhetoric should be held to an ethical standard, and that people are (or ought to be) held responsible for the words that they use.

But then you turn around and (conveniently) dismiss any responsibility the Bush administration might have for the consequences of the words and rhetoric that it has used.

How do you reconcile these two contradictory positions?

Jason Steed

Oh, and I forgot to ask: If Bush/Cheney hinted or implied repeatedly that WWII occurred in the 1920s, would they then be at least partially responsible for the public's inability to place the war in the proper decade? Or would you still excuse them from any responsibility or "rhetorically unethical" behavior?


I searched and couldn't find a single quote to support your argument that Bush or Cheney implied Saddam was behind 9/11, had an operational connection to 9/11, or that the attack on Iraq was directly related to what happened on 9/11. Further, I can't be expected to search and prove a negative.

You made an assertion that I say is not correct. You also have provided no support to it. So, let's say, I remained unconvicned.

Lynn Hartfield

Let's not forget the press' role in shoring up public support for the Iraq invasion. The mainstream media failed to do any investigation into the administration's claims, despite the fact that there was plenty of information available about the unlikelihood of Saddam Hussein possessing WMD's, and the fact that Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein had diametrically opposed goals, and were highly unlikely to be "in cahoots." As Scott Ritter, a former U.N. Weapons Inspector noted, even if Saddam had in fact had weapons of mass destruction, if he gave them to Al Qaeda, the first person they would likely have used the weapons on would have been him. The utter lack of knowledge of even the simplest aspects of the Muslim world is what got us where we are. Yet the media did nothing to educate the American public, and instead, as we are now learning, had such close ties to the administration that reporters from Time and the New York Times were being fed classified information. The problem, unfortunately, goes much deeper than the administration, and whether Bush or Cheney "deliberately misled" the public.


Roach said: "I searched and couldn't find a single quote to support your argument that Bush or Cheney implied Saddam was behind 9/11, had an operational connection to 9/11, or that the attack on Iraq was directly related to what happened on 9/11."

Roach, please. It's unseemly to wrap yourself in condescension and arrogance when a quick google of "cheney link 9/11 iraq" set forth a variety of sources on this point.

The most relevant are from Meet the Press, specifically his appearance on 9/14/2003. Here's the link: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3080244/ If you do not see any implication that Hussein could have been behind 9/11, or that Cheney did nothing to dispel the connection pointed out by Russert (even though, as we now know, the PDB on September 21, 2001 -- almost two years prior to Cheney's appearance -- discredited the links that Cheney made between 9/11 and Iraq), then you need to refresh your memory on the meaning of the word "implied."

Cheney knew he was reiterating bogus intelligence by telling the Atta/Prague story as if it were credible. He knew that the public continued to believe in an unproven and unsupportable connection between 9/11 and Iraq yet did nothing to set forth the intelligence he did have, which made clear that such a connection was unproven and unsupportable -- and, in fact, in telling the bogus Atta/Prague story he continued to provide fodder for the Iraq-9/11 connection he had known to be unproven and unsupportable for almost two years before going on Meet the Press and implying that, well, the jury was still out and we had some good info. What he said he knew to be unsupportable and leading to inappropriate and self-serving conclusions. How is that not misleading? When such misleading is a precursor to war, how is that not shameful?


Cheney's quote, "We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.

We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know."

These are all true statements.

For those that think it's oh-so-clever-and-sophisticated to note the secular goals of the Ba'athists and the religious goals of Al Qaeda and to conclude they would never cooperate, I would point out two things.

First, Al Qaeda and Iraq had mutual outreach efforts prior to 9/11, in particular in the case of the first WTC bombing, but also in their sheltering of Zarqawi, and outreach to bin Laden in Sudan. A collection of evidence here: http://www.techcentralstation.com/092503F.html

Second, as we've seen in postwar Iraq, those with divergent goals can cooperate against a common enemey. Today Ba'athist Iraqi nationalist, domestic and foreign Al Qaeda, and in some cases anti-American Shia militia are cooperating to various degrees against the new Iraqi government and American forces. So to worry that a nuclear-armed Iraq would use Al Qaeda as a proxy is hardly a nutty proposition.

I also think the argument that Czech intelligence has been discredited is pretty hard to sustain. They stand by their report.

Jason Steed

Hinting that there could be connections -- even operational involvement -- and following it up with "we just don't know," thereby allowing a traumatized and newly paranoid public to draw its own conclusions about a regime that has been a demonized enemy since the early '90s...how, exactly, is this NOT misleading?

"Is your wife cheating on you? Well, we do know that she had a friendship with Joe Schmo eight years ago that seemed awfully chummy at the time. And I know this guy who said that he saw your wife whispering with Frank Doodoo at a cafe just a few weeks ago. But really, we just don't know."

If I DO know that you've been mistrustful of your wife for years, and that you've just recently experienced an acute resurrection of that mistrust, wouldn't it be just a teeny-weeny bit misleading for me to say all this to you -- while leaving out all the other information available that might dispel (or at least reduce) your mistrust?

C'mon. Too many smart people were accusing Bush/Cheney (for two years!) of crafting a link between Saddam and 9/11 -- and Bush finally was compelled to answer these critics and to state outright that there was no evidence of such a link. It's silly for you to try to claim that they never did any such thing.

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