Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The problem with calling Bush a liar isn't, as Nicholas Kristof would argue, that it coarsens the debate. The problem with calling Bush a liar is that it makes it awfully easy for him to beat the rap. A U.S. congressional committee focuses the blame for intel failures on intelligence gatherers, or a British inquiry criticizes the work of both U.K. intelligence agencies and the British government but finds that no one acted in bad faith, and self-righteous Bush defenders can wave a triumphant finger in the air and say: See -- he did not lie. "Liar" was your name for him; he uttered nothing that wasn't believed to be true by Good Men, so he's no liar, and you're a scoundrel to say he is one.

If Bush is seen as blameless because it looks as if he didn't lie, then we're in trouble. We're like DAs who charged someone with Murder One in a jurisdiction where the jury can't choose to convict on a lesser charge.

I don't think it matters whether Bush lied; what matters is that the decision to go to war with Iraq was the worst foreign policy decision, the worst foreign policy judgment, by a U.S. president in living memory.

My opinion is that Bush didn't lie. Infinitely slicker than Clinton, Bush conveys erroneous impressions about Iraq every time he talks about Iraq, while tiptoeing carefully around actual lies like a man trying to escape alive from a minefield. His typical speech on the subject is: al-Qaeda Taliban al-Qaeda Taliban terrorism Iraq Saddam Hussein safe haven for terrorists weapons of mass destructions we must not forget the lessons of September 11. There are no lies; there's just proximity. It's Saturday Night Live's Mr. Subliminal.

Bush made a horrible judgment based on excessive receptiveness to bad, ideologically poisoned intelligence ultimately traceable to liars, frauds, and bunko artists. I'm sorry that doesn't have the same ring as "Bush lied."

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