He begins:

Search the Internet for “Bush Lied” products, and you will find sites that offer more than a thousand designs. The basic “Bush Lied, People Died” bumper sticker is only the beginning.

Horror. This is, of course, the greatest threat to the Union today – possibly ever. Right now, as I type this, people are criticizing the President with rhyming bumper stickers. And what, pray tell, is Congress doing about it?

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, set out to provide the official foundation for what has become not only a thriving business but, more important, an article of faith among millions of Americans. And in releasing a committee report Thursday, he claimed to have accomplished his mission, though he did not use the L-word.

“In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent,” he said.

There’s no question that the administration, and particularly Vice President Cheney, spoke with too much certainty at times and failed to anticipate or prepare the American people for the enormous undertaking in Iraq.

But dive into Rockefeller’s report, in search of where exactly President Bush lied about what his intelligence agencies were telling him about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and you may be surprised by what you find.

Followed by what is, for all intents an purposes, a McCain for President commercial. Thank you, Fred Hiatt, for boldly speaking out against Big Bumper Sticker. Edward R. Morrow is spinning in his grave with pride.

Hiatt:

On Iraq’s nuclear weapons program? The president’s statements “were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates.”

The actual report (pg. 15):

(U) Conclusion 1: Statements by the President, Vice-President, Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor regarding a possible nuclear weapons program were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates, but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community.

Hiatt:

On weapons of mass destruction overall (a separate section of the intelligence committee report)? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.”

The actual report (pg. 49):

(U) Conclusion 5: Statements by the President, Vice-President, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction were generally substantiated by intelligence information, though many statements made regarding ongoing production prior to late 2002 reflected a higher level of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves.

Hiatt:

Unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to deliver WMDs? “Generally substantiated by intelligence information.”

The report (pg. 57):

(U) Conclusion 8: Statements by the President, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State that Iraq was developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be used to deviler chemical or biological weapons were generally substantiated by intelligence information, but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community.

Of course, according to Fred Hiatt (and, by an amazing coincidence, the people who brought you the Iraq war) lies of omission are not lies at all! So, Fred Hiatt, when characterizing the report’s conclusions, is under no obligation to mention this:

(U) Conclusion 4: Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.

Or this:

(U) Conclusion 12: Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

Or this:

(U) Conclusion 13: Statements in the major speeches analyzed, as well additional [sic] statements, regarding Iraq’s contacts with al-Qa’ida were substantiated by intelligence information. However, policymakers’ statements did not accurately convey the intelligence assessments of the nature of these contacts, and left the impression that the contacts led to substantive Iraqi cooperation or support of al-Qa’ida.

Or this:

(U) Conclusion 15: Statements by the President and Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

Or this:

(U) Conclusion 16: Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

Hiatt:

Why does it matter, at this late date? The Rockefeller report will not cause a spike in “Bush Lied” mug sales, and the [Kit] Bond [R-MO] dissent will not lead anyone to scrape the “Bush Lied” bumper sticker off his or her car.

But the phony “Bush lied” story line distracts from the biggest prewar failure: the fact that so much of the intelligence upon which Bush and Rockefeller and everyone else relied turned out to be tragically, catastrophically wrong.

And it trivializes a double dilemma that President Bill Clinton faced before Bush and that President Obama or McCain may well face after: when to act on a threat in the inevitable absence of perfect intelligence and how to mobilize popular support for such action, if deemed essential for national security, in a democracy that will always, and rightly, be reluctant.

For the next president, it may be Iran’s nuclear program, or al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan, or, more likely, some potential horror that today no one even imagines. When that time comes, there will be plenty of warnings to heed from the Iraq experience, without the need to fictionalize more.

(All of which ignores the fact that the report did not address the issue of the Administration distorting intelligence at the source.) And, with this, the Washington Post loses to a hippy bumper sticker. I can’t imagine how we ever got into this mess in the first place.

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