It is said that a big lie can work if it is repeated often enough. For weeks, leading Democrats have been hammering away at the Big Lie that George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Starting on Veterans Day, Bush, Dick Cheney and others in the administration embarked on a "pushback," arguing that Bush -- and many leading Democrats, including some now part of the Big Lie campaign -- accurately characterized the intelligence at the time.
Bush, Cheney and the administration have the truth on their side. Exhaustive and authoritative examinations of the prewar intelligence, by the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004, by the Silberman-Robb Commission in 2005 and by the British commission headed by Lord Butler, have established that U.S. intelligence agencies, and the intelligence organizations of leading countries like Britain, France and Germany, believed that Saddam Hussein's regime was in possession of or developing weapons of mass destruction -- chemical and biological weapons, which the regime had used before, and nuclear weapons, which it was working on in the 1980s.
To the charges that Bush "cherry-picked" intelligence, the commission co-chaired by former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb found that the intelligence available to Bush but not to Congress was even more alarming than the intelligence Congress had.
The Silberman-Robb panel also concluded, after a detailed investigation, that in no instance did Bush administration authorities pressure intelligence officials to alter their findings.
Much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. But Bush didn't lie about it. Some Bush supporters argue that the pushback now is a mistake, because it prevents the administration from focusing on events going forward. But the damage to Bush's credibility is real, and he needs to repair it to speak credibly about the future.
At the same time, we must remember that the United States and our allies did not go to war solely because of weapons of mass destruction. There were other reasons, which Bush articulated at the time and which have been vindicated by events.
One of them was to remove from power one of the most brutal regimes on Earth. Mainstream media have enjoyed focusing on isolated prison abuses by U.S. forces and, in the past week, by Iraqis. (Have the media ever focused so closely on prison conditions in our past wars?) But these abuses are nothing compared with what the Saddam Hussein regime did every day. Rape rooms, prisoners fed into shredders, hundreds of mass graves: Do we really want to forget that the liberation of Iraq has vastly improved the lives of millions of people there?
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