In the event you haven't noticed, it's a presidential election year. You can tell by the ever-growing flurry of conspiracy theories - not just delicious new ones like Barack Obama's being some kind of Manchurian Candidate for Jihad Inc., but old ones that, even if they've grown stale and wormy by now, can be pulled off the shelf and re-issued as a brand-new congressional report. Like the 170-page piece of work just out of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The precarious burden of this report is that the evil crew in the White House systematically exaggerated the threat that Saddam Hussein's regime posed by tilting the intelligence available at the time and overlooking views that didn't fit in with its lust for war.
But this horse-choker of report doesn't tell the half of it, for the sinister neocon cabal behind the invasion of Iraq was even wider than the Democratic majority of this Senate committee lets on. The public record is replete with dire warnings about those elusive weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to be preparing, and Innocent Reader might be surprised at some of their sources. For example:
"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them." -Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, September 19, 2002.
Sen. Levin may now be demanding that President Bush set a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but he can't fool us. He was clearly part of this pro-war plot.
Similar statements abound from the likes of prominent Democrats who would go to attack the Bush White House for having misled the country into war, among them Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd. Goodness. They must all have been in on the plot. That ranch house outside Crawford, Tex., where Ted Kennedy once told us the war was hatched, must have been awfully crowded.
There are those who portray all these co-conspirators as just innocent victims of intelligence reports manipulated by the Bush administration and carefully fed to innocents like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and so many other Washington types known for their simple naivete.
Unfortunately for that theory, one bipartisan investigation after another into the collection and interpretation of prewar intelligence has found no evidence of such manipulation.
To quote the Senate Intelligence Committee's unanimous report back in 2004, "The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, manipulate, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities."
The independent Robb-Silberman Committee reached similar conclusions. All these people must have been in on the conspiracy, too.
Jay Rockefeller, then the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed on to the committee's 2004 report but, almost as soon as it was out, began charging that the Bush administration had coerced, influenced or pressured analysts to reach the conclusions it had wanted.
This is the same Jay Rockefeller who, on October 10, 2002, had declared: "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years."
Naturally the majority report out last week, just in time for the presidential campaign, felt no need to quote Senator Rockefeller's earlier warning about the growing danger of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The gigantic cover-up continues.
What we have here is a familiar historical pattern: If a war ends in victory, all the politicians favored it. But if difficulties are encountered, it turns out that many of these same politicians were never for the war in the first place. Or were fooled into supporting it. And what's more, the war was the result of a deep, dark conspiracy: Franklin D. Roosevelt somehow maneuvered the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor; Lyndon Johnson conspired to expand the war in Vietnam; and naturally George W. Bush and his many co-conspirators manipulated the intelligence to get us into this war in Iraq. This presidential campaign is still young, and the conspiracy theories have only begun to flow. To quote that great political philosopher, Bette Davis, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
Having read the same pre-war intelligence reports as the administration, many of these leading Democrats reached the same conclusion as the administration - at the time. Now they tell us the administration was misleading the American people, conveniently overlooking their own, remarkably similar statements back then.
Surely these members of the loyal opposition were acting in good faith when they warned of the growing danger from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The question is whether they are acting in good faith now. And without good faith in debating the course of American policy in perilous times, divided we fall.