The New York Times Book Review for Sept. 17 features on its cover, and on two additional pages of inside text, a review of "The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina," by Frank Rich. Rich is one of the Times' house stable of liberal columnists, so it is understandable that his account of the Bush administration's alleged lies in persuading Americans to support the invasion of Iraq would receive generous treatment in the paper.
The reviewer is Ian Buruma, a professor at Bard College, and he discharges his obligation nobly. "Rich's subject," he explains, "is the creation of false reality." The case in point is how skillfully the Bush administration is supposed to have manipulated the press, and Buruma praises Rich's demonstration lavishly: "Frank Rich is an excellent product of that press, and if it ever recovers its high reputation, it will be partly thanks to one man who couldn't take it anymore."
Midway through his lengthy encomium, Buruma purports to summarize the falsehoods on which the attack on Iraq were allegedly based. "This," he tells us, "is how the war was sold." He then proceeds to come up with exactly three contentions, all of them made by Vice President Cheney, and declares grandly, "We now know that none of these claims, which together constituted the official reason for unleashing a war, were even remotely true."
On the contrary, it is that assertion by professor Buruma that is not "even remotely true."
He first quotes Cheney as saying in late 2001 that an official Iraqi connection with the 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta was "pretty well confirmed." Cheney was referring to a report by Czech intelligence that placed Atta in Prague, conferring with a known Iraqi intelligence agent. That report has since been criticized, and insisted upon, and is still the subject of contention, but to pretend that it has been proved false is a brazen misrepresentation of the facts. Cheney's cautious citation of it, at the time, was thoroughly justifiable.
Buruma's third piece of evidence of Cheney's perfidy is that in the summer of 2002 he asserted that Saddam Hussein would use certain aluminum tubes "to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon" -- uranium that, "we were told, had been procured by the Iraqis from Niger." Once again, the facts are still hotly disputed, but Buruma carefully avoids mentioning that British intelligence still stands by its contention that Saddam approached Niger about buying uranium.
But it is Buruma's second criticism of Cheney that takes the cake. In that same summer of 2002 "Cheney said that Saddam Hussein 'continues to pursue a nuclear weapon' and that there was 'no doubt' he had 'weapons of mass destruction.'"
Now, while it is incontestable that Saddam had possessed chemical and biological WMDs, we now know that he was not close to possessing nuclear weapons at the time of our attack in March 2003. The Bush administration has fully admitted as much, blaming the error on faulty intelligence. But Rich and Buruma aren't buying that. The charge is that Cheney simply lied in order to trick us into war.
Why Cheney (or Bush, for that matter) would declare that Saddam was nearing nuclear capability, when they allegedly knew that the contention would be proved false in a matter of months, is a good question nobody has answered. But there is a far better one. If Cheney was lying about Saddam's nuclear intentions in the summer of 2002, what was Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., doing when he said, that October, that "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons"? Or Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., when he said in that same month, "I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in (Saddam's) hands is a real and grave threat to our security"? Or, if we assume that Cheney had somehow brainwashed these men, who brainwashed President Clinton when he declared, on Feb. 17, 1998, "We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program" -- while George Bush was still merely governor of Texas? As I see it, the real liars are the Frank Riches, and the Burumas who tout their handiwork.