"When Clinton lied, nobody died."
So goes the mantra of the Bush-lied crowd, who are loath to surrender their rhyming couplet even in the face of contrary evidence.
The sidewalk slogan refers, of course, to President Bill Clinton's lies under oath about whether he had sexual relations with "that woman" and President George W. Bush's alleged lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Comparing the two, one could feel nearly nostalgic for the relatively charming denials of romantic dalliance. It appears, however, that one of the presidents, George W. Bush, didn't lie. Instead, Bush seems to have told the truth as he knew it. Surely there is a difference between repeating unreliable information and willfully lying.
Bush's "lies" were assertions provided in large part by the Central Intelligence Agency, which receives little charity in the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report. Among the committee's conclusions, the CIA relied on flabby information provided by dubious sources.
But what American intelligence believed about Saddam's ability to produce WMD was widely believed by every other intelligence agency in the world. And let's not forget, Saddam did nothing to convince weapons inspectors otherwise. In fact, he did everything he could to make inspectors, and the world, believe he had what he wouldn't show.
In its report, the Senate committee directly addresses and refutes several of Bush's "lies," notably the infamous 16 words from the 2003 State of the Union address, in which Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
As everyone learned soon thereafter, retired diplomat and CIA consultant Joseph Wilson, who had gone to Niger in 2002 to investigate the uranium yellowcake connection, publicly denounced Bush's claim as bogus. Fast-forward to summer 2004, and it appears that the bogus report was Wilson's.
The Senate report says that Wilson in fact returned with no information that cast doubt on the 16 words. Meanwhile, the Financial Times recently reported European intelligence sources confirming that Iraq and four other countries did discuss the purchase of uranium yellowcake with smugglers in Niger.
These reports were widely linked and discussed on Internet blogs, but hardly mentioned by mainstream media for some reason. Perhaps because Bush lied?
The Times also subsequently wrote another story saying that a British commission investigating intelligence was expected to conclude, "Britain's spies were correct to say that Saddam Hussein's regime sought to buy uranium from Niger."
The Senate report put to rest at least two other Bush "lies," concluding there was no evidence that the Bush administration pressured intelligence analysts to link al-Qaida and Iraq. Or that Bush sought to "coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities."
Which is not to say the report is without criticism for the administration. In one particularly damning section highlighted by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, an Iraqi defector nicknamed "Curve Ball" was apparently the source of information about mobile biological labs that Secretary of State Colin Powell cited in his 2003 address to the United Nations making a case for war.
Curve Ball, it seems, was a drunk Iraqi defector of dubious credibility, who met once (while tending a terrible hangover) with one Pentagon analyst, who determined that the man was useless as a source.
Of course, being occasionally overserved doesn't necessarily make one unreliable. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was known to imbibe enthusiastically. When someone criticized him to President Lincoln, the president urged finding out what he drank and providing it to the other generals.
It nevertheless seems likely that a case could be made for some degree of willful ignorance within the Bush administration, a preference for information that fits a preconceived notion of how things ought to go. Even so, does selective cognizance constitute intentional deceit?
Another question worth considering is, what would we have had Bush do post-9/11 given the information he had?
With 3,000 dead on American soil and the world's best intelligence agencies suggesting that Saddam Hussein - a known mass murderer who previously had used WMD - had stockpiles of biological weapons and was trying to buy uranium for the possible production of nuclear weapons, would anyone wish that Bush had ignored the intelligence and merely prayed that it was wrong?
Given that some of it was right - and given Saddam's history of ill intent - such luxury of speculation might not have been ours.