Opinion » Ted Rall

The Bush Who Cried Wolf

The tragic tale of a truth-teller-come-lately


NEW YORK--George W. Bush claims that Iran has been shipping weapons, including bombs used against U.S. military convoys, to Shiite militias in Iraq. I believe him. Iranian leaders would be idiots to sit out a war whose outcome will affect them for decades to come.

Bush denies that he's about to go to war against Iran. Again, I believe him. After all, we don't have enough money or troops to invade, much less occupy, a nation three times bigger than Iraq.

Apparently I'm the only person in America who thinks Bush can tell the truth--er, a truth. Or two.

Granted, the Administration's "j'accuse!" press conferences were reminiscent of the phony aluminum tubes and mocked-up anthrax bottles presented during the pre-Iraq War propaganda blitz. The only things missing from this set of metal tubes were "Compliments of the Ayatollah" and "Made in Iran" stickers. As a result of Bush's ham-fisted replay of 2002, the objectively obvious observation that Iran is arming its proxy militias in Iraq has been greeted by what The New York Times called "a healthy dose of skepticism."

"Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers," reported the paper on February 13, "said that while they do not doubt that the [Iranian] weapons are being used to attack American troops, and that some of those weapons are being shipped into Iraq from Iran, they are still uncertain whether the weapons were being shipped into Iraq on the orders of Iran's leaders."

Even General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refused to take Bush at his word, saying he "would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit." To describe Bush's credibility as merely damaged would understate the case. Fool us 10,000 times, shame on you; fool me 10,001 times ...

If Bush says the sky is blue, people feel compelled to look up and check it out for themselves.

Democratic Senator Chris Dodd sums up Bush's lost credibility: "This administration has attempted in the past to cook the books to serve their policy goals ... I'm getting uneasy that they are trying to set a premise for some future broader military action in Iran."

Such irony! When Bush told twisted, impossible tales that defied logic, history and common sense, everyone believed him. Saddam Hussein, the secular socialist targeted for death by Islamic fundamentalists, was bin Laden's best friend. The CIA, which repeatedly warned that Iraq probably didn't have WMDs, was responsible for a "failure in prewar intelligence" that led to the debacle. People who torture aren't torturers. All obvious B.S., all accepted at face value.

Now that Bush is finally telling the truth, we assume he's lying as usual. "For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran," Defense Secretary Robert Gates begged us to believe. "We are not planning to go to war with Iran."

Trouble is, the Bushists made identical statements during the run-up to the Iraq War. ("You said we're headed to war in Iraq," Bush told a Washington Post reporter on December 31, 2002, over a year after he'd decided upon war. "I don't know why you say that. I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully.") The Iran lie, however, happens to be true.

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Bush--to whatever extent a genocidal maniac who will be responsible for a million deaths by the time he leaves office in 2009 deserves pity. 

Public distrust of the Bush administration in particular and government in general dwarfs the cynical peaks of Watergate. A Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll finds that 36 percent of Americans believe that federal officials took part in 9/11 or sat on their hands, deliberately allowing the attacks to occur "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East." One out of six, 16 percent, think the Twin Towers were brought down by planted government bombs, not hijacked passenger jets.

"One out of three sounds high, but that may very well be right," says Lee Hamilton, former vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. "A lot of people I've encountered believe the U.S. government was involved."

How did 9/11, the backdrop for Bush's "steaming pile" speech at Ground Zero in New York and the blank check he cashed in to wage two wars, turn into yet another subject of paranoia and contempt? "I certainly didn't think of conspiracies when 9/11 first happened," said Elaine Tripp, a 62-year-old resident of Tabernacle, New Jersey who now says she thinks Bush was behind the deaths of 3,000 Americans. "I don't know if President Bush was aware of the exact time it was going to happen. But he certainly didn't do enough to stop it. Bush was so intent on having his own little war."

Our failure to find WMDs in Iraq after Bush and his top henchmen said we were absolutely certain to find them is leading previously sheepish citizens to question the entire narrative of the post-2000 era, to the point of embracing outlandish theories supported by little to zero evidence. (At one point, Bush even claimed to have found them. "For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them," he said in the summer of 2003.)

All politicians lie. Bush's rhetorical Rubicon was his certitude. He could have avoided our wrath by saying something like: "There's significant evidence that Saddam Hussein may possess some weapons of mass destruction." When the Iraq War turned ugly, he probably still would have lost some support. But he wouldn't have suffered anything close to the near-total, irreversible contempt that has reduced him to one of history's most reviled presidents. Of course, anything less than a statement of total certitude wouldn't have convinced the public or Congress to invade in the first place.

Bush is again fighting the lies that started the last war, resorting to an improbable blend of waffling and smug certitude that brought us such classics as Donald Rumsfeld's "We know where they [Iraq's WMDs] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Here he goes again:

"I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops," he said. "And I'd like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of the government. But my point is, what's worse? Them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it's happening?"

We Americans used to find his addled cowboy act bold and compelling. For a short time, watching one of the stupidest humans to have appeared on a television screen insult our intelligence became mildly amusing. Now that he's pissed us off, he'll find us impossible to get back.