Last week I challenged Karl Rove, the former Bush White House strategist; Peter Wehner, who worked in the W. administration; and Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times columnist, to a duel. Each had recently pooh-poohed the notion that Bush had misled the nation into the Iraq war. In response, I had penned a column listing numerous misrepresentations used by Bush, Dick Cheney and other administration officials to grease the way to war. I noted that these false assertions had not been supported by the intelligence available at the time and that Bush and his crew, when declaring that Iraq posed a WMD threat, had overstated the iffy intelligence and had made stuff up. I dared Rove, Wehner, and Douthat to a debate during which they could respond to these various quotes.
I didn't hear back from any of them. (Wehner and I are colleagues at PoliticsDaily.com, where we both write columns.)
But NPR was interested. A producer called and asked if I would appear on its Talk of the Nation show with Wehner. Certainly, I said. Hours later, the producer informed me that Wehner would not be available for the particular day we had discussed: could I come on with Wehner another day? Of course, I replied, anytime, anywhere. Still, it turned out that Wehner wasn't available for that day, either. I had a sneaky suspicion he was ducking this fight. I suggested that the producer try Rove or Douthat. I don't know if he bothered with Rove, who was on a book tour. But Douthat turned him down, too.
Eventually, this persistent producer booked Michael Rubin. He's an American Enterprise Institute fellow, who worked in the Pentagon during the Bush administration and was associated with the neoconservative hawks who pushed for war against Iraq.
During the broadcast, Rubin defended the decision to go to war. When I cited the false statements made by Bush about the threat posed by Iraq, he declined to address them directly and instead pointed out that Democrats had made similar assertions. Rubin also tried to absolve Bush by saying that intelligence tends to be uncertain—and actually placed himself in a corner:
RUBIN: There's also, frankly, if you've ever looked at raw intelligence, you find that the CIA says a little bit of everything, and it never is clear. It's like looking coming up with a policy and coming up with any sort of consistency is—has it's like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.
CORN: If you say it's not consistent, how can you have leaders of this country come out and say there's no doubt [that Iraq has WMD and posed a direct threat to the United States]? Bush said several times that Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was dealing with al-Qaida. The intelligence, according to the 9/11 Commission, didn't show that. They said things that were not—this is the essential point in this debate—they said things that were not backed up by the intelligence at the time.
Neal Conan, the host, didn't want to dwell on the pre-war period, and the conservation moved on to whether the Iraq war has been worth it. So there still hasn't been a full debate on whether Bush purposefully sold the war with whoppers. Rove, Wehner, and Douthat insist that is not true. But they won't agree to a face-off. Maybe they can't handle the truth. My challenge to them stands.