January/February 2004

Last February, as President Bush's relentless push for war in Iraq reached its peak, I was having dinner with a friend, a best-selling author long active in progressive causes, when the talk inevitably turned to the impending conflict. "Even these guys," he said, referring to the administration, "wouldn't be so brazen as to just go ahead with all this, unless they knew a lot more than they're saying publicly. There must be things they just can't say for security reasons." I was appalled to hear my friend trotting out one of the most dangerous, discredited canards of the Vietnam era, but for a brief moment I wondered if he might be right.

Yet now, as the truth begins to emerge, the full extent of the painful parallels to Vietnam are becoming clear. For not only are U.S. soldiers bogged down in the proverbial quagmire, but the Bush administration's rationale for war is being exposed as a shameful fraud. As we now know, the administration had no additional evidence that might have justified invading Iraq, and the case they presented to the world was filled with bogus information and outright lies. Remember the aluminum tubes that Iraq planned to use to enrich uranium for nuclear warheads? Turns out that they were for making rocket casings, as the Iraqis had claimed, and were, in the words of a top official of the U.S.-led inspections team, "innocuous." Remember the contention that Iraq had sought uranium from an African nation (later identified as Niger), a charge that made its way into the president's 2003 State of the Union address? It was based on documents so blatantly bogus that it's difficult to believe any intelligence officer could have taken them seriously. And then, of course, there were the false claims about ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 -- one of Dick Cheney's favorite myths, which even Bush ultimately acknowledged was unsupported by any evidence.

So where did all these exaggerated claims and false information come from, and how did they make their way into the speeches of the president and the vice president? As Mother Jones contributing writer Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest detail in this issue's cover story ("The Lie Factory"), much of it was channeled through a secret Pentagon unit that was established only weeks after 9/11 and later incorporated into the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans. In their exclusive report, Dreyfuss and Vest reveal how this Pentagon operation -- led by a group of neoconservative hawks -- funneled faulty intelligence right up to the White House, while dismissing any reports that failed to support the case for war. "It wasn't intelligence -- it was propaganda," a now-retired Air Force officer who worked inside the Pentagon told Dreyfuss and Vest. Their disturbing report provides chilling evidence that, in its zeal to invade Iraq, the administration did indeed withhold something from the public -- it withheld the truth. --Roger Cohn