Challenging Rove & Douthat to a Duel

Okay, I’m getting tired of conservatives who pooh-pooh the argument that George W. Bush misled the United States into war. Oh, they say, the problem was that the intelligence about Iraq’s WMD capabilities was bad. Or, Bush believed what he was saying. Or, it’s more complicated than that—or, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat puts it, the whole mess was a murky Shakespearean tragedy with no clear bad guys. The “Bush lied” meme, they maintain, is merely an irrational liberal catechism. In his new book, Karl Rove insists Bush did not “lie us” into war. In a column assailing one of mine, Peter Wehner, who worked with Rove at the Bush White House, says there’s “no real evidence” for the “‘Bush lied’ mantra.” And Douthat decries “the comforts of a ‘Bush lied, people died’ reductionism,” while bemoaning Green Zone, the new Matt Damon thriller.

Time for these Bush-backers to put up or shut up. Responding to Wehner, I posted a column listing instances when Bush and Dick Cheney, during the run-up to the war, made provocative and dramatic assertions about the supposed WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein that either overstated the available (and iffy) intelligence or were not based on any existing intelligence. I noted:

Bush and Cheney again and again made statements that were not true and that were not supported by the available intelligence. Moreover, once U.N. inspectors entered Iraq in late 2002 and eventually began reporting that there was no evidence of significant WMD programs, Bush and Co. ignored these experts and continued to claim that Saddam was up to his neck in WMD. They insisted Saddam had been shopping for uranium in Africa, even though the intelligence on this point was dubious. All together, they waged a willful campaign of misrepresentation and hyperbole. And to such an extent, it can be branded a lie.

Or let’s put it this way: Can Wehner, Rove and Douthat state that Bush carefully reviewed the intelligence in order to present to the public an accurate depiction of what was known and not known about the WMD threat possibly posed by Saddam? Bush and his aides were looking for ammo. They wanted this war—and they made unsubstantiated claims to get it. The truth was not a priority.

And I put forward a challenge:

If Wehner, Rove, and Douthat insist on defending Bush, let them explain the pattern detailed above. I dare any of them to attempt a line-by-line response. The evidence is clear: Bush, Cheney and other administration aides engaged in reckless disregard of the truth to sell a war. That is not an article of faith or a Hollywood fantasy—it’s what happened.

Believe it or not, none of these three gents have yet signaled they will do so.


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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.