>From the Washington Post, 22/10/02

For Bush, Facts Are Malleable
Presidential Tradition Of Embroidering Key Assertions Continues

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 22, 2002; Page A01

President Bush, speaking to the nation this month about the need to
challenge Saddam Hussein, warned that Iraq has a growing fleet of
unmanned aircraft that could be used "for missions targeting the United

Last month, asked if there were new and conclusive evidence of Hussein's
nuclear weapons capabilities, Bush cited a report by the International
Atomic Energy Agency saying the Iraqis were "six months away from
developing a weapon." And last week, the president said objections by a
labor union to having customs officials wear radiation detectors has the
potential to delay the policy "for a long period of time."

All three assertions were powerful arguments for the actions Bush
sought. And all three statements were dubious, if not wrong. Further
information revealed that the aircraft lack the range to reach the
United States; there was no such report by the IAEA; and the customs
dispute over the detectors was resolved long ago.

As Bush leads the nation toward a confrontation with Iraq and his party
into battle in midterm elections, his rhetoric has taken some flights of
fancy in recent weeks. Statements on subjects ranging from the economy
to Iraq suggest that a president who won election underscoring Al Gore's
knack for distortions and exaggerations has been guilty of a few

Presidential embroidery is, of course, a hoary tradition. Ronald Reagan
was known for his apocryphal story about liberating a concentration
camp. Bill Clinton fibbed famously and under oath about his personal
indiscretions to keep a step ahead of Whitewater prosecutors. Richard M.
Nixon had his Watergate denials, and Lyndon B. Johnson was often accused
of stretching the truth to put the best face on the Vietnam War.
Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, too, played with
the truth during the Gary Powers and Bay of Pigs episodes.

"Everybody makes mistakes when they open their mouths and we forgive
them," Brookings Institution scholar Stephen Hess said. Some of
Bush's overstatements appear to be off-the-cuff mistakes. But, Hess
said, "what worries me about some of these is they appear to be with
foresight. This is about public policy in its grandest sense, about
potential wars and who is our enemy, and a president has a special
obligation to getting it right."

The White House, while acknowledging that on one occasion the president
was "imprecise," said it stands by his words. "The president's
statements are well documented and supported by the facts," Bush press
secretary Ari Fleischer said. "We reject any allegation to the

In stop after stop across the country, Bush has cited an impressive
statistic in his bid to get Congress to approve terrorism insurance
legislation. "There's over $15 billion of construction projects which
are on hold, which aren't going forward -- which means there's over
300,000 jobs that would be in place, or soon to be in place, that aren't
in place," is how he put it last week in Michigan.

But these are not government estimates. The $15 billion figure comes
from the Real Estate Roundtable, a trade group that is leading the fight
for the legislation and whose members have much to gain. After pleas
earlier this year from the White House for "hard evidence" to make its
case for terrorism insurance, the roundtable got the information from an
unscientific survey of members, who were asked to provide figures with
no documentation.

The 300,000 jobs number, the White House said, was supplied by the
carpenters' union. But a union official said the White House apparently
"extrapolated" the number from a Transportation Department study of
federal highway aid -- not private real estate -- that the union had
previously cited.

The president has also taken some liberties as he argues for his version
of homeland security legislation. He often suggests in stump speeches
that the union covering customs workers is blocking the wearing of
radiation detectors. "The leadership of that particular group of people
said, 'No way; we need to have a collective bargaining session over
whether or not our people should be made to wear these devices,' " he
said in Michigan last week. "And that could take a long period of time."

The National Treasury Employees Union did indeed argue in January that
the radiation devices should be voluntary, and it called for
negotiations. But five days later, the Customs Service said it saw no
need to negotiate and would begin to implement the policy, which it did.
After a subsequent exchange between the union president and Customs
Service commissioner, the union wrote in April that it "does not object"
to mandatory wearing of the devices.

The Customs Service said the delay had less to do with the dispute than
the fact that customs lacks enough devices (about 4,000 are on order).
The White House and Customs Service said the dispute was settled in part
because Bush had the authority to waive collective bargaining, although
he did not exercise it.

On Sept. 7, meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp
David, Bush told reporters: "I would remind you that when the inspectors
first went into Iraq and were denied, finally denied access, a report
came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA -- that they were six months away
from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."

The IAEA did issue a report in 1998, around the time weapons inspectors
were denied access to Iraq for the final time, but the report made no
such assertion. It declared: "Based on all credible information to date,
the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program
goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical
capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or
having clandestinely obtained such material." The report said Iraq had
been six to 24 months away from nuclear capability before the 1991 Gulf

The White House said that Bush "was imprecise on this" and that the
source was U.S. intelligence, not the IAEA.

In the president's Oct. 7 speech to the nation from Cincinnati, he
introduced several rationales for taking action against Iraq. Describing
contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq, Bush cited "one very senior al Qaeda
leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year." He asserted
that "we have discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing
fleet" of unmanned aircraft and expressed worry about them "targeting
the United States."

Bush also stated that in 1998, "information from a high-ranking Iraqi
nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public
promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue."
He added, "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a
biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual
terrorists," an alliance that "could allow the Iraqi regime to attack
America without leaving any fingerprints."

In each of these charges, Bush omitted qualifiers that make the
accusations seem less convincing. In the case of the al Qaeda leader
receiving medical treatment, U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged
that the terrorist, Abu Musab Zarqawi, was no longer in Iraq and that
there was no hard evidence Hussein's government knew he was there or had
contact with him. On the matter of the aircraft, a CIA report this month
suggested that the fleet was more of an "experiment" and "attempt" and
labeled it a "serious threat to Iraq's neighbors and to international
military forces in the region" -- but said nothing about it having
sufficient range to threaten the United States.

Bush's statement about the Iraqi nuclear defector, implying such
information was current in 1998, was a reference to Khidhir Hamza. But
Hamza, though he spoke publicly about his information in 1998, retired
from Iraq's nuclear program in 1991, fled to the Iraqi north in 1994 and
left the country in 1995. Finally, Bush's statement that Iraq could
attack "on any given day" with terrorist groups was at odds with
congressional testimony by the CIA. The testimony, declassified after
Bush's speech, rated the possibility as "low" that Hussein would
initiate a chemical or biological weapons attack against the United
States but might take the "extreme step" of assisting terrorists if
provoked by a U.S. attack.

White House spokesmen said in response that it was "unrealistic" to
assume Iraqi authorities did not know of Zarqawi's presence and that
Iraq's unmanned aircraft could be launched from ships or trucks outside

Some of the disputed Bush assertions are matters of perspective.

Bush often says, as he did Friday in Missouri, that "because of a quirk
in the rules in the United States Senate, after a 10-year period, the
tax-relief plan we passed goes away." There is a Senate rule that
required a 60-vote majority for the tax cut, but the decision to let the
cuts expire was based on pragmatic considerations. Proponents of the cut
from the House and Senate -- both under GOP control at the time --
decided to have the tax cut expire after nine years to keep its price
tag within the $1.35 trillion over 10 years that had been agreed between
lawmakers and Bush.

Other times, the president's assertions simply outpace the facts. In New
Hampshire earlier this month, he said his education legislation made
"the biggest increase in education spending in a long, long time."

In fact, the 15.8 percent increase in Department of Education
discretionary spending for fiscal year 2002 (the figures the White House
supplied when asked about Bush's statement) was below the 18.5 percent
increase under Clinton the previous year -- and Bush had wanted a much
smaller increase than Congress approved. Earlier this month, Republican
moderates complained to Bush's budget director, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.,
that the administration was not spending the full amount for education
that Congress approved. Daniels said it was "nothing uncommon" and
decried the "explosively larger education bill."

So much for the vaunted "U.S. intelligence" behind the initiative to
invade Iraq :-/

Marc A. Schindler
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada -- Gateway to the Boreal Parkland

“The first duty of a university is to teach wisdom, not a trade;
character, not technicalities. We want a lot of engineers in the modern
world, but we don’t want a world of engineers.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Note: This communication represents the informal personal views of the
author solely; its contents do not necessarily reflect those of the
author’s employer, nor those of any organization with which the author
may be associated.

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