Donald Trump embraces the left’s ‘Bush lied’ lie. How is this going to play here in South Carolina?

My last post arose from Marco Rubio’s response to what Donald Trump said over the weekend, at that debate I had to stop watching.

Basically, Trump repeated the left’s “Bush lied” lie:

“You call it whatever you want. I wanna tell you. They lied…They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

It’s fascinating how starkly that belief continues to divide us, in terms of our perceptions of reality. The Post‘s Richard Cohen wrote:

Of all the surprises, of all the unexpected ironies, of all the unanticipated turns in the Republican presidential race, it’s possible that Donald Trump has been hurt by telling the truth. Trump himself must be reeling from such a development and has probably by now vowed to return to lying and bluster seasoned with personal insult — “You’re a loser” — but the fact remains that when he called the war in Iraq “a big, fat mistake,” he was exactly right. Jeb Bush, the very good brother of a very bad president, has now turned legitimate criticism of George W. Bush into an attack on his family. His family survived the war. Countless others did not.

Hey, at least he called Jeb a “very good brother,” right?

But it fell to The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board to state what really happened, and what did not. As to Trump’s “They lied” assertion:

Despite years of investigation and countless memoirs, there is no evidence for this claim. None. The CIA director at the time, George Tenet, famously called evidence of WMD in Iraq a “slam dunk.” Other intelligence services, including the British, also believed Saddam Hussein had such programs. After the first Gulf War in 1991 the CIA had been surprised to learn that Saddam had far more WMD capability than it had thought. So it wasn’t crazy to suspect that Saddam would attempt to rebuild it after he had expelled United Nations arms inspectors in the late 1990s.

President Bush empowered a commission, led by former Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb and federal Judge Laurence Silberman, to dig into the WMD question with access to intelligence and officials across the government. The panel included Patricia Wald, a former chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals appointed by Jimmy Carter, and Richard Levin, president of Yale University at the time.

Their report of more than 600 pages concludes that it was the CIA’s “own independent judgments—flawed though they were—that led them to conclude Iraq had active WMD programs.” The report adds that “the Commission found no evidence of political pressure” to alter intelligence findings: “Analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter their analytical judgments.”…

The Journal‘s headline for that editorial was “Donald Trump’s Moment.” Indeed. Once again, the extremes meet.

The big question this week is, as W. comes to South Carolina — which has been solid Bush country since 1988 (although not so much in 1980) — to help his brother out, how is Trump’s rant going to play here on Saturday?

Everyone’s asking that question.

In a rational world, it would sink Trump’s chances completely. But when in the past year have you seen the phenomenon of Trump fandom respond to anything resembling reason? Actual Republicans would likely react to this latest by saying Trump’s gone too far. But do you think “Trump supporters” and “Republicans” are the same set of people?

Add to that the fact that the GOP electorate in South Carolina hasn’t entirely been itself since it caught the Tea Party fever in 2010, and the effect of this particular rant may turn out to be a wash. Things are so messed up this year, I’m not going to try to make a prediction…

27 thoughts on “Donald Trump embraces the left’s ‘Bush lied’ lie. How is this going to play here in South Carolina?

  1. Mark Stewart

    I like the irony of Trump calling Bush out on the WMD determination – and yet going even farther on the issue of torture.

    43 was lead astray by some of his neocon advisors about WMDs – but it was a close call. He was wrong, in the end, but couldn’t really have known it given the info available in the early 2000’s. However, Bush’s decision to permit torture was an absolute low point in our nation’s history. That’s the one that should all make us recoil.

    W was no great President. But not for the reason we keep blaming him for – it was the one we have a hard time bringing ourselves to confront that should be his legacy. Torture and “the Patriot act” are ideas we do need to face as a free nation.

  2. Burl Burlingame

    It’s hard not to think of W as a stooge who got played. Did he lie, or did he not tell the truth? It goes to motive, your honor.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      He didn’t lie, and I don’t think he was played, either.

      I’m currently reading (along with the Ardennes book previously mentioned) The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6. I’m starting to wonder whether there has been any time, post 1945, when Western intelligence agencies had a clue what was going on…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        How could we have been reading all of Germany’s and Japan’s most sensitive communications all through the war, and then screw up so much after?

        I sort of suspect that those advantages we had during the war made us lazy. In fact, I think that was part of why we were taken by surprise in the Ardennes — that stuff wasn’t going across Enigma.

        But no… we were pretty good at basic humint during the war, or at least the Brits were. Or perhaps I should say counter-humint. We (that is, the Brits) rolled up the Nazi’s entire network in Britain, and played them back successfully. Of course, part of that was that the Nazis were so spectacularly bad at spying — like, cartoonishly bad. The KGB was always way better…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No. Read the part above about the panel’s report. Nobody lied. Everyone believed the WMD were there.

      Speaking of which… Here’s a question that seldom gets asked, with all this back-and-forth…

      Where did the WMD GO? We know Saddam had some, because he used it. Did he use it all up? If not, what did he do with the rest of it? Are we still going to find it someday, buried in a cave or at the bottom of the Gulf? Did it go to Syria? What happened?

      1. bud

        Sorry Brad, there are just too many examples where someone said they KNEW about the WMD. When you KNOW something that makes it a Fact. Since it was not a fact, by definition they didn’t KNOW. THAT makes it a lie, period. End of story.

  3. Doug Ross

    It all was a case of “plausible deniability”. If you reject any information that does not fit your objective, you can always say “All the information I had said there were WMD’s”. I would suspect any low level intelligence operative who had conflicting information either chose to remain silent for career reasons or was silenced by his management.

    The bottom line is if you’re going to war, going to get American soldiers killed, kill thousands of people including innocent women and children, you better be 110% correct. You cannot say “Ooops, my bad!”
    Bush was either incompetent or a liar. Either way, he was a terrible President. Led us into war and led our economy into the tank.

      1. bud

        And you get onto others for being extremists. Unbelievable! Probably the most extremist position on ANY issue imaginable.

      2. Harry Harris

        The WMD premise was one of a set of selling points the Bush administration used as a means to open the war. The purported ease of winning, the touted successive march toward western-style democracy, the supposed advancing nuclear bomb program, a-qaeda connections , and most any excuse the neocons could use to march us toward war served Bush’s political purposes. The characterization of the WMD scenario as a lie means nothing to me. The selling of pre-emptive war against a country that neither attacked nor was threatening us nor our allies was neither right nor wise nor likely permissible behavior. It was a political act that has cost us tremendously in treasure and lives. It was the 2nd largest contributor to our increased national debt from 2003 to 2011. Yes, it’s complicated, but not nearly right.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    They WANTED to believe in the certainty of WMDs, when there was only the possibility.

    On the other hand, I have no trouble believing Cheney lied, and lied often. All part of their plan to privatize the military for private profit.

    1. Harry Harris

      Every time I hear the “lives in the Balance” song by Jackson Browne/Richie Havens, Dick Cheney’s face pops up in my mind.

  5. Karen Pearson

    I have a problem with pre-emptive war. Once a country is attacked (even if they are able to knock the incoming missiles down, it is within reason to respond violently, but to attack another aggressively, without any other reason than thinking that they have a means to attack you, goes against every ethical and/or moral standard I can think of.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Sure, launching a pre-emptive strike can’t just be based on “thinking they have a means to attack you”, but I don’t think anyone argues this.

      For instance, Britain has the means to attack us, but they have no intention of doing so. So, like, we probably shouldn’t bomb the Brits (yet). Russia also has the means to attack us, and arguably some intention (maybe veiled), but Russia hasn’t taken any clear, overt actions that turn that intent into an actual danger. So again, let’s not start bombing the Russkies yet, either.

      Under certain conditions a pre-emptive strike would certainly be ethical, and it might be arguably morally required.

      1. Clear intent to do harm.
      2. Overt acts that move intent to actual danger.
      3. Risk of defeat to the attacked will be greatly increased if there is delay.

      That’s for a pre-emptive strike, which I think has to be distinguished from a pre-emptive war. A single strike is simply a tactic that provides a strategic advantage. Whereas a pre-emptive war, would almost be something where you balance going to full war now vs. full war later, which may be on less solid footing, ethically speaking.

      Your mileage may vary.

      1. Karen Pearson

        I can more or less buy that as long as there is clear intent to do harm, and the ability to actually carry it out. Hussein couldn’t even stop our air force from protecting a goodly chunk of his country from him. If we could have taken out bin Laden before 9/11 it would have been great, but not at the cost of starting a war with Afghanistan, when the country itself had not exhibited a desire to attack the US, and had no means to do so.

  6. Phillip

    “Lie” is a slippery word. There’s plenty of evidence to confirm that the Bush Administration deliberately “oversold” the evidence, as Burl puts it, trying to convey the “certainty” when there was only the “possibility.”

    To just say “Bush lied” is an oversimplification of the real issue, which was basically horrendous judgment, a total ignorance of world history and the history of the region, a nearly religious-like faith in our ability to solve problems militarily, a similarly zealous desire to find a situation where we could purge our “Vietnam frustration,” a cynical willingness–even eagerness–to capitalize on the horror of 9/11 to pursue a previous geopolitical goal…a predilection for viewing the world two-dimensionally in shades of pure black-and-white good-and-evil…I could go on and on. If only it were just as simple as “Bush lied.” The reality, in many ways, is far more terrible.

    What Trump knows is that a large swath of the GOP even in this military-friendly state, a significant portion of voters who might consider themselves conservative but not necessarily anti-interventionist to the point of, say, Rand Paul, still understand today that Bush’s whole approach to Iraq and the region was pure folly. Trump will not pay that big a price, even in SC, for doubling down on the “Bush lied” line. It’s also, incidentally, a large part of the reason why Jeb Bush never gained much traction nationally. His name does not conjure up positive feelings widely, even among GOP voters or conservatives.

  7. Karen Pearson

    People are tired of the Bushes and the Clintons. Many people now see them as part of the political establishment that didn’t get anything done. For that reason I doubt it will faze the Trump supporters.

  8. Bill

    Reagan entered office with,Alzheimer’s disease.Trump could surround himself with better people.It’s not so much the establishment(sixties lingo,stop),but do we need to go there again?
    I couldn’t believe people supported Reagan;that’s when this awful ‘conservative Christian’ thing began.Goldwater warned against this.Too bad no one listened

    1. Bart

      Interesting comments. Reagan was elected at the age of 69. If Hillary is elected, she will be 69. If Sanders is elected, he will be 75. Considering the fact that most people who have Alzheimer’s are in their later years, generally 65 or older, isn’t it a fair conclusion that Hillary and Sanders are subject to the same disease? Has anyone tested either Hillary or Sanders to see if they already have the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and if they do, should it disqualify either from seeking the presidency?

      Would it be unfair or an act of ageism if they were to be asked to be tested to see if they are capable of handling state and world affairs while in office? Considering the stakes, would it not be a prudent precaution to insure the next president if it is Hillary or Sanders is not already in the early stages of the disease?

      I know of what I speak because during the past year, my wife’s brother and my sister’s husband both died from the disease and each one was in their 80s, diagnosed 10 – 12 years ago. In the beginning of the disease, it is not easily detected in the very early stages and periodic erratic or odd behavior can be attributed to growing older. It was not until the erratic and odd behavior took on a pattern was either one mentioned tested.

      Just something to think about.

      1. Doug Ross

        All the candidates should have the results of a complete physical exam performed by an independent physician revealed. Hey, how about having the Surgeon General do it or oversee it?

        1. Bart

          Touche’! But the Surgeon General? If the Surgeon General currently in office were to conduct a complete physical exam, every Republican candidate would be declared unfit no matter how old or young they are because each one would be found to be suffering from a debilitating mental and/or emotional disorder therefore rendering every one unfit to hold the office of president. By default, Hillary or maybe Bernie would be the next president and we could do away with the election, saving taxpayers a lot of money and avoid the never ceasing phone calls from candidates.

          Yeah, let the Surgeon General make the decision.

      2. Bill

        Good idea.Trump easily fits the diagnosis-‘Narcissistic personality disorder’.I doubt any candidate could pass a psychiactric screening,but it might,at least,keep them from purchasing guns…

  9. Matt Warthen

    I think when people say “Bush lied”, they mean that he knew he was wrong about WMD. Of course, it’s not a “lie” unless he knew that he was wrong before he said it, and that’s never been shown. So when you call this “the left’s ‘Bush lied’ lie”, you’re insinuating that “the left” knows that this is wrong before they say it, when it’s more likely that they actually believe that Bush misled us intentionally. They’re not so much ‘lying’ as the are ‘wrong’, in the exact same way that Bush wasn’t ‘lying’, just ‘wrong’. Right? It seems like this is more an argument about the proper usage of the word “lie”. And if that’s the case, aren’t you misusing the word “lie” in the same way as the people you’re criticizing?

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