November 21, 2003
Robert Scheer And Christopher Scheer, Co-Authors (with Lakshmi Chaudry) of "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Needless to say, when we first learned about Alternet.org commissioning the book "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq," our reaction was, "How could they narrow it down to JUST five?"
But the father-son team of Robert Scheer, Christopher Scheer -- and associate Lakshmi Chaudry -- have done a tremendous job of documenting five of the biggest Bush Cartel lies told to terrorize American citizens into supporting a war against Iraq:
As Christopher assured us in the interview, these five lead to many other lies, which lead to additional deceptions.
This book joins the ones by Franken, Conason and Corn to further expose a fraudulent presidency built upon a foundation of conscious deception and betrayal of the American people.
"The lies detailed in this book," the authors note in their conclusion, "are merely a symptom of a dangerous disease that afflicts the Bush administration. Neither the suffering of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians nor a massive economic crisis will deflect its sense of entitlement. The only question that remains is how long Americans will continue to place their trust in these false messiahs who choose to play God with the fate of our nation and the world."
The book, "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq," is available from BuzzFlash.com at: [LINK]
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BUZZFLASH: In the introduction to "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq," which was co-written with Lakshmi Chaudhry, you mention that these are not just deceptions that you document; they are something more than that. They are deliberate lies. You're very insistent on drawing a distinction between something that might have been the result of a careless assertion and lies. Can you discuss that a little bit further?
ROBERT SCHEER: This isnít even the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, where, when you go to the documents, which I did 25 years after the fact, you could say, All right, the captain from the boat was reporting mixed signals about whether they were hit in the Gulf of Tonkin. It turns out they werenít, and they werenít under attack. But there were these mixed reports, and the sonar was picking up things, et cetera. So Lyndon Johnson could go with that. Now, he shouldnít have gone to the nation that night, and he shouldnít have launched an attack, and he should have waited to get better data. But he and McNamara could go to the nation that night saying that we have learned that our ship was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. Then one would say thatís deception, that theyíre responsible, and wouldnít use the word "lie."
These are cases where [the Bush White House] just knew that they were not telling the truth, from the President on down. And if the President didnít know, he was badly deceived by his Secretary of Defense and his Vice President, and the head of the CIA. And at some point, he wanted to be lied to because he otherwise he would have called them on the carpet and said: Whatís going on here?
The five specific ones that the book singles out are cases where just too much information was known that what they were saying was not believable. For example -- and remember, this is not a question of "Are there old weapons in Iraq which may be found 15 years from now?" -- the president said thereís an imminent threat of deployed weapons that can be used within 45 minutes. They had to know that was a lie. There is enough intelligence data. And we knew there was no evidence. The claim on the nuclear [weapons] reconstitution had to be known as a lie. There was not a scintilla of evidence [to prove the threat].
The biggest lie of all was the connection between Hussein and al-Qaeda and 9/11. Thatís just the most vicious lie, and one of the most vicious lies maybe in American history. Here you have this horrible traumatic event that not only killed people in this country, but threatens our civil liberties and threatens our whole system of government because of the over-reaction to it. And you know without any evidence whatsoever -- this they knew right in that first week or two -- they kept trying to link Hussein to it.
And the other two lies in terms of the cakewalk and the occupation -- again, they knew they were basing that on faulty information and so forth. So I think there are times when the word "lie" has a certain clarity to it. It goes to intent. It goes to knowledge. And so I think itís a fair use of the language here.
BUZZFLASH: In light of that, a few weeks ago we saw a former aide to Colin Powell interviewed on 60 Minutes II and accuse the Secretary of State of lying. And yet it barely made a splash in the news. Has the Bush Administration devalued lying by doing it so frequently that itís not a news story anymore?
CHRISTOPHER SCHEER: I think that thereís a cynicism, and people are so divided in this country that they may not be listening that well. So the people that are upset about the Bush Administration take it as another sign that what they believe to be the case is true. And the people that are out there that are hear-no-evil, see-no-evil about the Bush Administration donít want to hear it. And I can tell you that in our book, Colin Powell comes under some scrutiny because he has gotten kind of a free ride due to the media's love of him, which we document in there, and his willingness to sort of play the good cop vs. Cheney and Rumsfeld's bad cop.
But in fact, Powell is completely implicated in this whole pattern of lying. His presentation to the UN about the threat of Iraq just before the war, in which he famously refused some of the data he was fed as "bullshit" -- as it was quoted in "U.S. World News and World Report" -- was received with rave reviews. But he went out and presented a whole bunch of new stuff that day which, in the book, we very carefully describe and pick apart: He went out and made a case for biochemical weapons labs in areas that Iraq didnít even control. He talked about different individuals that were supposedly links between al-Qaeda and Hussein. And all this stuff was just as shaky and un-backed-up by the intelligence as the stuff that had come out in the previous six months, since the marketing campaign for the war in Iraq had begun.
And whatís astonishing in reviewing the book was to find out just how little they really had. They really took a few little pieces and milked them to the extent that it was clear they didnít have much evidence at all. I mean, with a $27 billion intelligence budget, you think we could have come up with some more convincing evidence, even if it was manufactured.
BUZZFLASH: During the buildup to the Iraq war, there were clearly some disgruntled members of the intelligence community that were leaking that some of the assertions of the Bush Administration were mistruths -- as they were characterized at that time. The aluminum tubes came under some scrutiny as well as the Niger uranium and some other issues. Even some members of the intelligence community were letting it be known they were not satisfied with the lies that were coming out of the administration. But because of the bully pulpit of the Presidency, and then the corporate media, those kind of leaks were swept away. Now theyíve come back full force, documented in your book. And yet again we see that the Bush administration survives their rope-a-dope strategy. They just go on to something else and another series of lies.
Bush said last week that itís all about democracy in the Middle East -- "I donít care what people say, weíre committed to establishing democracies." Well, this were sort of a leitmotif in the war, but it wasnít the scare issue, because you arenít going to get people to go to war over establishing democracies. But now thatís become retroactively a major reason for going to war with Iraq. How could they get away with this?
C. SCHEER: What I see that happened is they kept throwing out new bones. Those bones would get destroyed, and theyíd throw out some more. Theyíd keep pressing forward. Theyíd say the truth over here, and then say a lie over there. Theyíd use Dick Cheney as a way to get out ideas. They wouldnít say all the time that al-Qaeda was connected to Hussein, but they would just use Hussein and al-Qaeda in sentences together, over and over and over again. They would speculate irresponsibly about what could happen -- if this, and then that, then hey, there might be nukes, and they might be in New York being blown up by terrorists. They used all those tricks.
I think that the war really was and continues to be an issue for moderates and liberals -- where they are willing to accept surface rationales that we have seen discarded randomly, such as weapons of mass destruction, freeing the trapped Iraqi people, building a democracy, and the domino theory of taking over the Middle East with wonderful democracies. We see that the moderates and the liberals accept these rationales and arenít willing to look at whoís actually pulling the strings for this policy, and what that rationale is that they really are basing that on.
And thatís something we do in the book. We look at what are all the documents and the writings, and the statements of the people who actually developed this policy and are enacting it. And itís pretty straightforward -- itís about projecting American power in a military, economic, and every other kind of way, and the motives are pretty straightforward and self-centered for the United States. And yet this ability to window-dress it with the nice rationale, for whatever reason, sort of stuck with just enough moderates, or tempered their interest in finding the truth. Itís a thing that keeps going forward, and Iím very frustrated now that a lot of people have taken the idea: Well, we werenít really for the war, but now that weíre there, we've got to do the job right. Rise to this challenge, and face this test of national resolve. And thatís just craziness. Thatís basically exactly how we kept getting deeper and deeper into Vietnam.
BUZZFLASH: I guess someone who would typify the type of approach youíre talking about is Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times."
R. SCHEER: No -- heís worse. What Thomas Friedman has done is really much more serious. He decided that he knew what was best for the Mideast, and he knew how to get there. And thatís fine, as an author. But when you get arrogant about it, and when it doesnít play out the way youíve predicted, and then you insist that your government make it happen -- fulfill your prophesy -- it gets very dangerous.
Thereís a very good analogy with Vietnam in that, because remember, Vietnam was done by the best and the brightest -- the people Graham Greene described in The Quiet American. And they had an idea that this is how we bring democracy, and itís a very elitist notion. Itís not a notion of people making their own history, doing their own struggle. Itís an outsiderís view -- you travel to this country, you sit in the cafés, you talk to several experts. His books basically said: Whatís with this religious stuff and nationalism? Itís going to fade because of the international market -- which, by the way, is something I believed. And it hasnít happened. Religious fanaticism remains a very strong force, and nationalism remains a strong force.
Now what the United States has managed to do is feed those irrational forces with its policy. And the reason why Christopher is writing this argument [in an article for AlterNet.org] that it would be irresponsible to stay in Iraq is itís our presence in Iraq thatís feeding the irrationality. We are the recruiting poster for the religious fanatics and for the extreme nationalists. And thatís always left out of the argument. This is what happened in Vietnam. After all, we started with 13,000 flood control advisors. We ended up putting in a half million troops. And the argument was always, "You canít get out." Well, the fact is, your presence is the reason it gets harder and harder to get out.
BUZZFLASH: Itís like a dog chasing its tail. In your introduction, Robert, you distinguish between Vietnam and Iraq in this sense -- that Vietnam was a product of sort of a gradual commitment that, at some point, Lyndon Johnson felt he could extract himself from. And, of course, it went completely berserk under Kissinger and Nixon, and it became a macho world power issue to them, and they werenít going to pull out. You say the difference about Iraq is this was almost an instant, premeditated lie to advance a neo-con power trip, to help the Republicans stay in power, and to reward the corporate contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign.
R. SCHEER: And to redraw the map of the world. Thatís the really scary part, beginning with the Mideast -- that you can somehow just change it all. Youíre going to knock out this guy, and most of them are the people youíve supported or helped create, like Saddam Hussein. Youíre going to knock them out, and youíre going to go in there and purify the water, build the schools, and teach them how to do democracy. And theyíre going to forget about fundamentalist Islam. That is the most dangerous part of the whole thing. And youíre going to extend that to the whole world, which is going to look like the United States. And youíre not prepared to deliver on it. You donít want to share your resources. You donít want to help these people come up to your standard of living.
One of the little ironies with Vietnam is we wonít even let them sell their catfish and their shrimps here because it threatens Louisiana catfish growers. So youíre not really interested in the Americanization of the world in the sense that youíre willing to improve the standard of living and share the resources. Itís this very silly notion that you can go in there, hold a few meetings, have your advisors, and oops -- you make them just like us.
C. SCHEER: Personally, I have to really question the sincerity of that vision. In looking at the Neo-Con baseline documents, I see that as a real afterthought. Thatís how they want to present it, but really theyíre much more interested in other goals. And some of them will blatantly say in their writings -- guys like Michael Ledeen -- that chaos is just fine with them. Chaos in the Middle East, everything broken down into increasingly nationalistic and tribal tendencies is fine with them, as long as the U.S. gets its due, its bag of gold and some fealty from the locals. The idea that this is about democratization is one of our five lies. Thereís just no history for this. People like to cite the Marshall Plan and some of the things that happened during the Cold War. But thereís no history that itís anything but a long shot -- that we can deliver this promise that we have now made to these people, in what I consider a great act of cynicism, that we could deliver Iraq a social compact between enormously divided people, that we can sort of hand over this gift.
It really does come from the idea that there is only one model for the world, which is a model in our image. And if you are Chile and you take our image, weíll give you a few treats here and there. But basically, as Bob says, weíre not willing to share these fundamental things. I personally donít believe that [the Bush administration] believed we were going to deliver democratization. They want to have some kind of face-saving government, but every action thatís been taken since the invasion happened in March has shown that either they didnít really want to bring democracy and prosperity, or theyíre just very careless and itís very much like a fifth-rate [priority].
If you look at what theyíve done since taking over, itís more akin to the cultural revolution in China than to our old habits of knocking off the top man and putting in a new sort of pro-capitalist tyrant who will let us operate there. Weíve knocked out their military to the extent that we just dispersed it. Weíve purged their bureaucracy. And what people are [experiencing] within Iraq now is chaos, basically: physical insecurity, a huge amount of violence, no process to redress their grievances. People can be invaded in the middle of the night by soldiers who donít speak their language. And they take people off in blindfolds, and people donít know where to go to find them.
Itís less clear what their end-game really is. If chaos wasnít their goal, itís hard to imagine how they could have done this more wrong. And [now some moderates] sit back and say: Well, now we have to do it right. The fact is that it is the liberals who say that they are not in charge, and they have different motives.
R. SCHEER: Why do you keep saying liberals? If I can disagree with
Christopher here, I think public opinion, and certainly liberal opinion,
has turned very much against Bush. They are for shortening this war and
BUZZFLASH: The Democratic Leadership Council?
R. SCHEER: Theyíre not liberals, okay? Teddy Kennedy is a liberal, and he has called them on their lies, okay? Dennis Kucinch is a liberal and he has called them on their lies. And I think liberal is too good a word to throw away just because a lot of opportunists in the Democratic Party want to move the party to the right and they believe that the ends justify the means, and that they want to be like the Republicans. Thereís still a hard core of human beings in this country who think being a liberal means standing for truth and caring about people. I just donít think we should throw away the word -- thatís all.
BUZZFLASH: I would agree with Christopher that it may depend be on your definition of liberal. There are real liberals -- and there are self-proclaimed liberals who are not really liberals.
C. SCHEER: Iím talking about pundits and politicians.
R. SCHEER: Let me just explain what I meant to say. The people that I run into in teaching and reporting, and running around, who would consider themselves liberals, are all eager to get out and recognize this as a quagmire. Whether that gets translated into other than a few presidential candidates is a different matter. They are talking the language of realpolitik, which has gotten us in so much trouble -- youíre right. The pundits and the politicians are afraid. Wesley Clark, I thought, would at least be clear on this, and he now is talking about how you have to win and so forth, and so it is disappointing.
But by liberal, I just mean well-intentioned people who have been through this once before and know the domestic price weíre paying in terms of our liberties. They see the financial costs -- what we canít afford to do in our own society. And they know in their gut this is a quagmire. And, in the polls, thatís starting to show up as a majority opinion in this country. I think we need to just make it clear to the Deans and the Clarks that they need to get on board on that.
BUZZFLASH: The book so firmly establishes these lies, and you so clearly document them; itís irrefutable. The Bush Cartel intended to deceive the public, period! But getting back to the point I was emphasizing earlier, there was a news story earlier this week -- I forget from which news wire service -- that Rumsfeld is now refuting that he said things he said, including one of your five lies: the cakewalk lie. He had said, and the article quoted, in news conferences prior to the war, that Iraqis would welcome us. They would give our soldiers flowers. They would embrace us. And when a reporter brought this up in September or October to Rumsfeld in a Pentagon news conference, he said he never said that, youíre thinking of someone else. This is very Orwellian.
R. SCHEER: The most important thing Christopher and [fellow co-author] Lakshmi [Chaudhry] did is not the exposé of the lies. Itís the exposé of the language of lying -- the dissection of the language of lying -- how they do it, how they leave an escape clause, how they cover themselves, how they know theyíre going to be caught, but they've got a fallback strategy when they are caught. And that is Orwellian. That is what is so absolutely frightening. You ask: How do they get away with it? Because they are the most effective liars that I have seen -- and Iím a pretty old guy -- in my lifetime of covering this stuff. I interviewed Richard Nixon, for Godís sake. I have never found a group of people who can lie as effectively and in as calculated and a professionally competent way as this gang. And what we tend to forget is why, in a democracy, in a way, itís easier than in an overtly totalitarian society.
Christopherís lived in [a formerly totalitarian country], and we both traveled in different totalitarian societies. People in most of those countries know theyíre being manipulated. They know theyíre being lied to. Our country, particularly when itís national security, patriotism -- people tend to want to go along with the lies. What has happened now is itís past the tipping point where these guys lied so much, so blatantly, that I think the public is finally on to them.
BUZZFLASH: Let me ask about one of those techniques. Christopher, I think you referred to it. One of the terms for it is called mirroring, where Bush, in so many, many speeches -- and other of his Cartel staff -- would use the name Saddam Hussein and 9/11 in the same sentence, and keep doing that and doing that until they were fused together in the subconscious of Americans. It got to the point where, in the publicís mind both before and after the war, a majority of Americans -- I think, at one point, up to 70 percent - believed that Saddam Hussein was involved with or responsible for 9/11.
Robert, youíre referring to the technique that Bush uses whereby you canít put him on record as saying Saddam Hussein orchestrated 9/11. But in those speeches written for him, he had such a mirroring effect of putting Saddam Hussein in the same sentence or the next sentence of 9/11 maybe 20 or 30 times in a speech, that anyone who actually listened to that whole speech couldnít help but be left with the opinion and subconscious thought that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, even though Bush didnít say: "Saddam Hussein -- we have evidence -- orchestrated 9/11."
C. SCHEER: I think you just said it very well, and I would agree. We identify a couple other avenues for this. One was to have Bush say something maybe way after the fact, like two years after 9/11, he says: Hey, I just want to say Hussein didnít have anything to do with 9/11. But first of all, itís way late, right? Weíre already occupying that country. But also, a couple days later, Cheneyís on "Meet the Press" saying: Well, we still do have a lot of evidence that there was a meeting in Prague between some guy in al-Qaeda, and some guy in Husseinís administration and all that, which is one of the most dissected, disproved facts, and we take that one on in the book.
Thatís the kind of leak and retreat approach, misspeak and overreach, say something different, twist it around, then deny it. I think it was "Meet the Press" where Cheney said the famous line about Iraq has reconstituted nuclear weapons. Now pretty clearly, he misspoke, whether on purpose or not, because there was absolutely no basis for the idea that nuclear weapons were reconstituted [in Iraq] rather than [talking about the possibility of] a nuclear weapons program or some prototype, which we now know didnít exist at all. But one of the things that he did was -- and I was getting mail from conservatives all through this period saying, oh, you took Cheney out of context, blah-blah-blah -- but Cheney never backed off that statement until six months later. Thatís not the kind of thing you leave festering for a six-month delay. Itís like if [somebody] said: "Oh, you beat your wife. " And you said, "Hey, you can't say that!" Six months later, [the accuser] finally says: "Well, I might have misspoke." You know, thereís a long lag time. They use every trick in the book.
I just think that the overwhelming reason this worked is fear. Since 9/11, people are afraid. Whether itís rational, irrational, itís not mine to say whether itís a proper response or a healthy response. I just know, for myself, that I donít want to live in a nation of fear. And that is where I see the Administration has taken us.
They constantly try to make us afraid -- more afraid than we need to be. And thatís what they did with Iraq. They consistently said this guyís Hitler. They said he has all these nasty chemical and biological weapons. They went to great lengths to say how nasty and ridiculous and horrible they were, and how they could be passed on. They built the fear to the point where people -- yes, a lot of people -- donít want to ask too many questions: So youíre lying to us. Okay, I donít care. Just take care of it. Keep them out, you know. And so they give a lot of leeway to an administration, as Bob said, under the guise of national security basically.
The letters in the "San Francisco Chronicle" this morning, they say: Why is everybody upset about the Patriot Act? If I have to give up my freedoms to save lives, thatís fine. I think an astonishing number of people sort of have that idea.
BUZZFLASH: I see some columnists say Bush is a risk taker, and whatever you think, heís bold and the Democrats have to come up with an equal boldness. This way of thinking argues that sometimes you've got to lie to lead people along. My question is this: If you were a person who says, "Weíll accept their lying because theyíre risk-takers," the BuzzFlash response to that is: "We donít agree with you." Bush has led us into colossal failure, one miserable mistake after another. Hundreds dead of our soldiers. Thousands of Iraqis. Weíre in a quagmire. Nothing has worked except that his cronies and supporters have gotten fat contracts out of our taxpayer dollar. Now heís lying about the failure."
How can one possibly accept the first theory, given that he hasnít lied us into success -- heís lied us into disaster?
C. SCHEER: I just want to say one thing about it, and I think this gets to the root of what democracy is. There are people who seem to feel that when there is a period of crisis, democracy is something you can sort of set aside. Like in this time, we have to put our trust in a sort of paternal, authoritarian figure and let him make the decisions for us. And to go against him in this time is traitorous or endangering to our troops. There seem to be quite a lot of Americans who are willing to believe this.
BUZZFLASH: Even if heís incompetent.
C. SCHEER: I think that weíre in even more of a mess because democracy wasnít allowed to function. And democracy, to some extent, reigns in incompetence. If weíd had a real debate -- if they had said: We want to go to Iraq because we donít like Hussein, and we think we can bring democracy in the region -- and leave it at that -- we could have had a debate on that. Instead, what they did was scare the bejesus out of us and say, hey, they have all this nasty stuff. Weíve got to stop them. Weíre under threat of attack at any moment. These drones that could be launched off of Florida and drop chemical weapons. You put that kind of fear of God in people, and thereís no room for any kind of debate. Then a couple nuts can lead us into a mess. So I think that how democracy works is crucial in preventing incompetence.
R. SCHEER: Could I just add a thought to that? I agree with both of you. Basically people who make that argument treat democracy as if itís a luxury item, as if itís a nice thing, icing on the cake of an otherwise stable society. Thatís not what respective government and democracy is supposed to be all about. Itís supposed to be a better way of getting to the truth and sound decisions, and not screwing up. After all, our First Amendment rights, for example, were given to us by people who were under the gun. This was a very shaky nation when the Constitution was approved. They had enemies. It wasnít clear that the colonies were going to be able to hold together. They had a fear of foreign attack that was warranted because it did come again. And so here you had this shaky nation, and yet these people sat down and said, We need a First Amendment. We need these protections. And we need them not because theyíre a luxury item, but because thatís what makes the whole system work. You throw that out, and, as you pointed out, youíre going to fall into error.
The reason you want debate, the reason you want freedom, is to expose error. If we had had a full debate about Vietnam early on, instead of all this manipulation that we were subjected to, the American people would know it was insane. Nobody cares about Vietnam anymore. Vietnam is not a threat to anyone. When we lost to Vietnam, they went to war with China.
You know who my model is, by the way -- Jessica Lynch. The Pentagon tried to use her. Bill OíReilly tried to use her. And what is this woman? After the end of the day, she picks her head up and says: You know, we should have never gone. It made no sense. They lied to us. They lied about me. They lied about Jessica Lynch.
Iím not just trying to be coy here, I think, but Iíve seen it from decades of reporting -- itís a great quality in America that you find in the hollow of West Virginia. People say you know, truth has a vitality. Truth is important. Truth prevents error. And these errors that youíre talking about come from their lies. And thatís really the main argument of why the ends donít justify the means -- because good democratic means lead you to better ends.
BUZZFLASH: Well, thanks to both of you. I think thatís a great note to close on.
R. SCHEER: Thank you.
C. SCHEER: Thanks very much.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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The book, "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq," is available from BuzzFlash.com at: [LINK]
Christopher Scheer is a staff writer and Lakshmi Chaudhry a senior editor at AlterNet. Robert Scheer is a professor at USC and a syndicated columnist.
otherwise noted, all original