Bush Lied, People Died?

You’ve seen the bumper sticker: “Bush lied, people died.” The slogan expresses in a nutshell the nefarious narrative embraced by many critics of the Iraq War. It’s very simple, and it goes like this. The President lied about Iraq’s having WMD’s and about Iraq’s connections to terrorism. Those lies were the basis for the American public’s support of the invasion. The invasion has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, costing the United States dearly in blood and treasure and resulting in the deaths of over a 100,000 Iraqis. Thus, Bush lied, people died.

The only problem with the narrative is that it is not true. It’s repeated over and over in the mainstream media as if it were true, but it’s not. Fred Hiatt tells the story in today’s Washington Post in an Op-Ed titled “‘Bush Lied’? If Only It Were That Simple.” Hiatt shows that the President’s pre-war statements “were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates.” In other words, one might argue that the President was misled by faulty intelligence estimates. But one would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that he knowingly told falsehoods in the run-up to the war.

Read the rest here: “‘Bush Lied’? If Only It Were That Simple” – by Fred Hiatt (Washington Post)


  • B

    For what it’s worth, I have yet to meet an intelligent, free-thinking American who can:

    * Honestly claim they were opposed to the invasion of Iraq from the beginning for principled reasons


    * Honestly provide a reasonable, defensible argument for why we should not have invaded Iraq


    * Honestly demonstrate a well-rounded understanding of what has actually transpired on the ground in Iraq since 2003, including the many positive developments for U.S. national security and the long-term welfare of the Iraqi people and the entire Middle East


    * Honestly articulate a viable alternative to dealing with Saddam Hussein (WMD’s or no WMD’s, he had to be dealt with for all that he had done.)

    Perhaps I have not met the right people. But as an Iraq War veteran, it disturbs me that so many Americans seem content with their ignorance and unthinking anger on this important issue.

    Even more disturbing is the fact that many of these people are leaders in our government.

    God help us.

  • Scott

    The Senate recently released a report on the administration’s misuse of intelligence in order to sell the war. Scott McClellan, the former press-secretary, just released a book referring to the administration’s use of “propaganda” in the run-up to the war. I find it a bit odd, then, to make an argument against a rather stupid bumper sticker.

    It seems, Denny, that you’re arguing against the idiots on the left, rather than addressing a much more relevant and arguable criticism of Bush: the fact that a certain mindset of preemption actually produced results no different than if there was malicious intent.

    After 9/11, we were going to invade Iraq–no if, ands, or buts. There’s plenty of evidence to demonstrate this. While there isn’t evidence that Bush lied–and I don’t think he did–the simple fact that we had decided to go to war produced a mindset by which the administration could only “see” evidence on its side, just as it could only see a rosy picture in imagining the war’s aftermath.

    Given the Senate report and McClellan’s book, this is the problem that needs to be addressed or refuted. I’m interested to here from smart people who disagree, but let’s deal with the real issue.


  • Scott

    I try to come to this blog with a fairly open mind. As it relates to the issue of the Iraq war, my mind is pretty much made up. However, I am interested in hearing smart people offer smart responses to what I consider to be a major critique of Bush’s war doctrine, exemplified in the Iraq invasion and aftermath.

    I’ll put it even more directly: I am a fairly liberal guy, posing a question in search of correction by smart conservatives. I’m actually interested–really–to hear something that would change my mind or at least give me pause.

    To deny the Senate report as “partisan” and to call McClellan “dishonest,” as Mark has done, does not address my question, neither does such a response show any thought. Instead of countering “Bush Lied” with “Senate Democrats and McLellan Lied,” why not actually have a productive discussion?


  • Mark Gibson


    Who said the following?

    “There has been some debate over how ‘imminent’ a threat Iraq poses. I do believe Iraq poses an imminent threat. I also believe after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated. . . . To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? I do not think we can.”

  • Ferg

    Bush was mistaken, Bush should be forgiven

    if only it was that simple a way to explain things, but I believe that is the case. Bush acted with what he knew was right, things didn’t go according to plan, however we are not called to judge but to forgive.

  • Paul


    I’ll start by saying thank you for your service in defense of our country.

    You know way more than I ever will about Iraq, as you were there.

    Frankly, what you’re asking for in your four points is ridiculous in its complexity.

    Can I find you at least 10,000 people that took a principled stand against the Iraq war from the moment that force was authorized? Yes.

    I might not be able to provide a “defensible” argument (as prescribed by a military man and obviously a republican) for why we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq, but I can certainly say that I feel that we had no business invading anywhere else until we’d found Bin Laden or turned Afghanistan into a grease spot trying. That said, I can think of quite a few arguments why scummy neo-cons would be willing to attempt to dupe us all to make their way into Iraq unnecessarily.

    As for long term middle east stability, I want your phone number so I can call and say I told you so when an Islamacist leader gets elected as prime minister or president in Iraq. I think a better argument might be that Bush pushed end times prophecy up by at least 20 years with this war.

    And B, I must say thank you for illuminating a point here when you say, “it disturbs me that so many Americans seem content with their ignorance and unthinking anger on this important issue.”

    Amazing how the liberals that are upset with Americans dying, who do not see the point of a war where clearly the intelligence was wrong, where clearly the White House has played propaganda games, are ignorant and are filled with unthinking anger, but the conservatives that would ruin the careers of CIA operatives for political gain, or the conservatives that are dangerous yes men for this administration are simply “patriotic americans.”

    Frankly, if that’s where the divide lies, that’s disturbing.

  • Scott


    Thanks, I’m not interested in McClellan. McClellan, the Senate Report, and a hundred other sources give credence to my argument. They don’t prove my argument, of course. But shall I follow your lead and call the WSJ article partisan? Or can we say something NEW, rather than repeat the mindless positions that circulate aimlessly in the media and on the internet? Would it really take that much time to substantively address my original post?


    Who said the quote? I don’t care. I imagine someone like Hilary Clinton or some other liberal. However, if the quote is attributed to someone other than the person who had the authority to send us to war (namely, President Bush), then it is entirely irrelevant. Other people could have been wrong about the war, but the ultimate responsibility still lies at the foot of the Commander and Chief. I’m asking you to justify HIS position, not to show me that other people were wrong too. In fact, it helps my point rather than hurts it. I’m arguing that the mindset itself was wrong, not that Republicans were wrong. Like Darius, you have repeated a rhetorical trick that I’ve seen about a dozen times on this blog alone.

    I’ll post my argument again, and wait, unexpectedly, for a substantive response:

    “After 9/11, we were going to invade Iraq–no if, ands, or buts. There’s plenty of evidence to demonstrate this. While there isn’t evidence that Bush lied–and I don’t think he did–the simple fact that we had decided to go to war produced a mindset by which the administration could only “see” evidence on its side, just as it could only see a rosy picture in imagining the war’s aftermath.”

    With best intentions,

  • Darius

    I don’t agree, Scott. The evidence does NOT demonstrate that Bush intended to invade Iraq immediately after 9/11. What the evidence does show is that he quickly asked his advisors if Iraq could have been involved, which was the obvious question to be asked. If by evidence you mean the discredited Richard Clarke, then you are correct, there is plenty of “evidence” demonstrating that Bush intended to invade Iraq immediately after 9/11. I would say that after 9/11, it became more clear that we needed stability in the Middle East to help counteract terrorism. And what Saddam was doing was quite the opposite, supporting it at almost every turn, including working in close relations to Al-Qaeda-like terrorist cells.

  • Mark Gibson


    It was Senator Rockefeller, the author of the Senate report. Read the article that Denny posted.

    I believe that Bush had the mindset of protecting the country by going on the offensive. If he believed there was an imminent threat, then he was going to eliminate that imminent threat. The intelligence told him that Iraq was an imminent threat. Senator Rockefeller even states in his report that Bush was substantiated in his belief that the intelligence was correct.

    I’m not sure how anyone can prove that he only saw what he wanted to see. If you are going to make an accusation, then you should provide the evidence to back it up.

  • Scott

    Darius and Mark,

    Thanks for the responses. Let me follow up with a couple questions to help clarify the discussion:

    1. Do you agree, knowing that we know now, that Iraq that was not an immanent threat to the United States. If so, do you then agree that going to war was a mistake? (Mark’s argument seems to require this) If so, is the intelligence community entirely to blame? Or does Bush share in this blame?

    2. Do you agree that the belief that Iraq was an immanent threat was the primary reason proposed to the American public as the PRIMARY reason for going to war (i.e., “we don’t want a smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud”)?

    3. Even given the bad intelligence, were there reasonable alternatives (say, a strategic bombing campaign) to invasion that would have protected American security without the necessity of an invasion and occupation?

    A disclaimer: These are not loaded questions and are not intended to trap you in any way. Neither I don’t have some prepared response when you get the answers “wrong.” I’d like to find some common ground (if possible) by which to pursue this discussion further.


  • Darius


    1. Saddam/Iraq was probably not an imminent threat to America (though to our close ally Israel he most certainly was), though there was no way of knowing that beforehand. Furthermore, all evidence and reports have shown that Saddam was interested in getting back into the WMD and/or nuclear weapon business and he was ready and capable of doing so within a few years (due to the money funneled to him via the UN Oil-for-Food scheme). As for the war being a mistake… I don’t think that can yet be judged. If we lose there or Iraq becomes a radical, anti-American democracy, then it maybe could be considered a mistake. If we win and Iraq becomes a stable, pro-Western democracy, then I definitely don’t think it was a mistake. In conjunction with your second question, I don’t think it is a mistake because the “imminent threat” reason was not the ONLY legitimate reason for dethroning Saddam. There were in fact over 20 reasons for invading Iraq, most of which are still valid reasons (like the fact that Saddam was murdering hundreds of thousands of people and causing great unrest in the region, as well as supporting terrorism against our allies). And even if, for the sake of the argument, we agree that the war was a mistake, I don’t think almost any of that blame lands on Bush. It is the fault of the international intelligence community, but even more so, it is Saddam’s fault. Had he not played games with the UN and continually ignored their resolutions, he probably would still be in power.

    2. An “imminent threat” may have been the primary reason, but it was far from the only reason.

    3. I don’t know how a strategic bombing campaign would have done much good, considering that we did not know where Saddam was hiding his weapons. Furthermore, a bombing campaign would not have remedied many of the other issues (Saddam’s wanton killing of dissidents and attacking of neighbors).

  • Mark Gibson


    1) I still believe that Saddam was an imminent threat to our national security. He was a supporter of Islamic jihad. I think 9/11 showed that it doesn’t take a huge military capability to successfully attack us. I’m not even sure you blame the intelligence community or Bush. You are taking imperfect information and trying to make the best decisions with the imperfect information. If we don’t trust the President’s judgement, then we have the right to vote him out of office.

    2) I agree with number two. Human rights violations were secondary reasons.

    3) Bill Clinton tried a strategic bombing campaign against bin Laden and Iraq. I believe this emboldened ObL and Saddam. They could do whatever they wanted with the only consequence being a cruise missle attack.

    I would support a strategic bombing campaign like we saw in World War II or Vietnam. Drop fliers, then level the city.

  • Denny Burk

    Scott (in #13),

    I think that your recollection of the causes of the war are lacking some important details.

    Were Iraq and its WMD an imminent threat to the U.S.? The Bush administration did not make the case for war by saying that Iraq posed a direct or “imminent” threat to the U. S. homeland. Go back and read the president’s speeches in the run-up to the war. Iraq’s WMD would have been a direct threat to its neighbors, but not directly to the U. S. homeland. On that much everyone was in agreement.

    The main concern was Iraq’s possession of WMD and the possibility that those weapons would fall into the hands of a terrorist group. The “axis of evil” were labeled as such because all three of them (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) either possessed or were seeking WMD, and all three had shown a willingness to distribute WMD to our islamo-fascist enemies. After 9/11, the Bush administration was not willing to live with that risk.

    One other thing about the “imminent threat” argument. Opponents of the Iraq War routinely minimize the eleven years of failed diplomacy that preceded the 2003 invasion. In 1990, Iraq invaded the sovereign nation of Kuwait, and a coalition of U. N. forces came together and drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. The U. S. was poised to invade Iraq, but Saddam accepted terms for a cease-fire that included the immediate destruction of his WMD capacity. After 7 years of refusing to verify the destruction of those weapons, he kicked out the U.N. weapons inspectors (in 1998). That’s when President Clinton set the “regime change” policy towards Iraq. From 1991 to 2002, Iraq never complied with a string of U.N. resolutions reiterating the terms of the original cease-fire. All the while, Saddam was doing his level best to convince the world (and his enemies) that he possessed WMD. It’s no surprise that all the world’s intelligence agencies believed that he possessed and would use WMD. The burden of proof was on Saddam to verify the destruction of his WMD (which he never did) in order to live up to the terms of the cease-fire. The burden of proof was not on the U.S. to prove that Saddam had WMD that were an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland.

    After 9/11, we all felt that the threat of islamo-fascists attacking America with WMD was very real. The strategy of the Bush administration in the face of that threat was to destroy the terrorists themselves (which was the purpose of the invasion of Afghanistan) and those who would aid and abet them (which was the purpose of the Iraq invasion).

    So I think the historical premise of your questions is not accurate.


  • Matthew

    Prof. Burk,

    Have you watched the Bill Moyers Journal (PBS) program on the topic? It’s available by podcast. It’s more compelling than any of these newspaper pundits.

  • Todd Pruitt

    Bill Moyers? You must be kidding! This is the man who helped LBJ sell the escalation of the Vietnam war.

    I really enjoyed his penetrating interview with the esteemed Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

  • Denny Burk

    Matthew (in #23),

    The Bill Moyers episode contains some of the same old canards being hawked by the political opponents of President Bush. For instance, Moyers criticizes the administration for implying a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. President Bush never claimed or implied that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. Look through the speeches. They are a part of the public domain. You will find that the President never claimed any such thing, yet folks like Moyers keep saying that he did and then accuse him of lying! Unbelievable.

    These kinds of inaccuracies make me skeptical of the Moyers report.


  • Scott


    Thanks for the response.

    I want to take up something you said in #26 about the Saddam-9/11 connection. This is a segment of speech Bush gave on 10/7/02:

    “If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

    And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America.

    And Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.
    Some citizens wonder: After 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now?

    There is a reason. We have experienced the horror of September 11. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing — in fact they would be eager — to use a biological, or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.

    Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

    Now, if Moyers said that Bush proposed an explicit, direct connection between Saddam and 9/11, then Moyers is wrong. However, if we look at Bush’s rhetorical moves (moves similar to those made time and again by Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheny, and others before the war) I think that speeches like this one produced the misguided belief, still held by many Americans, that Saddam was connected to 9/11. Notice how the speech moves from Saddam, to Saddam potentially giving aid to terrorists. When he speaks about 9/11, however, he doesn’t use the term “terrorist” but instead refers to “our enemies,” which in the context of the speech includes both Saddam and Al-Qaeda.


  • Scott

    As a general response to some of the posts, particularly Denny’s in #21, the trouble is not that there wasn’t a reason to go to war with Iraq, but that there were too many reasons. See the following argument by Slavoj Zizek:

    “To illustrate the weird logic of dreams, Sigmund Freud used to evoke a story about a borrowed kettle: When a friend accuses you of returning a borrowed kettle broken, your reply is, first, that you never borrowed the kettle; second, that you returned it unbroken; and third, that the kettle was already broken when you borrowed it. Such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments, of course, confirms precisely what it endeavors to deny: that you, in fact, did borrow and break the kettle.

    A similar string of inconsistencies characterized the Bush administration’s public justifications for the U.S. attack on Iraq in early 2003. First, the administration claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which posed a “real and present danger” to his neighbors, to Israel, and to all democratic Western states. So far, no such weapons have been found (after more than 1,000 U.S. specialists have spent months looking for them). Then, the administration argued that even if Saddam does not have any WMD, he was involved with al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks and therefore should be punished and prevented from launching future assaults. But even U.S. President George W. Bush had to concede in September 2003 that the United States “had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.” Finally, there was the third level of justification, that even if there was no proof of a link with al Qaeda, Saddam’s ruthless dictatorship was a threat to its neighbors and a catastrophe to its own people, and these facts were reason enough to topple it. True, but why topple Iraq and not other evil regimes, starting with Iran and North Korea, the two other members of Bush’s infamous “axis of evil”?

    So, if these reasons don’t hold up to serious scrutiny and merely seem to suggest that the administration was misguided to do what it did, what, then, were the real underlying reasons for the attack? Effectively, there were three: first, a sincere ideological belief that the destiny of the United States is to bring democracy and prosperity to other nations; second, the urge to brutally assert and signal unconditional U.S. hegemony; and third, the need to control Iraqi oil reserves.

    Each of the three levels works on its own and deserves to be taken seriously; none of them, including the spread of democracy, should be dismissed as a simple manipulation and lie. Each has its own contradictions and consequences, for good and ill. But taken together, they are dangerously inconsistent and incompatible and all but predestine the U.S. effort in Iraq to failure.



  • D.J. Williams


    Your post begs the question – how much is one responsible for the misinterpretation and misapplication of one’s statements by someone else? You commented that speeches like that one “produce the misguided belief” in many Americans of a Saddam/9-11 connection, yet Bush nowhere suggests such a connection. His words must be misapplied to reach that conclusion. Is he responsible for others’ misunderstanding (itself driven partially by rumor and heresay)? Now certainly, one can intentionally mislead with statements, but do we have evidence that this was being done here? It seems that we’re delving into the dangerous territory of judging people’s motives. Just an observation.

  • Mark Gibson


    Saddam had financed terrorism in Israel. He paid the families of suicide bombers $25k. Bush felt that we shouldn’t wait to find out if it was going to happen to us. Saddam is one less pain we have to worry about.

  • Scott


    Removing “one less pain” has severely exacerbated other pains! One of the many arguments against the war in Iraq is the ripple effect said war has/will have on foreign relations across the globe. Has Cheney’s war mongering been worth the cost?

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