The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh
It’s hard to believe they didn’t tell everything they knew. When George Bush and Dick Cheney went hand in hand to testify before the 9/11 Commission they just forgot to mention some things they knew that the Commission might have been interested in hearing. They didn’t realize they’d overlooked that until the Commission report made it seem like they were both a couple of grade school miscreants who had been caught out having lied to the principal.
On February 8, 2003, Mr. Bush said in a weekly address: "Saddam Hussein has long-standing, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990’s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document-forgery experts to work with al Qaeda . . . ." On May 1, 2003, celebrating the successful end of the Iraq war Mr. Bush said "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of al Qaeda and cut off a source of terrorist funding. . . . No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraq regime. . . ." On September 14, 2003, Mr. Cheney said: "[T]here was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the 90’s. . . . The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al Qaeda organization." On June 14, 2004, Mr. Cheney said Saddam Hussein "had long established ties with al Qaeda."
On June 16, the Commission released its preliminary report. It said that bin Laden explored possible cooperation with Iraq" and sought assistance from Iraq "in procuring weapons but Iraq apparently never responded." Two senior al Qaeda leaders denied there were any ties between al Qaeda and Iraq."In response Mr. Bush said: "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda" is "because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda." Mr. Cheney went even further and said the evidence of ties between the two was "overwhelming" notwithstanding the report. He then went on to blame the press for the discrepancies between what he said and what the report said. "The press wants to run out and say there’s a fundamental split here now and between what the president said and what the commission said." He claimed the press confused the question of whether Iraq was involved with 9/11 with whether a relationship existed between Iraq and al Qaeda. Never mind that 9/11 was the justification for invading Iraq. When asked on television whether he knew things the commission didn’t know he responded like a truculent child, "probably." The commission said "prove it." We’ll see if he can
In the midst of the Cheney-Bush reality avoidance, a funny thing happened. Coming to the aid of the lying president, Russian president, Vladimir Putin said his intelligence agency had information that the Saddam regime was preparing "terrorist acts" on the United States and beyond its borders and said: " This information was passed on to our American colleagues." When Mr. Bush first met Mr. Putin he said: "I looked the man in the eye, and I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul." He could not have known that the former head of the KGB would prove to be an invaluable character witness.
Unrelated to the foregoing but worthy of note nonetheless was the juxtaposition of two events that occurred a few days earlier. Ronald Reagan died on June 5, 2004 and the following week was devoted to (a) paeans for his real and imagined accomplishments, or (b) recitals of the dreadful things that happened during his administration, the devotion depending on the perspective of the observer. So moving was the final service conducted as the sun set over the Pacific, that one could almost see the former president rising through the clouds towards a celestial home accompanied by a heavenly host. Two days later George Bush, the 41st president of the United States, celebrated his 80th birthday by descending through the same clouds, accompanied not by a heavenly host but by members of the Army Golden Knights Parachute team from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The event was covered live by NPR news which had two small business owners on the ground in College Station Texas describing the first glimpse of the former president’s celestial appearance. Had Mr. Bush jumped two days earlier we might have been treated to the spectacle of the two presidents passing each other in midair. That would have been quite a sight.