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To underscore his desire for unity, Mr. Trump ought to apologize to the Bush family. He has been mean to George H.W. and Jeb, but especially to George W. Bush, whom he said “lied” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the American invasion. This was untrue. Correcting the false charge would be an act of decency by Mr. Trump. ~ Fred Barnes in the Wall Street Journal

I like Fred Barnes and his writing about politics. He has written on the subject for well over thirty years. His Journal article about Trump’s campaign makes good sense, but what could make him assert that George W. Bush did not lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Does Barnes want to distinguish between a lie and a mistake? If you want to suggest that George W.’s claims resulted from well analyzed intelligence that proved incorrect – sometimes you believe things that just aren’t so – why did he push Colin Powell to speak before the United Nations and the rest of the world? He wanted his Secretary of State to present arguments and evidence so doubtful, only Powell could make them acceptable. If Bush’s claims were not lies, he would not have needed to place Powell’s reputation for integrity in the scales. The evidence for truthful claims would have spoken for itself.

If claims about Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were simply mistaken, why did Bush never acknowledge the mistake? If he were not lying, would he not have made some kind of overture to Powell, to correct the impression of dishonesty? Bush certainly could not convince people the United Nations presentation was so weak because his intelligence people cannot manage to supply the president with accurate reports. Instead, Cheney mocked Powell in public for being a sucker, after Cheney pressured him to go before the United Nations! “Sorry, Colin, my bad, but I’m afraid you look a lot worse than I do.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks before the United Nations on February 5, 2003.

If Bush saw his WMD claims as a mistake, why would he say “So what?” when people challenged him on his cooked-up data? He had numerous chances to explain himself, to say why he led his country to war with a casus belli that was not only irrational, but simply unreal. If you want to make up some excuse to go to war with another country, you should at least engage in such a fateful deceit with a conflict you can win. Bush started a war with lies, then went on to lose the contest. That is, he failed to accomplish what he said he would accomplish when he started the war: create an exemplar of democracy in Iraq.

Bush’s response, “So what?,” recalls Clinton’s aggravated response, “What difference does it make?,” when she confronted questions about the death of four Americans in Benghazi. These are evasions officials use when weasel words don’t work anymore, when people pressure them to explain mistakes so egregious, no one can believe the official could commit such a serious error in good faith. Interestingly, we credit politicians with dishonesty before we accuse them of criminal neglect. In reality, the two go together.

Officials do not want to justify their deceptions. To do so acknowledges their original intent to deceive. Why would an official ever do that? After you have admitted you are a liar, no one wants to listen to you again. On the other hand, if you admit a mistake of that magnitude, you show yourself to be incompetent. So you come back with a retort like “So what?,” or “What difference does it make?”

Donald Trump speaks at the South Carolina Republican presidential debate.

Donald Trump has said a lot of wild stuff. You don’t know what he’s going to say next. Nevertheless, his accusation that George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and used plainly false accusations against Saddam Hussein to create fear and invade another country, demonstrates that Trump can actually tell the truth. It’s a rare skill in this environment. Yet his accusation seems to make people uncomfortable. The audience booed when he charged George W. Bush with deceit in the South Carolina debate.

Prominent people have not stood with Trump on the matter, perhaps because to charge a former president with a lie so consequential feels unpatriotic. We go to war as a country: in that way, we all participate in the war’s justification, even if we don’t endorse it. When you let your leaders make a false accusation, to start a war that ruins your country’s reputation, you may not want to hear a presidential candidate say so in public. I won’t suggest we promote Trump to the presidency because he accurately lays this momentous charge at Bush’s feet, but we ought to hear people state, on this issue, that Trump is correct.


Here is the charge Donald Trump leveled against George W. Bush at the South Carolina Republican presidential debate on February 13, 2016:

Responding to a question from CBS moderator John Dickerson, who noted that Trump had once called for Bush’s impeachment over his decision to send American troops into Iraq, Trump said, “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction and there were none, and they knew there were none.”

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