Harry Truman
The Buck Stops Here

The Buck Stops Somewhere Else

Saturday, 12 July 2003

On 17 April 1961, Cuban exiles, who had been trained by the CIA, invaded Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. They expected help from the U.S. government, but that help never materialized, and the attempted coup was easily put down. Though the Bay of Pigs incident, as it came to be called, was planned in detail by the Eisenhower administration, John F. Kennedy authorized the plan's implementation. Sometime afterwards, Kennedy himself publicly acknowledged his administration's role in the fiasco and admitted that the incident had been a mistake. He did not try to blame the previous administration or the CIA; in fact, he took personal responsibility for his government's role in the incident.

This week, six months after President Bush's State of the Union speech in which he announced that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country of Niger, the White House admitted that the sentence shouldn't have been included in the speech. However, neither Bush nor his National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice accepted any responsibility for the mistake. Instead, both tried to shift blame to the director of the CIA, George Tenet. The CIA, they said, reviewed the speech in advance and gave its approval. This is despite the fact that U.S. intelligence sources, including envoys from the office of the vice president, had known for at least eleven months before the State of the Union address that the papers on which the claim was based were crude forgeries.

Unlike the president, Tenet accepted some responsibility for the false statement in the State of the Union address, but he emphasized that his agency had been uncomfortable with the information's inclusion in the speech. In fact, the CIA had insisted on a wording change so that, technically, the president wouldn't actually be saying that Iraq had sought to buy uranium. Because the information was attributed to the British, the statement was "factually accurate" ("The British government has learned . . ."). Tenet implied that members of the White House had pressured him into approving the statement for inclusion in the speech.

Interestingly, Colin Powell refused to use the same information only a week later in his address to the United Nations, though he was not as squeamish about using other highly questionable information. Apparently the Iraq-Niger connection was too ephemeral for even the fairly low standards the Secretary of State used to evaluate material that he planned to include in his own speech.

It is instructive to compare President Bush's word games concerning the Iraq-Niger connection with President Clinton's word games concerning his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. In sworn testimony, Clinton said, "There is nothing going on between us." He later justified his statement by saying, "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." In a speech to Congress and the nation, required by the Constitution (a report is required, traditionally given in the form of a speech), Bush said that British intelligence had determined that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. He and his aids apparently knew that the information was false, but by adding the attribution to the British into the sentence, they were inserting a measure of plausible deniability. Even though they knew the statement to be false, by blaming the British for the information, they believed they could skirt responsibility should the public ever find out. As a result of Bill Clinton's lies, relationships between family and friends were strained or broken. As a result of George W. Bush's lies, more than two hundred American soldiers have died so far, along with more than forty British troops and thousands of Iraqis, soldiers and civilians alike (the total body count undoubtedly surpasses that of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, which--guess what?--were associated with Saddam Hussein only by means of other lies!).

When Harry Truman was president, he had a sign on his desk that said, "The Buck Stops Here!" President Bush must have a sign on his desk that says, "The Buck Stops Somewhere Else!" Why did he include a statement in his State of the Union address that he or his closest aids (including the vice president) knew to be false (regardless of its attribution to the British)? Why did the White House wait six months before admitting that the statement was wrong, even though U.S. intelligence sources, which work for the president as part of the Executive Branch of government, had known for at least eleven months before the speech that the papers were forgeries? Why do the president and his minions try to pass the blame onto the head of the CIA, when he tried to dissuade the president's advisors from including the statement at all? The president likes to think of himself as the CEO of the country. CEOs are responsible for the failures as well as the successes of their companies, so why does the president refuse to accept responsibility for the speech that he himself delivered?

Bill Clinton was impeached and put on trial before the Senate for his lies. What will Congress do, and what punishment will the American people demand, for Bush's far more consequential lies?

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology