Joseph Goebbels, the leading propagandist of the Third Reich, believed in the power of the lie; the greater the lie, the greater the power. Goebbels would have loved Karl Rove’s “Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight,” a pastiche of lies, fabrications and distortions designed to rehabilitate the record of the Bush-Cheney years. There are too many lies to treat in this one column, but his greatest lie is that the Bush administration would not have invaded Iraq if it had known there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) there. Its corollary is that the administration did not lie about the presence of such weapons in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
In fact, the Bush administration mounted an intense six-month campaign to make sure that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) produced “evidence” of WMD, and then made sure that such players as National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell parroted the administration’s big lie to the American public and to the international community. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their acolytes Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove desperately wanted to go to war against Iraq for reasons that have never been explained. As a result, they created and employed a strategic disinformation campaign to convince Congress and the American people of the need for war. Goebbels would have beamed.
This is not the first time the United States has manipulated intelligence to make a case for war. It happened prior to the Mexican-American War to support the policies of President James Polk, the Spanish-American War to support the policies of President William McKinley and the Vietnam War to support President Lyndon Johnson. But the Iraq war marked the first time that the White House mounted a full-court press with such zeal to take the nation to a war that was unneeded, illegal and immoral. Rove and Libby were key operatives in a programmatic “marketing plan” to justify the war, which included the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband had dared to challenge the case for war; the phony intelligence documents produced by the CIA and DIA; and the public commentary linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and Iraq to al-Qaeda. Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card has already admitted to the marketing plan, which was introduced in September 2002, because “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
In the summer of 2002, the White House Iraq Group was formed to convince public opinion at home and abroad of the need for war against Iraq. The group met regularly in the White House situation room and the regular attendants included Rove, Libby, Condi Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley. At the same time, Cheney and Libby began meeting directly with analysts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, an unprecedented procedure. The purpose of these meetings was to garner the intelligence justification for a pre-emptive war to remove Saddam Hussein in order to make a case to the Congress, the American public and the international community. In July 2002, the chief of the British MI6 intelligence service, Sir Richard Dearlove, after several meetings with CIA Director George Tenet, warned Prime Minister Tony Blair about the American misuse of intelligence and the public relations campaign to justify war. Dearlove concluded that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” and that “military action was now seen as inevitable.”
A major aspect of Rove’s “marketing plan” was to leak unsubstantiated and flawed intelligence (supplied by Iraqi defector Ahmad Chalabi and his minions) to the press and then offer authoritative White House confirmation of the leaked information. The White House selected Judith Miller of The New York Times as the key recipient of these leaks. Miller had a front-page story in the Times on September 8, 2002, citing administration officials as claiming that Saddam had acquired aluminum tubes “specifically designed” to enrich uranium. On the same day, Cheney told “Meet the Press” that “we know with absolute certainty” that Saddam was “using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Four days later, President Bush took the aluminum tubes claim to the UN General Assembly. The issue was central to Secretary of State Powell’s UN speech in February 2003.
Rove and Libby were also central to the outing of Plame, a CIA operative, whose husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, refuted Cheney’s charge that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger. The outing of Plame was designed to embarrass the ambassador and to keep other officials from testifying against the White House’s case for war, which required a nuclear dimension. Rove was not indicted for lying about the outing of Plame, although Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, argued that Libby was a scapegoat to protect Rove. Cheney charged that the White House was failing to “protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy this Pres asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney ultimately scratched out “this Pres” and substituted “that was.”
Rove, of course, was not alone in these efforts. He had help from CIA Director Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who lied to Secretary of State Powell about the sources for the secretary’s speech to the UN Security Council. He benefited from CIA senior analysts such as Robert Walpole and Paul Pillar, who helped to craft specious documents such as a National Intelligence Estimate and a white paper that were used to influence the Congressional vote on the use of force authorization in October 2002. As the chief of the CIA’s largest analytic office Alan Foley told his senior managers, “if the president decides to go to war, it’s our job to supply the intelligence to allow him to do so.” Foley’s comments took place only several days after Tenet assured President Bush that gathering intelligence support for a public case to go to war would be a “slam dunk.”
At the Pentagon, Douglas Feith and Abram Shulsky created the Office of Special Plans (OSP) to circulate intelligence that even the CIA did not believe was credible. According to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, OSP’s major mission was to provide the White House with so-called intelligence to make the case for war. Feith regularly briefed the White House on this disinformation in August and September 2002 and then passed the “classified” findings to Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. The OSP had close links with the Defense Policy Board, whose members – particularly Richard Perle, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and former Republican speaker of the House Newt Gingrich – peddled the OSP’s disinformation to high-level opinion makers at home and abroad.
There were many CIA and Defense Department puppets in this effort, but two major Geppetos in the White House: one named Libby and one named Rove. Perhaps that is why the Rove memoir is titled “Courage and Consequence” and not “Truth and Consequence.”