Credibility gap

What’s really at issue in the controversy over President Bush’s false claim, in his January State of the Union speech, about Iraq’s supposed effort to buy uranium from Niger? Is it whether war with Iraq was justified? No. Had the president never made the claim, the war still would have taken place, and with much the same level of backing from Congress and the American people.

What’s really at issue is the administration’s credibility. Notwithstanding CIA Director George Tenet’s obviously scripted act of political sacrifice, the truth about the Niger story—that it was based on forged documents—was known well before January. A special emissary sent to Niger to investigate the matter, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had reported back directly to the CIA that the charge was bogus, and Tenet had asked that a similarly unverifiable reference be deleted from a presidential speech the previous October.

This flap raises the larger issue of how much the administration fudged the truth in its other arguments supporting the invasion of Iraq, including its supposed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that so far have proven to be nonexistent. It’s important to remember that these arguments were used to justify a pre-emptive war undertaken supposedly in self-defense and without the backing of the United Nations or many of our traditional allies.

The consequences of this lack of support are becoming increasingly, and painfully, evident as U.S. forces struggle to bring order to what it clearly a fractured and violence-prone nation. With American soldiers continuing to die on almost a daily basis, we could really use the help of friends right now, but thanks to President Bush’s unilateralism, we don’t have it.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has written a bill to create a special commission to investigate the arguments used in support of war to determine whether the Bush administration manipulated and distorted the evidence. We urge our congressman, Wally Herger, to support the bill. If the president was forthright, the evidence will show it. The American people deserve to know the truth.