Administration's house of cards tumbling down

April 12, 2004|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA — "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." - Vice President Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003

ATLANTA - As a candidate, President Bush pledged to restore integrity to the White House. Against the backdrop of President Clinton's repeated lies about a sordid adulterous affair, Mr. Bush ran on his claims to be a man of strong character - a politician of plain speaking and straight talk. He wouldn't lie to us.

Yet this administration has produced more dissembling and distortion, more fabrications and pseudo-facts, than any White House in recent memory - Richard Nixon's included. They lie brazenly and repeatedly, refusing to back down even when caught in the web of their own contradictions.

The falsehoods aren't limited to Iraq. In domestic policy, Bush administration officials have shaded the truth, spread lies and even threatened underlings who believed in a moral obligation to honesty.

As just one example, the chief Medicare actuary, Richard S. Foster, has said his supervisor, Thomas A. Scully (who recently joined an Atlanta-based law firm that lobbies on behalf of hospitals and drug companies), threatened to fire him if Mr. Foster revealed to Congress the true costs of the proposed prescription drug benefit for Medicare. While the administration was ramming the costly benefit through Congress - promising that its price would be no more than $400 billion over 10 years - Mr. Foster had calculated the actual costs at between $500 billion and $600 billion, figures the White House disclosed after the bill passed.

But there is no area that better demonstrates the Orwellian quality of the Bush administration - its insistence that black is white, up is down, war is peace - than its deceptions about Iraq. Testimony under oath before the 9/11 commission and the Iraq uprising make increasingly clear that the central underpinning of the president's re-election campaign - that he has conducted a tough-minded war on terror - stands the truth on its head.

In fact, ousting Saddam Hussein has been a costly diversion from the war on terror. The Bushites came into office obsessed with Mr. Hussein, and when they could find no evidence that he represented an immediate threat, they simply manufactured it.

Now, our troops are trapped in a quagmire. Osama bin Laden is still at large. And the occupation of Iraq cannot help but breed a new generation of terrorists: Every time U.S. soldiers hit a mosque with mortars or strafe a carful of civilians mistaken for insurgents, another dozen teen-age boys in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran become America-hating jihadists.

Mr. Bush and his underlings lie when there is no reason to. In response to Richard A. Clarke's charge that his administration didn't view the al-Qaida threat as urgent, the president might simply have agreed and apologized. Few Americans would hold him responsible for failing to anticipate an attack as evil in its creation and brazen in its execution as 9/11.

Besides, Mr. Bush had already admitted his failure to forecast the immediacy of the al-Qaida menace. In Bush at War, published last year, Bob Woodward quoted the president as saying he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about bin Laden before the attacks.

Nevertheless, the administration greeted Mr. Clarke's charges with character assassination and fabrications. Vice President Dick Cheney went on Rush Limbaugh's radio show to dismiss Mr. Clarke as "out of the loop," a characterization National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was forced to refute, since Mr. Clarke was at the center of the administration's anti-terrorism efforts.

The entire premise of the Bush presidency - that he is a man of principle, of honor, of candor - is crumbling. The chaos engulfing Iraq is not just the result of guileless miscalculations. It is the inevitable outcome of a policy built on mendacity.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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