I have listened with weary amazement to conservative pundits crying “Liar, liar! Pants on fire!” in the wake of revelations about the Jonathan Gruber video. Gruber is the MIT economics professor who was paid by the Obama administration in 2009 to help design the laws that became Obamacare. Videos of various speeches he has given reveal that he and the politicians pushing Obamacare deliberately hid their underlying agenda to create a new health care tax in the guise of a law requiring healthy people to buy overpriced insurance they didn’t need. In other words, they lied—something heretofore unheard of in the sunny uplands of American legislative politics. In the words of Captain Renault, the GOP House caucus is “shocked, shocked,” to know that obfuscation for political gain is going on in Washington.
The obvious problem with this complaint is that the American people didn’t vote on and pass Obamacare; their duly elected representatives did. Regardless whether any of them chose to read it, there is not one iota of the law that was not published and put before legislators’ eyes before they voted on it. The concept of the individual mandate—along with the fee for noncompliance—was formally disclosed in the “discussion draft” of the bill published by Speaker Pelosi in June 2009, more than four months before the final vote. Laws may be enacted in a hodgepodge of haste and hurry, and Obamacare certainly was, but they are not enacted in secret.
Obamacare has been on the books and available for study by anyone who cared to read it, lo these past five years. When Justice John Roberts did exactly that and concluded that the individual mandate was, in fact, a “tax,” there was no hew and cry that this was a horrifying revelation as to how the law truly works. Yet, as the wails of “O, the humanity!” continue to rise from the smokestacks at Fox News over Jonathan Gruber’s dissembling now caught on tape, the giant granddaddy whopper lie of all time—one that, unlike Obamacare, has resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands and a trillion dollars (with a “T”) in needless spending—continues to underwhelm everyone on the Republican right. Everyone, that is, with one recent and notable exception.
One sentence in the November 12, 2014 column by conservative and Republican apologist George Will caught my eye. Even those who don’t share Will’s view of the world would be quick to admit that he is a smart man and an astute political observer. The Pulitzer Prize Committee certainly thinks so, as does his employer, The Washington Post. I’ve had my own doubts about Will’s powers of perception ever since he predicted that Mitt Romney would win with 321 electoral votes, but I have never doubted Will’s loyalty to the Republican cause. That’s why his recent statement surprised me. Two days ago, Will described President George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq as “the worst foreign policy decision in U. S. history.”
Unpacking that remark would take some time, because that’s a lot of history to unpack. Worse than Yalta. Worse than the Bay of Pigs. Worse than the Gulf of Tonkin. But as the current imbroglio in the Middle East so tragically demonstrates, the decision by President Bush to invade Iraq is the gift that keeps on giving. The travesty of the Iraq War and its bloody, chaotic aftermath is that it was justified, solely and entirely, on an utter fabrication about the presence of, and imminent threat posed by, weapons of mass destruction. For proof of this enormously consequential lie, we need look no further than the book written by the man who sold it to the American people, their elected representatives, the UN and the world: General Colin Powell. In a portion of his memoir, It Worked for Me (Harper Collins, 2012), excerpted in Newsweek, Colin Powell made these startling admissions, which should shock and awe everyone a lot more than Jonathan Gruber’s flaming underwear:
My infamous speech at the U.N. in 2003 about Iraqi WMD programs was not based on facts, though I thought it was.
The Iraqis were reported to have biological-agent production facilities mounted in mobile vans. I highlighted the vans in my speech, having been assured that the information about their existence was multiple-sourced and solid. After the speech, the mobile-van story fell apart—they didn’t exist. A pair of facts then emerged that I should have known before I gave the speech. One, our intelligence people had never actually talked to the single source—nicknamed Curveball—for the information about the vans, a source our intelligence people considered flaky and unreliable. (They should have had several sources for their information.) Two, based on this and other information no one passed along to me, a number of senior analysts were unsure whether or not the vans existed, and they believed Curveball was unreliable. They had big don’t knows that they never passed on. Some of these same analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I had relied on such deeply flawed evidence. . . . Yes, the evidence was deeply flawed. . . . The leader can’t be let off without blame in these situations. He too bears a burden. He has to relentlessly cross-examine the analysts until he is satisfied he’s got what they know and has sanded them down until they’ve told him what they don’t know.
That’s right, folks. We went to war on the strength of a tip no one bothered to check out from a guy named “curveball.” Just let that one sink in for a moment. And to think Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” I’m no master spy, but even I would have qualms about launching the Sixth Fleet because “curveball” told me so. Whoever in the CIA gave him that handle probably thought he was sending a pretty clear signal to be wary of the information this dude was pitching. Next time, maybe try “screwball.”
None of this story about Bush and Powell and the decision to invade Iraq is news, but it continues to reverberate in today’s headlines about ISIL and the crushing loss of so much of what Americans fought and died trying to build over there. The vaunted surge for which Bush is given much undeserved credit worked, but only in the sense that the little boy’s finger in the dike worked. Eventually the finger—and the troops—have to come out, and what we’re witnessing today is the breaking of the dam and the flood of Islamic extremism unleashed by the chaos Bush created.
With the civilization that was once Iraq now collapsing in flames and the mothers of 5,000 dead American service men and women left to wonder for what lasting purpose their children were sacrificed in that faraway land, you might think that the supreme architect of the Iraq War would be having some second thoughts. And you would be wrong.
A laughing, cheerful, and ever clueless George W. Bush recently took time out of his busy schedule of oil painting and ALS ice bucket challenges to appear for a laughing and cheerful interview with Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation. Asked whether he had any regrets over the decision to invade Iraq, Bush said (and I am not making this up), “I think it was the right decision.” He went on to say that he fully supports the decision of his brother Jeb to run for president and intends to be a part of the campaign. What can anyone say of this, except that all of us should be deeply troubled by any candidate who has George W. Bush in his brain trust.
If Americans feel they were fed a bunch of baloney about Obamacare, they can repeal it and restore the status quo. That’s the way laws are made and unmade. Unfortunately, we can’t restore the thousands of lives and limbs that were squandered in what Maureen Dowd so aptly described as “that baloney war.” (c) 2014 M. C. Hurley