- By Peter FeaverPeter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.
My former White House colleague Pete Wehner has taken up the gauntlet thrown by the provocative leftwing pundit David Corn. Corn listed a number of what he claimed to be unambiguous lies by President Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war and he dared, and then double-dared, anyone to rebut them.
I am not a completely independent observer — Wehner is a friend and I reviewed his response in draft — but to my eyes he does a careful and thorough job of demolishing Corn’s critique. Of particular value is Wehner’s painstaking effort to show how Corn’s critique involves cherry-picking intelligence quotes out of context that suit his thesis and ignoring the broad conclusions of those cherry-picked reports or the broader-still findings of the 2002 NIE on Iraqi WMD.
I don’t for a minute think that Wehner has put the matter to rest once and for all, however. Even though he convincingly shows that each of Corn’s major claims rests on a distortion or outright falsehood, in my experience this business is very much like playing whack-a-mole. The purveyors of the "Bush lied" myth never admit that they have made false claims and never concede when you show their charges to be false. They simply shift the focus a bit and say, "but what about this" and raise a whole new episode.
Nevertheless, I think Wehner has done a service in "re-litigating the past." Democracy flourishes best when there is a healthy marketplace of ideas and the propagation of conspiracy theory myths — whether it be the "Bush lied" myths or the "9/11 truther" myths or what-have-you — has a corrosive effect on that marketplace.
Finally, as Wehner himself acknowledges, exposing the myth of "Bush lied" does not whitewash the Iraq story, the truth of which is sobering and painful enough. Some of the key premises on which the Bush administration based the 2002-2003 Iraq policy turned out to be wrong. And the conduct of the war had its share of problems. I think most experienced Bush hands would agree that the administration did not adapt fast enough to the evolving Iraqi insurgency. There are plenty of hard lessons for current and future administrations in the truth about Iraq. There is no need for the policy community to be mired in debating untruths.