Letter to Senator Nelson on Pre-War Lies
716 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Saturday, December 20th 2003
Dear Senator Nelson,
I was very interested to read the report in Florida Today in which you implied that an administration official lied to you and other Senators in a closed intelligence briefing in October 2002. This answers some questions about your vote to authorize the war in Iraq, while it raises others on your votes to continue funding it.
The University of Maryland PIPA polls on public attitudes to the war have consistently found a high correlation between support for the war and the kind of misperceptions you describe. Their most recent poll, published on November 13th, found that, like you, most Americans now realize that the President and other members of his administration lied to them to elicit support for the war. So, is it worse to lie to Senators in a closed briefing than to the whole world in televised speeches? More importantly, what has happened to our country that we find ourselves asking such questions?
You told Florida Today, “If that is an intelligence failure…we better find that out so we don’t have an intelligence failure in the future”. This begs the question, what kind of intelligence would protect our country from a president who is willing to lie to us in order to start a war? Ultimately, only our own education can empower us to recognize such lies, and only the unequivocal dissent of public figures can alert the general public to the nature of such a crisis.
I believe that a profound skepticism toward the foreign policy goals and methods of this administration was warranted from the outset. Many of its senior members had unabashedly made their radical views public through the Project for the New American Century and Mr. Rumsfeld’s partisan review of missile defense, which was drafted to undermine the Pentagon’s own objective report. In unguarded moments, George W. Bush thinks and speaks like a mobster (“Fuck Saddam. We’re gonna take him down.” “International law? I better call my lawyer”), and his first eight months in office were characterized by broken treaties and alienated allies until the world rallied around us in the wake of September 11th. It is one of the persistent lessons of history that it is a short step from chauvinist ideology and the violation of international treaties to outright aggression supported by cynical propaganda.
Public support for the war in Iraq and passive acceptance of Mr. Bush’s lies have not come about in a vacuum. They have been conditioned by the assent of leaders like you that has conveyed an air of normality or “business as usual” to what might otherwise be considered a national crisis. And you and your colleagues have encouraged the public to embrace President Bush’s irresponsible assumption that a half-a-trillion-dollar defense budget and neo-colonial wars can stop terrorism, while they are actually making it endemic and intractable.
I think it is worth considering how the public would have responded, or might still respond, if the Democratic delegation in the U.S. Congress were to unite around the proposition that this state of affairs is not acceptable. At this point, this would mean conducting no further business in the House or Senate until the sovereignty of Iraq is restored, under U.N. authority, not as a self-serving strategy but as a matter of international legality. The media would at first portray this as some kind of stunt, but as respected members of the Democratic Party, and even some Republicans (Jim Leach?), explained their position, I think people would start questioning their present acceptance of otherwise unacceptable conduct. And what about those polls and presidential approval ratings? They are based on the false sense of security that your conduct of “business as usual” conveys, so what do you think would happen to them?
But, then again, maybe you actually find all this acceptable. You were lied to; Iraq was invaded (with your approval, however obtained); Valerie Plame was outed as a spy; the occupation of Iraq is becoming more vicious, the violence on both sides more indiscriminate; our country is sinking further into debt; terrorism is spreading; long-term problems are accumulating unattended; and we’re losing our friends in an increasingly interdependent world. I guess it’s up to each one of us to decide what is unacceptable and what is normal or manageable. It’s just that, ultimately, what you decide will probably make more difference to the world than what I decide, so I hope that you will give this some thought.