Few things are more important to the success of any politician than the perception that his word is good.
During the 26 years that I served as a Congressman from Texas, a number of people supported me even though they did not agree with me on some issues. They would often say they voted for me because my word was good…they knew I was telling them the truth even when we disagreed.
President Bush may well be facing the single most important crisis of his presidency on the issue of potential nuclear weapons for Iran. And he may not enjoy popular support for actions he is considering because many in the public believe his word is not good.
Let’s take a long look at how President Bush has reached this point.
We all know that much of the intelligence he presented to Congress and the country as the rationale for invading Iraq turned out to be false. While this is disturbing to many people, this alone did not put him in his current predicament.
President Bush, in videotaped comments that have been widely broadcast, told the public that we were not spying on Americans without a search warrant. That, of course, turned out to be totally false when the New York Times disclosed that the president had authorized a special program bypassing the law requiring search warrants even in the case of national security.
The president then claimed that such action was justified by his inherent power as commander in chief but the fact remains that he had stated that he was following the Congressional statute when asked specifically about the war on terror.
Then there was the widely publicized presidential statement about the CIA leak investigation when he told the press that he would not tolerate leaking of classified material (the identify of CIA agent Valerie Plame) and would punish anyone found to be involved in such a leak. It turns out that Vice President Cheney and President Bush himself authorized the leaking of previously classified material in an effort to discredit the contention of Plame’s husband former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s that Saddam Hussein had not attempted to buy “yellow cake” from the country of Niger as stated by President Bush.
The Bush administration position was that President Bush specifically declassified portions of a National Intelligent Estimate (NIE) so that Cheney’s former chief of staff could leak the material.
And then there was the report in the April 12 Washington Post that the Bush administration had irrefutable intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have mobile biological weapons labs two days before the president said in 2003 that we had uncovered proof that such labs existed. The White House claims the President had sufficient intelligence to make this claim which they now admit turned out to be false.
There seems to be a pattern here. President Bush has shaded the truth in a way that makes former President Bill Clinton, who has been criticized by both friends and foes for not always being truthful, seem like the most honest man in town.
Why do I raise these issues of presidential credibility at this particular time? It is not to embarrass the president but rather to raise caution flags about what may happen if the president decides to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Presumably he would seek Congressional concurrence as he and his father both did prior to committing troops against Saddam Hussein. Members of Congress of both parties may be less inclined to accept the president’s word on why such action is necessary given his history of half-truths and misstatements about national security issues in the last five years.
Also, the public may be much more skeptical about what the president says in an effort to justify any potential military action. Polls show that public confidence in the president is at an all-time low and some of this undoubtedly is due to his questionable track record on leveling with the American public.
We want our president to succeed, particularly in matters of national security. A little more truth and a lot less fiction would go a long way toward restoring public confidence that the president’s word is good.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.