Adolf Hitler (search) once observed that it was easier to convince people of a "big lie" repeated often enough than it was to deceive them with a lot of small ones.
In their frenzied bid to displace President Bush in 2004, leading Democrats have evidently taken to heart this tip from one of the world's most successful propagandists.
It is ironic that the big lie now being disseminated with increasing frequency from Democratic political podiums across the country is that George W. Bush is a liar. Specifically, the charge is that he dissembled, misled, prevaricated and even lied about the justification for going to war with Iraq earlier this year.
Just yesterday, variations on this theme were pronounced by two prominent Democratic partisans -- the party's 2000 standard-bearer, former Vice President Al Gore (search), and a leading contender to become its next nominee, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search).
The former enumerated a list of false "impressions" President Bush and his subordinates used to justify going to war and to allay concerns about the repercussions of doing so.
Mr. Gore contended that the Bush team had misrepresented the danger Saddam posed, exaggerating the imminence of the threat, making false claims of ties between the Al Qaeda (search) network that attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001 and offering pollyannish assessments of the welcome we would receive from the Iraqi people and the support we would enjoy from the rest of the world once Iraq was liberated. He told a gathering of the anti-war activist group MoveOn.org (search), "Now, of course, everybody knows that every single one of these impressions was just dead wrong."
Gov. Dean was even more strident in a speech he delivered last night in Iowa. As part of a wide-ranging critique of the Bush presidency, he enumerated what he described as a number of administration statements concerning the need for military action against Iraq that "turned out not to be true." Then he pledged that, if elected president, he would "never send our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters and our parents to a foreign country to die without being truthful with the American people about why they're going there."
There is just one problem with such charges. They are not true.
President Bush did not lie to the American people about the reasons that prompted him to believe liberating Iraq was a necessary step. Rather, he and his subordinates laid out a compelling case on the basis of what was known at the time -- and, in those areas where we could not be absolutely certain of the facts, what were the best and most prudent judgments available.
Specifically, the Bush administration told the American people that Saddam Hussein (search) had weapons of mass destruction (search) -- a view formally espoused, by the way, by the United Nations, bipartisan majorities in Congress and by then-Vice President Al Gore's superior, President Bill Clinton (search). The precise whereabouts of those weapons today is still under active investigation by a forensic team led by one of the best experts in the field, David Kay (search). It may be some time before they are unearthed, perhaps literally, from the sands of Iraq (as have been Saddam's air force and components of his nuclear centrifuge program).
The likelihood that such weapons will be found in due course has prompted few of the president's critics -- even those who contend he misled us about the quality of these weapons and/or their availability for use -- to declare they aren't there.
A particularly egregious example of the big lie is the endlessly repeated contention that President Bush misled the American people in his State of the Union address (search). In fact, what he said on that occasion was true. There was abundant reason to believe that Saddam Hussein was bent on rebuilding his nuclear weapons program; Iraq was scouring the world for technology, expertise and materials to do just that.
In his annual address, Mr. Bush correctly noted that British intelligence believed -- as it happens, on the basis of myriad sources it deems credible (and not a forged document in U.S. possession) -- that this effort included attempts to buy uranium (search) in Africa. The British government continues to stand by that assessment. It would have been irresponsible to ignore such evidence in assessing the need for preventive action.
The President was also correct in characterizing Saddam's regime as one with long-standing ties to international terrorist organizations (search). This was similarly a matter of record, as reflected in Iraq's status as an official "state-sponsor of terror" under successive American administrations. Abu Nidal (search) lived for years in Baghdad; Yasser Arafat (search), his and other Palestinian terror organizations and the families of their suicide bombers garnered millions of dollars in support from Saddam; and individuals and groups linked to al Qaeda were known to have operated from Iraqi territory.
Interestingly, a U.S.federal judge who has been working for the past few months in Iraq told Al Gore's hometown paper, The Tennessean, recently that -- on the basis of his own investigation into the matter -- he was convinced Saddam actually had direct ties as well to Usama bin Laden's (search) organization.
The truth is that, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush felt obliged to prevent a known state-sponsor of terror with access to weapons of mass destruction and an oft-stated desire to exact revenge against this country from acting on that desire, through cut-outs or otherwise, with instruments capable of causing incalculable damage to this country.
As to the question of what would come as and after Iraq was liberated, no one could say for certain. But those who speculated that large numbers of Iraqis would welcome the end of Saddam Hussein's despotic rule and that foreign governments would help in the reconstruction of Iraq have not been wrong. Indeed, it is a gross distortion to suggest otherwise, simply because some of those who benefitted from the ancien regime remain loyal to it and a number of countries are withholding assistance to the Iraqi people in the hopes of blackmailing the United States into acceding to a preeminent U.N. role in post-war Iraq.
In short, far from lying about Iraq, President Bush has done an admirable job not only of characterizing what was at stake, but in acting accordingly. The partisan motives of those who must discredit his wartime leadership if they are to have any chance of removing him from office are clear. But it is they who are guilty of serial distortion and misrepresentation -- yes, a big lie -- about Iraq, not this President.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy.