In today’s Wall Street Journal, former George W. Bush senior adviser Karl Rove writes that his “biggest mistake in the White House” was not defending his boss against accusations that he lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in order to get Congress and the American people to agree to go to war in Iraq. Rove rightly points out that many of the prominent Democrats who accused Bush of lying in the run-up to the 2004 elections had also said there were WMD in Iraq (though, to be fair, they were operating on information supplied to them by the White House — the type of thing you assume is usually safe to go by). Rove writes:
The attacks on Mr. Bush poisoned America’s political discourse. Saying the commander-in-chief intentionally lied America into war is about the most serious accusation that can be leveled at a president. The charge was false — and it opened the way for politicians in both parties to move the debate from differences over issues into ad hominem attacks.
At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration’s heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America’s enemies.
Of course, this is a much trickier issue than Rove would have you remember, one that is evaluated in depth in this 2003 essay that goes over many of Bush’s specific claims that turned out to be untrue. There’s also the famous question of whether Bush knew that a specific claim he made about Iraq buying yellowcake from Africa had been proven false a year before he stated it as fact in a State of the Union address.
Still, one is tempted to agree: It was a mistake for the White House not to more aggressively re-litigate whether or not it knowingly lied in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Pretty much everyone would have liked to know more about this specific issue, which left almost everybody on both sides looking bad.