By Michael Barone
Official reports issued the last two weeks have conclusively refuted those who have been arguing that "BUSH LIED" about the dangers from Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction programs. The first report was that of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That committee has been rent by partisan divisions over the last year, but the report was unanimous.
One prime conclusion of the report is that American intelligence organizations, like those of every other major country, did indeed believe that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction and had ongoing WMD programs. That intelligence seems to have been mistaken.
But given Saddam Hussein's documented development, possession and use of WMDs, and his refusal to account for their disposal, what intelligence evidence could have convinced a reasonable analyst that he no longer had them?
As the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon -- a frequent Bush critic -- puts it, "It would have taken an overwhelming body of evidence for any reasonable person in 2002 to think that Saddam did not possess stockpiles of chemical and biological agents."
So Bush was justified in relying on the intelligence. And "the committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities."
So much for the wild charges that Bush manipulated intelligence and lied about weapons of mass destruction. He simply said what was believed by every informed person -- including leading members of the Clinton administration before 2001 and Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards in their speeches in October 2002 supporting military action in Iraq.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report also refuted completely the charges by former diplomat Joseph Wilson that the Bush administration ignored his conclusion, based on several days in Niger, that Iraq had not sought to buy uranium in that country.
Democrats and many in the press claimed that Wilson refuted the 16-word sentence in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, noting that British intelligence reported that Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa.
But British intelligence stands by that finding, and the committee noted that Wilson confirmed that Iraq had approached Niger, whose main exports are uranium and goats, and intelligence analysts concluded that his report added nothing else to their previous knowledge. And the report flatly denied Wilson's statements that his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, had nothing to do with his mission to Niger -- it quotes Plame's memo taking credit for the appointment.
The report issued last week in Britain by former civil servant Lord Butler reaches similar conclusions. It finds that Prime Minister Tony Blair did not pressure intelligence organizations to change their findings and that there was no "deliberate distortion" of intelligence or "culpable negligence." It supported the conclusion of British intelligence that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa.
All this is significant because for the past year most leading Democrats and many in the determinedly anti-Bush media have been harping on the "BUSH LIED" theme. Their aim clearly has been to discredit and defeat Bush. The media continue to fight this battle: contrast the way The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times front-paged the Wilson charges last year with the way they're downplaying the proof that Wilson lied deep inside the paper this year.
Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has argued that George W. Bush has transformed American foreign policy, in response to the threat of Islamist terrorism, more than any president since Harry Truman transformed our foreign policy in response to the threat of aggressive communism.
But there is one big difference. In the late 1940s, Truman got bipartisan support from Republicans like Arthur Vandenberg and Thomas Dewey, even at a time when there were bitter differences between the parties on domestic policy, and received generally sympathetic treatment in the press. This time, George W. Bush has encountered determined opposition from most Democrats and the old-line media. They have charged that "BUSH LIED" even when he relied on the same intelligence as they did; they have headlined wild and spurious charges by the likes of Joseph Wilson; they have embraced the wild-eyed propaganda of the likes of Michael Moore.
They have done these things with, at best, reckless disregard of the effect their arguments have had on American strength in the world. Are they entitled to be taken seriously?
Michael Barone is a senior writer for U.S.News & World Report.