Anyone who's ever tried to referee a squabble between two little children-especially a squabble of the "yes-you-did-no-I-didn't" variety-should appreciate how valuable it would be to have a written record of all that was actually said. By the nature of the case in a domestic quarrel, of course, that's a rarity.
What is neither rare nor inaccessible are the thousands of pages of written records of what was actually said by dozens of important people leading up to the war in Iraq. For our nation now to be consumed by an unending and escalating debate over whether our president lied to us about all this is itself childish. The transcripts of what he and others said are there. Why not look at them and settle the matter? As we wrap up 2005, can we as a society afford to spend 2006 debating a matter that can be resolved so simply?
It would be one thing, although still shameful, if it were only his Democratic opponents and the anti-war activist crowd who were engaged in such a relentless assault. But for the mainstream media to become the megaphones for the president's political enemies, rather than the clarifiers of recent historical fact, becomes more dismaying with each passing week.
Nowhere is the whole fiasco more vividly symbolized than in the terribly complex case involving the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who six weeks ago had to resign his position as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. The Libby case is pertinent because of how it grows out of an effort to prove that President Bush lied-specifically in a famous 16-word sentence in an address to Congress-and then that he and his staff tried to punish people who exposed his falsehood. What we know suggests that Mr. Bush told the truth, both literally and in the larger context, and that it is his accusers who have blatantly and repeatedly lied.
The Libby case has become so complex that even those who understand it don't. After spending two years and several million dollars of taxpayer money, about all the talented special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been able to prove-or even charge-is that a very busy Mr. Libby has a different memory about details and dates than some New York and Washington journalists have. The media, and their Democratic friends, love to call all this a "scandal"; but it's time for somebody to sketch out at least a framework and rationale for the deception that was supposedly taking place. The egg in the end is going to be on the faces of at least a few establishment journalists, and maybe some other surprising figures as well.
Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership heads frantically into 2006 hoping that no one will recall how specifically Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, William Cohen, Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Bob Graham, Hillary Clinton, Jay Rockefeller, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd-well, how many more do you want?-how specifically all these folks endorsed the same intelligence data they now say Mr. Bush falsified and agreed that Saddam Hussein posed a threat. If you have any doubt, read Norman Podhoretz's "Who Is Lying About Iraq?" in the December issue of Commentary magazine.
Mr. Podhoretz shows how even editorialists at The New York Times and The Washington Post were not so long ago singing a different tune. The Times, he says, was skeptical of bargaining with Saddam Hussein, saying it was "hard to negotiate with a tyrant who has no intention of honoring his commitments and who sees nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as his country's salvation."
The Post, meanwhile, said as Mr. Bush came to office in 2001 that "of all the booby traps left behind by the Clinton administration, none is more dangerous-or more urgent-than the situation in Iraq. Over the last year, Mr. Clinton and his team quietly avoided dealing with, or calling attention to, the almost complete unraveling of a decade's efforts to isolate the regime of Saddam Hussein and prevent it from building its weapons of mass destruction. That leaves President Bush to confront a dismaying panorama in the Persian Gulf [where] intelligence photos . . . show the reconstruction of factories long suspected of producing chemical and biological weapons."
It's one thing, I say, when little kids get into "yes-you-did-no-I-didn't" squabbles. It's another when politicians and journalists say things in black and white, and then pretend that they didn't.