What Liberal Comparisons between Bush-Cheney and Trump Get WrongRoundup
tags: Republican Party, conservatism, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Iraq War, neoconservatives, Middle East history
Joseph Stieb is a postdoctoral fellow at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at the Ohio State University. He is the author of The Regime Change Consensus: Iraq in American Politics, 1990-2003.
On May 13, House Republicans removed Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) from their leadership for her criticism of the GOP’s continued obeisance to Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election. Far from backing down, in a May 5 op-ed, Cheney accused Trump of fueling the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection with his lies and undermining “confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law,” critical foundations of a constitutional democracy. She called on her fellow Republicans to reject the “anti-democratic Trump cult of personality” — a message she has echoed in subsequent media appearances.
Many liberal or leftist critics have offered halting praise for Cheney’s stance while accusing her of having a selective memory. The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, for one, held that Cheney’s father, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, “created the template for Trump’s Big Lie” with his own “Big Lie about the Iraq War.” Dowd argued that Liz Cheney, from her “patronage perch” at the State Department, “cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.” For Dowd, Trumpism is a continuation of Cheneyism: “Trump built a movement based on lies. The Cheneys showed him how it’s done.”
But this type of assessment represents bad history. This narrative distorts the historical record and erases the distinction between President George W. Bush’s flawed and misleading attempts to prove that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Trump’s outright and continued fabrications about the 2020 election, among thousands of other untruths. Not differentiating between them only inhibits American democracy’s recovery from the Trump years.
The Bush administration’s approach to WMD in Iraq was driven by the certainty that Hussein had to be removed as well as a broad consensus that he possessed some WMD and was seeking more. This combination led to a distorted fact-gathering process molded to achieve the desired conclusion. As one British liaison to the United States concluded in 2002, “Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of regime change.
The Bush team inflated and distorted evidence on Iraq-WMD in several ways. One method was creating alternative intelligence-gathering bodies, including an office at the Defense Department that funneled poorly vetted information supporting the case that Iraq had WMD directly to top policymakers, bypassing more skeptical professional analysts. Another method was to interrogate, if not harangue, analysts who cast skepticism on Iraq-WMD claims. Eventually, as numerous analysts recalled, intelligence experts stifled their reservations and provided the administration the material they wanted.
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