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It's All Coming Apart in Their Hands

Right now America is going through an Orwellian moment. On
both the foreign policy and the fiscal fronts, the Bush
administration is trying to rewrite history, to explain
away its current embarrassments. -Paul Krugman
February 6, 2004

Right now America is going through an Orwellian moment. On
both the foreign policy and the fiscal fronts, the Bush
administration is trying to rewrite history, to explain
away its current embarrassments.

Let's start with the case of the missing W.M.D. Do you
remember when the C.I.A. was reviled by hawks because its
analysts were reluctant to present a sufficiently alarming
picture of the Iraqi threat? Your memories are no longer
operative. On or about last Saturday, history was revised:
see, it's the C.I.A.'s fault that the threat was
overstated. Given its warnings, the administration had no
choice but to invade.

A tip from Joshua Marshall, of www.talkingpointsmemo.com,
led me to a stark reminder of how different the story line
used to be. Last year Laurie Mylroie published a book
titled "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the C.I.A. and the State
Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror." Ms. Mylroie's
book came with an encomium from Richard Perle; she's known
to be close to Paul Wolfowitz and to Dick Cheney's chief of
staff. According to the jacket copy, "Mylroie describes how
the C.I.A. and the State Department have systematically
discredited critical intelligence about Saddam's regime,
including indisputable evidence of its possession of
weapons of mass destruction."

Currently serving intelligence officials may deny that they
faced any pressure - after what happened to Valerie Plame,
what would you do in their place? - but former officials
tell a different story. The latest revelation is from
Britain. Brian Jones, who was the Ministry of Defense's top
W.M.D. analyst when Tony Blair assembled his case for war,
says that the crucial dossier used to make that case didn't
reflect the views of the professionals: "The expert
intelligence experts of the D.I.S. [Defense Intelligence
Staff] were overruled." All the experts agreed that the
dossier's claims should have been "carefully caveated";
they weren't.

And don't forget the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans,
created specifically to offer a more alarming picture of
the Iraq threat than the intelligence professionals were
willing to provide.

Can all these awkward facts be whited out of the historical
record? Probably. Almost surely, President Bush's
handpicked "independent" commission won't investigate the
Office of Special Plans. Like Lord Hutton in Britain - who
chose to disregard Mr. Jones's testimony - it will brush
aside evidence that intelligence professionals were
pressured. It will focus only on intelligence mistakes, not
on the fact that the experts, while wrong, weren't nearly
wrong enough to satisfy their political masters. (Among
those mentioned as possible members of the commission is
James Woolsey, who wrote one of the blurbs for Ms.
Mylroie's book.)

And if top political figures have their way, there will be
further rewriting to come. You may remember that Saddam
gave in to U.N. demands that he allow inspectors to roam
Iraq, looking for banned weapons. But your memories may
soon be invalid. Recently Mr. Bush said that war had been
justified because Saddam "did not let us in." And this
claim was repeated by Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the
Senate Intelligence Committee: "Why on earth didn't
[Saddam] let the inspectors in and avoid the war?"

Now let's turn to the administration's other big
embarrassment, the budget deficit.

The fiscal 2005 budget report admits that this year's
expected $521 billion deficit belies the rosy forecasts of
2001. But the report offers an explanation: stuff happens.
"Today's budget deficits are the unavoidable result of the
revenue erosion from the stock market collapse that began
in early 2000, an economy recovering from recession and a
nation confronting serious security threats." Sure, the
administration was wrong - but so was everyone.

The trouble is that accepting that excuse requires
forgetting a lot of recent history. By February 2002, when
the administration released its fiscal 2003 budget, all of
the bad news - the bursting of the bubble, the recession,
and, yes, 9/11 - had already happened. Yet that budget
projected only a $14 billion deficit this year, and a
return to surpluses next year. Why did that forecast turn
out so wrong? Because administration officials fudged the
facts, as usual.

I'd like to think that the administration's crass efforts
to rewrite history will backfire, that the media and the
informed public won't let officials get away with this.
Have we finally had enough?

E-mail:  krugman@nytimes.com