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Richard Cohen

Hold Bush Accountable

By Richard Cohen
Thursday, October 28, 2004; Page A25

I do not write the headlines for my columns. Someone else does. But if I were to write the headline for this one, it would be "Impeach George Bush."

Of course, I realize there's no chance Congress would impeach the president at this point or under almost any circumstance. It somehow reserves its outrage for lying about sex under oath and not, as now seems clear, the making of war under false pretenses. Say what you will about Bill Clinton, no one died in the White House pantry.

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The same cannot be said in the larger sense about George Bush. Well over 1,000 Americans and countless more Iraqis have died because the president insisted on going to war. I know I should grieve for the Iraqi dead as much as I do the Americans, but I simply don't. It is the Americans -- those names I read almost every day, the hometowns, the lives I conjure up for them, the hideous moments of death -- who would make up every one of my articles of impeachment. I would read every name from the well of the House.

I do not hold George Bush accountable for believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I have talked with senior administration officials who opposed the war and they, too, thought Hussein had chemical and biological weapons -- but not nuclear ones. By the time Bush had firmly decided to go to war, all in Washington knew Hussein's nuclear weapons program consisted of a wish. Even Vice President Cheney had to know that, but the truth does not matter to him. In a long career as a Cold Warrior, he morphed into the enemy: The end justifies the means.

In his forthcoming book on the Crusades, "Fighting for Christendom," Christopher Tyerman of Oxford University argues, "There existed no strategic or material interest for the knights of the west" to invade the Muslim east and try to wrest Jerusalem from Islam. "Consequently, the Christian wars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the Near East provide startling testimony to the power of ideas."

I cite this book for a reason. You will remember that early on Bush referred to the war against terrorism as a "crusade." The word, though, was too freighted with Christian-Muslim conflict, and Bush quickly backed down. But, really, he was speaking the truth. Just as the original Crusades were a form of mass madness, so was this one when it was extended to Iraq. It came, as did the original one, out of the bonnet of a leader: Bush this time, Pope Urban II in 1095 -- and it swept everything before it. Congress lent its approval and so, significantly, did the media (myself included). The failure of leadership was across the board. The events of Sept. 11 were as emotionally wrenching to us as the Muslim capture of Jerusalem was to medieval Christians.

My peripatetic colleague Dana Milbank recently reported on a poll showing that 72 percent of Bush's supporters believe Iraq did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction and that 75 percent believed Hussein gave al Qaeda "substantial support." These beliefs are false, in contradiction of the facts, and even Bush, when pressed, has admitted that. But these beliefs did not arise out of nowhere. They are a direct consequence of the administration's repeated lies -- lies of commission, such as Cheney's statements, and lies of omission, the appalling failure to correct wrongly held views.

Not since the Spanish-American War has the United States gone off to war so casually, so half-cocked and so ineptly. The sinking of the Maine, the casus belli for that dustup, has been replaced by missing weapons of mass destruction, and the Hearst and Pulitzer presses are now talk radio and Fox News Channel. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. Still, though, we mourn the dead, look away from the wounded and maimed, and wonder what it was all about. We embarked, truly and regrettably, on a crusade.

Yet from Bush comes not a bleep of regret, not to mention apology. It is all "steady as she goes" -- although we have lost our bearings and we no longer know our destination. (Don't tell me it's a democratic Middle East.) If the man were commanding a ship, he would be relieved of command. If he were the CEO of some big company, the board would offer him a golden parachute -- and force him to jump. But in government, it's the people who make those decisions. We get our chance on Tuesday.

Impeach Bush.

cohenr@washpost.com


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