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Prevaricating POTUS

For some reason during this last weekend I got interested in the word “liar.”

Perhaps it had something to do with the first anniversary of the start of George W.’s Iraq War, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is that I’ve had the word in my vocabulary for some time and I seem to be invoking it a lot lately. So, concerned that I might not be using it appropriately, I decided to check this word out a bit further.

It appears that the word has been in the English language for some time. Its history goes back through the Middle English “liere” to the Old English “leogan.” So, in the evolution of English, “liar” may have etymological roots that stretch back to the fifth-century twilight of our language. During all that time the noun has consistently meant “one who lies.”

Since a liar is one who tells lies, one must immediately proceed to the word “lie” to further refine our understanding of how our language refers to the behavior. Lies and liars form a symbiotic relationship wherein each is dependent on the other for linguistic perpetuity. Lies continue to exist because there are liars, and liars continue to exist because lies are told.

So, what is a lie?

My little dictionary defines “lie” as “an untrue statement intended to deceive; falsehood.” It goes on with a second definition: “Anything that deceives or creates a false impression.” So, a lie is the opposite of the truth and involves the intent to deceive. Deceiving is defined by my worn dictionary as “to mislead by or as by falsehood; delude.” To delude is “to mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive.” This gets us back to deception, which is central to what constitutes a lie and how one might qualify to be rightfully called a “liar” in the correct linguistic sense of the term.

It’s certainly possible to make an untrue statement without having deception involved. This would be the case when someone has been misled to accept something as truth when it is not. So, not all untrue statements are lies if the speaker of such statements is misinformed or makes them without the intent to deceive and mislead.

During the Reagan administration, the tactic of “plausible deniability” flowered as an important means to provide cover for lies. As long as the president was insulated enough (through his own ignorance or the control of information by underlings) that he relied on the “truth” of others, he could claim absolution from fostering untruths: How can someone be a liar if he or she doesn’t know what the truth is?

On March 17, 2003, George W. addressed the nation just days before bombing Baghdad. He claimed, “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” He went on to argue that these weapons of mass destruction posed a direct and immediate threat to this country. He also claimed that Iraq was in league with Al Qaeda and likely to share WMD with the terrorist organization. These were the main reasons that George W. claimed that a preemptive attack on Iraq was necessary.

Over the last year, much research has been done on the formulation of George W.’s decision to attack Iraq. Along the way, U.S. forces in the country have (like their U.N. inspector predecessors) failed to find the WMD George W. claimed existed. Of course, the initial response of George W. was that the WMD were out there, they just hadn’t been found yet. This story has recently morphed into the claim that he led this country into war to liberate the people of Iraq.

As U.S. military and civilian deaths mount, along with the costs to U.S. taxpayers, there is a growing sense that George W. has been less than truthful in presenting the facts behind his war with Iraq. He has increasingly been labeled with the L-word. But is this justified?

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently produced a report that looked at these claims. Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq: Evidence and Implications raises serious questions about George W.’s main arguments for going to war. The report found that George W. and his administration had, “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile programs . . .” It also found that George W. and gang were “routinely dropping caveats, probabilities and expressions of uncertainty present in intelligence assessments from public statements.” According to the report, “There was no evidence to support the claim that Iraq would have transferred WMD to Al Qaeda and much evidence to counter it.”

The Carnegie report is but one example of a growing volume of evidence indicating George W. was not truthful with the American people regarding the immediacy of the need for war with Iraq. But does that make him a liar?

Well, let’s get back to our simple definitions. First, did George W. lie, did he intentionally deceive the public with untruths? The answer to this question appears to be yes. From his own statements, it is clear that George W. deceptively manipulated information to make his case for war. He has not claimed that he was misled by underlings or that lack of personal intelligence led him to faulty reasoning in this decision to go to war. He lied and apparently lied big time.

So, is George W. a liar? As one who has used untruths to deceive, delude and mislead it appears that he fits the definition. George W. Bush is a liar.

As a candidate, George W. claimed that his mission was to restore honor and integrity to the office of president. Ironically, his willingness to lie in order to go to war with Iraq shows that another mission George W. deemed critical to his administration has dramatically failed.

—Tom Nattell

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