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A childish response from the White House

by Leonard Pitts Jr. Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2004 at 12:33 PM
lpitts@herald.com (888) 251-4407

We pour treasure and blood into Iraq for reasons that are less supportable everyday. And when you ask the White House to explain, out comes the flag and the proclaimation, "Because I said so!"

A childish response ...
bob_gorrell_link.gif, image/png, 600x372



Tribune Media Services, 06/21/04

You always promised yourself you weren't going to say it.

You hated when it was said to you and you swore that, when you had children, you'd never say it to them. Then comes a day when the little monsters have you encircled like the wagon train in an old Western. Having been told they can't do whatever foolish or dangerous thing they had their hearts set on, they hit you with a whining litany: Why? Why? Why?

And before you know it, you hear yourself explode. "Why? Because I said so, that's why!"

It feels more satisfying than you'd have imagined, a forceful reminder that you're the parent and you don't have to explain.

George W. Bush had himself a moment like that last week while responding to the latest finding by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. No credible evidence of a tie between Iraq and Sept. 11 can be found, it said.

Yet when asked why he keeps insisting such a tie exists, the president said, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda."

In other words, there's a tie because he said so.

Bush followed that rather peevish performance by dancing a spiffy Macarena on a rhetorical tightrope, noting that his administration never explicitly said Iraq had a hand in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Which is true enough as far as it goes. But the administration never missed a chance to imply such a link. Just last year, the president told us that combat in Iraq "is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001."

Small wonder polls show that the American people believe Saddam Hussein somehow had a hand in the attacks. And even now Vice President Dick Cheney can't quite let it go. Asked directly on CNBC whether Iraq was involved in the atrocity, the best he could muster was, "We don't know."

Let's review, shall we?

In January of this year, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill accuses President Bush of having come into office intent on finding a rationale for invading Iraq. A White House official calls that "laughable."

In March, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke accuses the president of obsessively asserting an Iraqi connection to Sept. 11 for which there is no evidence. The White House describes him as incompetent and uninformed.

Now comes June, and a bipartisan commission - that means Republicans AND Democrats, folks - says that after reviewing U.S. and foreign intelligence, it can find no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. In response to which, Vice President Cheney accuses the media(!) of being "malicious," "irresponsible" and "lazy."

What does all this tell us? Beside the fact that the messenger better wear a bulletproof vest around these people, I mean?

Well, I can't put it any better than Clinton-era terrorism expert Daniel Benjamin, who was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying, "At this point, the White House position is just frankly bizarre. ... They're just repeating themselves rather than admit they were wrong."

Which is the most troubling aspect of this. I can accept that mistakes are made by competent people acting in good faith. What is impossible to accept is the stonewalling refusal to concede that mistakes were made or indeed were even possible. This is a White House that creates its own reality, that will insist till the end of days that white is black and right is left and smear you blind if you disagree.

Meantime, we pour treasure and blood into Iraq for reasons that seem more insubstantial and insupportable everyday. And when you ask the White House about it, it wraps itself in the flag and repeats the party line in a louder voice.

"Because I said so" may silence children, but we are not children. It's time the White House stopped treating us as if we were.

* * *

Leonard Pitts Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. He is a columnist for the Miami Herald, and the author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood.
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