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On legitimacy, lies, and the war in Iraq

Popular assent and legitimacy are essential to a government of the people,
by the people, and for the people. When those who sit in positions of
governmental authority severely violate the trust that the people have
placed in them, the legitimacy of their leadership begins to collapse, as
the assent of the people is withdrawn.

Recently, the truth has begun to emerge about President George W. Bush's
invasion of Iraq, and Bush's popularity had declined substantially since
the '04 election. In a recent poll, for example, Bush's overall approval
rating stood at 42 percent, and 52 percent of those polled said they do not
believe the war in Iraq has made the United States safer.

Other factors, such as the economy and social security, may account for the
sharp decline in Bush's popularity, but the one factor that may ultimately
prove to be the undoing of Bush's presidency before the end of his second
term is the fact that the president illegally invaded Iraq based on lies.

By his decision, Bush has caused more than 1,741 U.S. troops to lose their
lives (though some conjecture that if we factor in the deaths of wounded
soldiers who later died, the toll may be closer to 8,000), while causing an
estimated 15,000 - 38,000 U.S. soldiers to be wounded, many of them
horribly maimed and disfigured. At the same time, Bush's invasion of Iraq
has caused an estimated 100,000 Iraqis to be killed, while providing the
catalyst for an unrestrained Iraqi insurgency. The United States has
already expended over $200 billion on Bush's illegal war, and more will be
spent.

The principal reason given by Bush for invading Iraq is that Saddam Hussein
was harboring weapons of mass destruction. The world was told that these
weapons could be used against Iraq's neighbors in the Middle East, and that
they posed a direct threat to the United States.

But a number of top-secret British memos - known as the "Downing Street
memos" - leaked in recent weeks to a reporter at the London Sunday Times,
reveal that Bush knew full well that Saddam had no weapons of mass
destruction. The memos are minutes taken by the head of Britain's MI6, the
British equivalent of the CIA - reveal that Bush's invasion of Iraq was
illegal.

The British memos are certainly backed up by the past comments of at least
two of Bush's principal advisors. In February 2001, for example,
then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Saddam "has not developed
any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction ...
he is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

In May 2001, Powell testified before a subcommittee of the Senate
Appropriations Committee. On that occasion, Powell said of Saddam: "The
Iraqi regime militarily remains fairly weak. It doesn't have the capability
it had 10 or 12 years ago. It has been contained. And even though we have
no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop
weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear - I think
the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly
successful."

On July 29, 2001, Condoleeza Rice was interviewed on CNN's "Late Edition
with Wolf Blitzer." When asked by guest host John King about Saddam, Rice
responded: "Let's remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does
not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from
him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."

Forty-four days after Rice made the above assessment, the World Trade
Center' and the Pentagon were attacked. In the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world,
the Bush administration's assessment of Saddam shifted and the Iraqi
dictator was then deemed to possess weapons of mass destruction. For
example, Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002, "Simply stated,
there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
In March 2003, Bush remarked, "Intelligence gathered by this and other
governments leaves no doubt that the Iraqi regime continues to possess and
conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

In April 2003, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer stated: "But make no
mistake - as I said earlier - we have high confidence that they have
weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war is all about."

In February 2003, Powell reversed the assessment he made in 2001 by saying:
"We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass
destruction, is determined to make more." In a presentation before the
United Nations, Powell claimed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction
and that those weapons posed a threat to the world community, and to the
security of the United States.

Yet the "Downing Street memos" make it abundantly clear that Bush knew, as
did British intelligence, that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
and that Saddam had had nothing whatsoever to do with the United States
being attacked on 9/11. Now that the secret British memos have come to
light, the future of the Bush administration may very well hang in the
balance.

More and more of the American people, it would seem, are becoming wise to
fact that Bush has senselessly squandered tens of thousands of human lives
and needlessly expended tens of billions of dollars. Add the torture
scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay without
being charged or put on trial, as well as the United States' forced
rendition of "ghost" prisoners to other countries to be tortured: and we
see that the Bush administration has run the nation's credibility into the
gutter.

On June 18 Bush once again repeated his refrain. The United States was
forced to invad Iraq because of the attacks on the United States on 9/11:
"We went to war because we were attacked ..."

Yet, in his recent article "Why George Went To War," investigative reporter
and essayist Russell Baker revealed that Bush "was thinking about invading
Iraq in 1999" when he was interviewed by author and Houston Chronicle
journalist Mickey Herskowitz.

As Baker reported, Bush was of the opinion "that no president could be
truly successful without one military 'win' under his belt." Baker
concluded: "Today, as public doubts over the Iraq invasion grow, and with
the Downing Street papers adding substance to those doubts, the Herskowitz
inverviews [of Bush] assume singular importance by providing profound
insight into what motivated Bush - personally - in the days and weeks
following 9/11. Those interviews introduce us to a George W. Bush who,
until 9/11, had no means for becoming 'a great president' - because he had
no easy path to war."

Too bad that no one taught young George that true greatness can never be
achieved through lies and human carnage.

Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is Indigenous Law Research Coordinator at
Kumeyaay Community College, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous
Law Institute, and an award-wining columnist for Indian Country Today.