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The history of rewriting history

Bishop Diego de Landa -- the 16th century book-burner at Mani in Yucatan,
Mexico -- would be proud of President Bush, who told veterans on Nov. 11
that while dissent is allowable, it is "deeply irresponsible to rewrite the
history of how the Iraq war began."

It is mind-boggling for this president to speak of rewriting history. More
than a debate over the rewriting of history, it once again appears to be a
debate over the meaning of words. Yet, regardless of how the words are
parsed, the president unquestionably rushed the nation into war on the
premise that a delay might result in mushroom clouds.

In his own defense, the president makes the claim that the Democrats were
also complicit in the war and that they also had access to the same faulty
intelligence as he. He also claims that virtually the whole world's
intelligence services also had drawn the same conclusions as the CIA: that
Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And finally, he continues to insist
that Iraq posed a threat to the United States and that the United Nations
gave lawful approval for the invasion.

The president is right on the first point. The Democratic leadership, for
the most part, has been complicit in the war, but it is not they who
created the intelligence or initiated the war. The president, on the other
hand, claims that his administration has been exonerated of manipulating
the intelligence. His counterterrorism official at the time, Richard
Clarke, said the president wanted to fix blame on Iraq immediately after
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- even when it was clear that it
was the work of Osama bin Laden. Additionally, the Downing Street memos are
clear that the intelligence would be fixed around the president's desire
for war.

It is clear that the misstatements continue. The president has not been
exonerated. Phase II of the Senate investigation, which is charged with
investigating whether the administration manipulated the pre-war
intelligence, has not even commenced. However, it is true that in the
1990s, many intelligence agencies around the world purportedly believed
that Iraq might be reconstituting its WMD programs. However, by 2001,
then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had already concluded that Iraq no
longer had that capability. Beyond that, U.N. weapons inspectors --
providing the most up-to-date intelligence -- had not found any evidence of
WMDs immediately before the U.S. invasion. To be certain, they asked for
more time; yet the president flatly refused.

The notion that the war was sanctioned by the United Nations is at best,
creative fiction. An argument can be made that the Senate, on the basis of
false intelligence, gave the president the authority to wage war. However,
the same cannot be said of the United Nations.

The United Nations was overwhelmingly opposed to the invasion. What the
president's allies allude to is the debate within the 15-member U.N.
Security Council. Yet even this body did not give the United States that
authority. What the administration has done, then and now, is resort to the
selective use of prior presidential findings, prior congressional and prior
U.N. resolutions, plus discredited intelligence and Saddam Hussein's old
and irrelevant sins -- to claim that the president had the lawful authority
to wage war against Iraq.

The president can make that convoluted argument. But neither he, nor his
administration (Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or former Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz) can claim that after Powell presented at the United
Nations, that the United Nations took a vote and expressly gave the United
States the authority to invade Iraq. Incidentally, Powell now regrets
giving that presentation.

In all this, it's true that Senate Democrats either cowered or were
snookered by the administration. But this does not mean that the president
wins the battle over truth.

In his recent Veteran's Day presentation, the president delineated the
parameters of what constitutes legitimate debate: You must agree with the
administration's version of its rationale for war, otherwise you are
lending aid and comfort to the enemy. Subsequently, his minions have been
busy repeating this mantra: Dissent is permissible, as long as you stay
within the bounds of legitimate debate. Agree with the president, or you
commit treason.

Incidentally, truth doesn't always win. De Landa is even more famous for
another reason. To this day, Western scholars consider him the foremost
authority on the Maya because after burning the Maya books, he wrote a book
on the Maya. Perhaps the president will also have a future rewriting U.S.
and Iraqi history books.

Along with Patrisia Gonzales, Roberto Rodriguez has been writing the Column
of the Americas since 1994. Rodriguez is pursuing an advanced degree on the
topic of origins/migrations and co-teaches, with Gonzales, a class on
Indigenous Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be
reached at