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Lying and Incompetence
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From Bill Maher's latest show, an interview with Richard Perle. And Maher says he supports the results of the Iraq War, but objects to two things:

MAHER: Okay, well, listen, you are certainly one of the main architects of the plan to free the Middle East by going into Iraq. And I have to tell you I have taken an awful lot of guff from my liberal friends like Arianna Huffington for saying that, look, on the long-range, big picture of getting the freedom-and-democracy ball rolling in the Middle East, maybe these guys had it right. They say to me, “How can you say that?” I say, “I read the paper, okay. Things are changing.”

But what I cannot defend is, a) the lying to get us there, and, b) the incompetence. So if I give you the credit on that part of it, would you – would you concede that when you guys, you planners, went into the room for this, it was understood that this was going to operate on two tracks: one, what we really want to accomplish – the part I like – and, two, how are we going to sell it. And those are two very different things.

PERLE: Look, the idea that the administration knew that some of the information that it reported was wrong is, itself, wrong. They got the best intelligence they could get their hands on, and it turns out it wasn’t very good. [laughter]

MAHER: So I guess your answer would be, “No.” [laughter] You will not – you will not give me my half of that. All right, well, let’s go to—

PERLE: No, there was no – there was no lying there. There were errors, to be sure, but there were not lies. [laughter]

The audience laughs, but are there really serious critics of the war who think the Bush and his administration knew, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Iraq really didn't have any weapons whatsoever? Or that they really did think there were WMD there?

This is the difference between being mistaken and lying.

Now personally I wish they had simply said that intelligence is often sketchy, but when it comes to assessing the weapons capabilities of an uncooperative country, it's very difficult to know what they have and don't have. And in that situation, with a country that had a verifiable nuclear weapon program in the past, had invaded American allies, and had tried to assassinate one of our former Presidents.

The country is not cooperating with resolution after resolution calling for do you assume the best, or the worst? The Bush Administration should have softened the sense of certainty. We didn't know what they really had because they weren't cooperating, and force as a last resort had to be used.

But how exactly is this lying?

But what about the other frequent charge...incompetence?

MAHER: Okay, well, let’s go to the other part of it. [laughter] No, the – again, as I say, I think you guys might have been right about the big picture, and I’m not above saying, you know what, maybe I was wrong. Okay. But on the other half of it, why the incompetence? Why was this war conducted so badly from the beginning? And you have to admit that cost lives. And my theory is because Republicans are sentimentalists. Because you guys thought, you have such rose-colored glasses about America that you thought as soon as we showed up in Iraq, they’d be going, “Freedom! Americans!” And that’s why we didn’t need armor on the tanks because they’d be giving us flowers and chocolates and nylons. [laughter]

PERLE: Well, in fact, Bill, the initial attack in 21 days brought down Saddam’s regime. That part of the campaign was conducted brilliantly, and it will go down in the annals of military history. Two thousand vehicles covering that distance and bringing down the regime in 21 days. The—

MAHER: But they didn’t fight! Why is that such a great accomplishment? They didn’t fight! [applause] The war that they wanted to fight took place after we took over. They fought a guerilla war after that. They didn’t fight us. I don’t see why that’s such a great military accomplishment.

PERLE: Well, in fact, they had a very substantial force, and the reason why it appeared not to fight is that every – in every engagement, they were decimated. So they were not stupid—

MAHER: Oh, come on. They melted away. They did not stand and fight. Those divisions went away; they took off the uniforms and they fought another day as insurgents. Isn’t that true?

Well, quite a few deserted, at higher rates than in the first Gulf War. But General Tommy Franks estimated about 30,000 Iraqi military casualties, and other third-party estimates range wildly from as low as about 6,000 to upwards of 128,000. Saying "They didn't fight!" is a gross simplification. Most likely tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers fought and died.

But I don't understand how this has anything to do with incompetence on the part of the US military. We secured the oil fields, avoided a massive refugee situation, and avoided a civil war...all of which were predicted. There was looting, yes. There has been a guerilla insurgency. But please explain how exactly you would have done it better. More troops! Ah, and would those increased number of troops had stopped the looting? I don't think so, not unless the rules of engagement had allowed our soldiers to threaten or shoot people hauling sofas and lamps out of buildings with shopping carts. More boots on the ground would have prevented the insurgency? Or lessened it substantially? Precisely in what way?

But we were torturing prisoners! No, a handful of soldiers were doing that, with no evidence of directives from higher ups, and those people have been prosecuted and punished.

The war and its aftermath weren't handled perfectly, but the country was liberated in weeks, with less destruction and loss of life than damn near any other war in history. And now Iraq is in the wake of its first democratic elections...a remarkable transition for such a short time frame.

Disagree with the underlying rationale, but "lying" and "incompetence" seem like poor words to describe how we got there and what we did.

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