Media turn to discredited Bush officials to respond to Obama's Iraq speech

Following President Obama's speech on the end of combat operations in Iraq, media outlets hosted discredited Bush administration officials Karl Rove, Stephen Hadley, and Ari Fleischer to respond, despite the fact that the three were at the forefront of the campaign of misinformation used to sell the war.

Rove led WH group that “promoted” view that Saddam had WMDs “and was seeking more”

White House Iraq Group was formed to “set [messaging] strategy” for going to war with Iraq. The Washington Post reported in 2003 (accessed via Nexis), that the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) was formed in August 2002 “to set strategy for each stage of the confrontation with Baghdad. A senior official who participated in its work called it 'an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.' ” Part of WHIG's mission, according to the Post, was to decide “what to demand of the United Nations in the president's Sept. 12 [2002] address to the General Assembly, when to take the issue to Congress, and how to frame the conflict with Iraq in the midterm election campaign that began in earnest after Labor Day.” Rove was a regular participant in this group.

WHIG promoted view that Saddam “had weapons of mass destruction and was seeking more.” The Los Angeles Times reported on August 25, 2005, (accessed via Nexis) that WHIG “promoted the view that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was seeking more” :

The group consisted of Rove, Libby, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, and Mary Matalin, Cheney's media advisor. All are believed to have been questioned in the leak case; papers and e-mails about the group were subpoenaed.

Before the war, this Iraq group promoted the view that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was seeking more. In September 2002, the White House embraced a British report asserting that “Iraq has sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

The Washington Post further reported that WHIG “assigned Communications Director James R. Wilkinson to prepare a white paper for public release, describing the 'grave and gathering danger' of Iraq's allegedly 'reconstituted' nuclear program.” From the October 30, 2005, article (accessed via Nexis):

By summer 2002, the White House Iraq Group assigned Communications Director James R. Wilkinson to prepare a white paper for public release, describing the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq's allegedly “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson gave prominent place to the claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” That claim, along with repeated use of the “mushroom cloud” image by top officials beginning in September, became the emotional heart of the case against Iraq.

Rove repeatedly politicized national security issues, including the war in Iraq, and actively encouraged GOP to campaign on the issue. Think Progress has documented Rove's repeated politicization of the Iraq war and his encouragement that Republicans campaign on the issue in 2002, which included (emphasis in original):

In January 2002, Rove told conservatives, "Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe...We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America."

[...]

In June 2002, Rove was giving PowerPoint presentations candidates advising them to "focus on the war" in their fall campaigns.

In September 2002, Time reported that when friends asked whether Bush planned to invade Iraq, Rove was been [sic] known to reply, “Let me put it this way: If you want to see Baghdad, you'd better visit soon.”

In addition, according to an April 5, 2003, The New York Times article (accessed via Nexis), Rove worked “busily ... to shape perceptions of Mr. Bush as a wartime leader and to prepare for the re-election campaign that will start as soon as the war ends. The Times quoted Rove as saying, ” The president is leading the coalition of the willing, and is determined that Iraq will be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction and that the cruel dictator's regime will be ended." From the Times:

The White House portrays Karl Rove, President Bush's most influential political adviser, as playing no role in military decisions that are shaping the Bush presidency.

But more than two weeks after the war began, Mr. Rove is busily working to shape perceptions of Mr. Bush as a wartime leader and to prepare for the re-election campaign that will start as soon as the war ends.

Tonight, Mr. Rove traveled here to tend to the Republican troops at the Texas Night fund-raising celebration of the Kent County Republican Committee.

“The president is leading the coalition of the willing, and is determined that Iraq will be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction and that the cruel dictator's regime will be ended,” Mr. Rove declared after taking the stage to chants of “U.S.A.!” in a cavernous hanger filled with the local party faithful wearing Texas-style cowboy boots, hats and bandanas.

Beyond courting Republicans at party events, Mr. Rove has in recent days been counseling Congressional Republicans and conservative groups on how to advance their domestic agenda even while attention is on Iraq.

This week, he held forth at a lunch with conservative commentators and journalists. Some participants had backed the administration on Iraq when it faced criticism that the war plan provided insufficient force and that it had been overly optimistic about Iraqi resistance.

Hadley took responsibility for infamous “16 words” in Bush's State of the Union address

Hadley reportedly accepted responsibility for the infamous “16 words” incident, in which Bush claimed, “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” On January 28, 2003, as part of his State of the Union address, President Bush made the now-infamous claim that "[t]he British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," a claim that was highly disputed and which turned out to be false. In 2003, then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reportedly accepted responsibility for the line appearing in Bush's address, despite having received two memos and a phone call from CIA Director George Tenet three months earlier raising objections to its inclusion in prior speeches. From a July 2003 FoxNews.com article:

Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in a rare on-the-record session with reporters, said that he had received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from agency Director George Tenet last October raising objections to an allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium ore from Africa to use in building nuclear weapons.

As a result, Hadley said the offending passage was excised from a speech on Iraq the president gave in Cincinnati last Oct. 7. But Hadley suggested that details from the memos and phone call had slipped from his attention as the State of the Union was being put together.

The false claim was credited as one of the bases for shifting public support for the war. As a July 2003 New York Times analysis noted:

The speeches worked. Public opposition to the war, never fierce, began to melt, polls show, and by mid-March, when hostilities began, more than 60 percent agreed that ousting Mr. Hussein was worth spilling American blood.

Today, those 16 words haunt the administration. They are the best-remembered flourish in a portrait of Iraq that today seems unrecognizable. They are a leading rationale for a war that has resulted in the death of 224 Americans. And they are either unsubstantiated or based on a lie.

Hadley was also a part of the White House Iraq Group. According to a 2003 Washington Post report, Hadley was a “regular participant” in WHIG meetings. From The Washington Post:

The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants were Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy advisers led by Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, along with I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.

Fleischer repeatedly hyped the nonexistent threat of WMD to pitch war

As press secretary, Fleischer was responsible for pitching the Iraq war, which he often did by hyping the nonexistent threat of weapons of mass destruction. Ari Fleischer was the White House press secretary from January 2001 to July 2003. As press secretary, Fleischer was responsible for a number of false or misleading claims regarding Iraq and Saddam Hussein, including:

  • “I think you have always heard, and you continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that, indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found.” [4/10/03]
  • “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly ... all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.” [3/21/03]
  • “We know for a fact that there are weapons there.” [1/9/03]
  • “Saddam Hussein does not exactly have a track record of telling the world the truth. So he, on December 8th, has to indicate whether or not he has weapons. Let's see what he says. If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.” [12/2/02]
  • "[G]iven the chance to throw off a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, people will rejoice." [3/21/03]
  • "[W]hen you take a look at the level of violence inside of Iraq, it is impossible to argue anything other than violence has, indeed, come down as a result of America's military operations." [6/25/03]
  • “There is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. ... And all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.” [3/21/03]

Despite their history, media turns to Hadley, Fleischer and Rove to respond to Obama's speech

Kilmeade hosts Hadley to discuss whether “the president is finally acknowledging the previous administration was...on the right track in the middle east overall.” On the September 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Brian Kilmeade hosted two Bush administration officials, Margaret O'Sullivan and Hadley, to discuss whether “the president is finally acknowledging the previous administration was right - was on the right track in the Middle East overall.”

MSNBC's Morning Joe hosts Fleischer to defend Bush and compare invading Iraq to invading Nazi Germany. On September 1, MSNBC's Morning Joe hosted Fleischer to defend Bush for invading Iraq, and Fleischer compared Iraq to the invasion of Nazi Germany:

FLEISCHER: Probably the most profound meeting I ever sat on at the White House was a meeting with Elie Weisel. Just President Bush, Elie Wiesel, Condi Rice was there and myself. And the president asked Elie Wiesel - Nobel Peace Prize winner, Holocaust survivor - should he remove Saddam [Hussein]. Wiesel said yes, and then he added, “If only the world had listened to Winston Churchill in 1938 or 1939, World War II and the Holocaust could have been avoided. And I thought to myself, if the world had listened to Churchill in '38, people probably would've said ” you exaggerated the threat of Hitler. You know, who says there was a World War coming?" We'll never know what we averted by getting rid of Saddam and how many lives were saved as a result of removing the threat of Saddam Hussein.

Rove: “This was not a well-delivered speech.” On September 1, Fox News' On the Record with Greta van Sustern hosted Rove to attack Obama's Iraq speech, saying: "[T]his was not a well-delivered speech." Rove called Obama's mention of Bush “an attempt at graciousness” that “didn't succeed,” and he criticized Obama for not taking a “confident” tone that showed “a celebration of what has happened” in Iraq “to this point.”