It was just bad intelligence! Everyone was fooled! You can’t say Bush “lied” about Iraq pursuing WMDs or about the Saddam Hussein regime having ties to 9/11 because he was just echoing what the intelligence community said, which was wrong.
This is a line of argumentation that Bush administration officials and Iraq war boosters have been clinging to ever since it became clear that U.S. troops would found no mobile biological weapons labs and no Mutual Admiration Society correspondence between Saddam and Osama. “We were wrong just like everyone else” isn’t a particularly compelling argument, though I suppose that if you’re responsible for one of the modern era’s most significant foreign policy disasters, “shared incompetence” is a more appealing excuse than “willful deception
But the Bush administration absolutely did engage in willful deception. Quite a bit of it, in fact. It’s one thing to simply repeat an intelligence assessment that is wrong, and quite another to take a disputed, credibly challenged intelligence assessment and state it as uncontested fact. That’s a lie, and senior Bush officials did it often. There’s no better example of this than the aluminum tubes.
If you were following politics in the six months or so leading up to the actual invasion of Iraq, then you probably remember how much importance senior Bush administration officials put on the fact that Iraq had tried to obtain a certain type of aluminum tube that was, per those same officials, only suitable for use in uranium centrifuges. The tubes were at the heart of their case that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and had been cited as evidence of Hussein’s intentions by Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell. They even earned a mention in George W. Bush’s now infamous 2003 state of the union address:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.
Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.
The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving.
This was all wrong. And they knew at the time that the intelligence regarding those tubes was nowhere near as strong as they made it out to be. A number of intelligence agencies believed that the tubes were, in fact, made for uranium enrichment. There were, however, a number of dissenting views, including from the State Department and the intelligence arm of the Department of Energy, the agency responsible for maintaining the United States’ nuclear arsenal (i.e. the people who actually know this stuff). DOE determined that the tubes were completely impractical for use in uranium enrichment, and were probably intended for use in conventional rockets. The State Department came to a similar conclusion.
Senior policymakers, including President Bush, were aware of this debate over the tubes by October 2002. But with Dick Cheney calling the shots and applying pressure where necessary, the administration disregarded the dissenting views, prioritized the assessments that aligned with their preferred policy outcome, and hid the debate from the public while offering up the tubes as incontrovertible evidence that Saddam Hussein was in the process of developing nuclear weapons.