Administration infected with foot-in-mouth disease

Fearing a public relations storm similar to the one following his false State of the Union claims, President George W. Bush admitted Wednesday that no evidence exists linking Saddam Hussein’s regime with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice made similar admissions last week.

The president said they never claimed to have such evidence, which technically is true. Administration officials have, however, used statements to consistently lead Americans to believe that such a connection existed and was a reason for a war with Iraq. A recent Washington Post poll, in which 69 percent of people said they still believed Saddam was personally involved in Sept. 11, illustrates the administration succeeded.

Though there were humanitarian reasons to rid the world of Saddam, Bush sold the United States on going to war by using their fear of terrorism. Most Americans supported war for their own security, and the Post’s poll shows that support was specifically due to Sept. 11. The war is more costly, both in dollars and lives lost, than Bush claimed it would be. If the administration had made more accurate claims, Americans might have withheld their support. This, in turn, would have forced the administration to change its strategy, possibly making better efforts to avoid military force.

A larger but less specific problem also exists. Bush campaigned heavily on a vague concept he called accountability. What we have seen since shows that he makes claims hoping future evidence will prove him correct. The administration considers its decisions unassailable to the point that they call those who disagree “treasonous.” Whatever accountability is, this is not it.

If these events teach the public and their legislators anything, it should be that the administration’s opinions, whether related to taxes, homeland security or foreign military action, are not fact. Citizens should also realize that dissent and public discourse are not treason, but the lifeblood of democracy.