No matter how things turn out in Iraq--and all people of good will must hope that a generation of Iraqis that has lived through three devastating wars and a long and brutal dictatorship will find peace and freedom--we must not forget that the United States initiated its current war in Iraq under false pretenses. The war, we were told, was necessary (even if preemptive or, more accurately, preventive) because Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction and was in league with Al Qaeda. Iraq, in short, posed a serious threat to the United States--if not directly, then through the medium of transnational terrorist organizations in common cause with Saddam Hussein.
Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. It did not have ties to Al Qaeda. These facts have been definitively established. For present purposes, it does not matter whether President Bush lied or was merely mistaken. It does not matter because, after the President's defiant admission today during his weekly radio address that he did in fact order surveillance of Americans without judicial authorization, we need only be reminded of the consequences of being wrong--for whatever reason--when dramatic claims are made in the name of national security.
President Bush said today that he had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. He called the secret program "crucial to our national security" and said it was intended to "detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies."
Just to be clear, President Bush acknowledged giving orders that violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. His claim that the authorization was "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution" has no more validity than his administration's many attempts to define out of existence both domestic and international prohibitions against torture. His claim that his action was, and continues to be, "critical to saving American lives" is unverifiable.
The President initiated a war against Iraq in defiance of international law, the United Nations Security Council, and just war principles. He did so on the basis of claims, later proven false, that the war was necessary to protect American lives.
The President has also authorized--by his own admission at least thirty times--a program of domestic surveillance that clearly violates the Constitution (and for which legal alternatives are available). He claims, once again, to be doing so in order to save American lives.
Americans need to remember the President's own words: "Fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me--you can't get fooled again."