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From part-time CNN analyst and full-time Dick Cheney hagiographer Stephen Hayes comes word that Karl Rove is spearheading a "Bush legacy project."  If so, Rove and Bush might start with getting their stories straight on the Iraq war and whether it was the right course for the United States in the absence of weapons of mass destruction.

On Tuesday, Rove did his part in the resurrection of his former client's moribund reputation.  As the Huffington Post detailed, Rove during a debate over the Bush legacy defended the American invasion of Iraq, given Saddam's "support for terrorism" and threat to the region.  But had President Bush known that Saddam in fact did not possess real or potential stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, Rove suggested, war likely would have been averted:

"In the aftermath of 9/11 the concern was about a tyrant accused of enormous human rights abuses, but who also possessed weapons of mass destruction.  Absent that, I suspect that the administration's course of action would have been to work to find more creative ways to constrain him like in the 90s."

Fellow Bush apologist Bill Kristol agreed.  "The President would not in fact have gone to war," he argued, "if he had known what seems to be the case, that Saddam did not have functioning weapons programs at the time."

Sadly for these revisionist historians of the right, President Bush himself has long insisted otherwise.

During a December 14, 2005 interview with Brit Hume of Fox News, Bush left no room for misunderstanding about the rightness of his war on Saddam, WMD or no:

HUME: Can you say today that if you had known then what you know now about the weapons, that you would have made the same decision.

BUSH: I said it today, and I said it at the last speech I gave.  And I've said it throughout the campaign to the American people. I said I made the right decision. Knowing what I know today, I would have still made that decision.

HUME: Now if you had this - if the weapons had been out of the equation, because the intelligence did not conclude that he had them, it was still the right call?

BUSH: Absolutely.

Removing Saddam from power in Iraq was the "right thing to do" regardless of either the actual circumstances or dreadful consequences was an article of faith repeated by President Bush and his amen corner on countless occasions.  As Dick Cheney told the late Tim Russert on September 10, 2006, "It was the right thing to do, and if we had to do it over again we would do exactly the same thing" because Saddam was a man who had "been involved with weapons of mass destruction, who had every intention of going back to it when the sanctions were lifted."

Alas, even Bush himself stumbled on this point as he began his reclamation project this week.  While certain to blame his war on faulty intelligence ("the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq"), the lame duck President apparently forgot his WMD talking point in his interview with ABC's Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.

BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.

Desperate to rehabilitate his irreparably damaged reputation, George W. Bush sought to whitewash his past certainty about his Iraq adventure, WMD smoking guns and mushroom clouds or not.  As for the uses and misuses of intelligence information by his administration, the only official study to investigate the matter - the Senate Intelligence Committee's June 2008 Phase II report - concluded Bush White House manipulation played a central role in selling the war to the American public.  (Neither the Silbermann-Robb commission nor the earlier Phase I report produced by the Intel committee's then-Republican majority examined this issue.)

As Bush commenced his extreme makeover last week, he told his sister Dorothy Bush Koch on NPR that "I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace."  Peace, of course, will be the last word most Americans associate with the legacy of George W. Bush.  And as for liberating Iraq, most Americans no doubt would have opposed him if not for the much-hyped threat from Saddam's mythical weapons of mass destruction.

As they begin their quest to rewrite history on that critical point, Karl Rove and George W. Bush need to get their stories straight.

** Crossposted at Perrspectives **

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Wed Dec 03, 2008 at 12:17 PM PST.

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