By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
CNN broke the story about the secret meeting in late December of that year. In a written statement through his press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, Bush defended the exchange, claiming that the purpose of the meeting had been "to personally underscore the United States' shock and concern about the violence," and to "impress upon the Chinese government the seriousness with which this incident was viewed in the United States."
Like his supposed ban on exchanges, this also was a lie.
Perhaps unwittingly, Bush revealed at a press conference two days later that the meeting had indeed been intended to soothe Deng. Scowcroft and Eagleburger, the president admitted, were instructed to "see what we can do, make a representation of how strongly we feel about the human-rights abuse, but see what it's going to take to move forward."
Such a meeting, however, would have been explicitly prohibited by the president's ban on diplomatic contacts with China, and Bush knew it. So in order to extricate himself from the problem, the president simply denied ever having made such a policy. He claimed that the press (along with the rest of the country, apparently) had misunderstood him the first time. All diplomatic exchanges weren't to be prohibited, he corrected. "I said high-level exchanges." But even if that were true -- and it wasn't -- even if the president had meant that only high-level exchanges were prohibited, what was a meeting between the president's national security adviser, his senior State Department diplomat, and the leaders of a foreign nation, if not "high level"?
Bush displayed equal bravado a year later in the interminable march to war with Saddam Hussein. The president lied repeatedly at every stage of the escalating conflict.
In the days following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait last August, Bush announced his support for economic sanctions against Saddam (who, just months before, the administration had dubbed "a man we can work with"). "The United Nations sanctions are in effect and have been working remarkably well, even on a voluntary basis," the president said. "The basic elements of our strategy are now in place. And where do we want to go? Well, our intention, and indeed the intention of almost every country in the world, is to persuade Iraq to withdraw....And, of course, we seek to achieve these goals without further violence."
A month later, on September 11, Bush repeated his belief in sanctions: "Let no one doubt our staying power....Three regional leaders I spoke with just yesterday told me that these sanctions are working. Iraq is feeling the heat."
And again on October 19: "I think the bottom line is he can't prevail. So we're going to stay with this, stay the course and send a strong moral message out there and a simple one: One big country can't bully its neighbor and take it over."
In October, with the congressional midterm elections approaching, the Bush administration announced that because sanctions would be slow to work, the armed forces would begin to rotate the troops, who were beginning to grow weary in the Saudi Arabian desert.
No date was given for the start of the rotation. Were Saddam Hussein an astute observer of American politics, he would have recognized Bush's pledge to begin rotating the troops as the final steps to war. In December, with the midterm elections out of the way, Bush abandoned his pre-election pledge to begin rotating the 230,000 defensive troops of "Operation Desert Shield." Instead, he ordered 200,000 more troops to Saudi Arabia for the upcoming Operation Desert Storm. Bush suddenly decided that sanctions and moral messages weren't enough. He wanted to fight. Bush's new line was that war was the only answer.
Whether Bush ever intended not to go to war is still an open question, although it seems unlikely. This, however, is certain: repeatedly and publicly during the three-month span between August and December, Bush made the case for sanctions. And yet now, poised on the brink of war, with 10,000 feet of videotape and ten million pages of newsprint to prove otherwise, Bush simply denied ever having favored sanctions: "I've not been one who has been convinced that sanctions alone would bring him to his senses," he claimed on December 4. This means that either Bush was once in favor of sanctions, and now says he wasn't, or that he wasn't ever in favor of sanctions and said he was. One way or another, Bush lied.
Such great pleasure does Bush seem to derive from the telling of lies, both large and small, that when he's not lying to save his neck or advance his career, sometimes he lies just for fun.
At a press conference on February 12, 1990, for example, Bush was asked if he thought the time was right for a meeting between the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France, to discuss the upcoming unification of Germany.
"No, not at this juncture," came the president's reply. "At some point, clearly, the four powers will have to have some say," Bush said, but for now it was up to the Germans.
The next day a conference between the four countries was indeed announced. As it turned out, the meeting had been Bush's idea in the first place. At the same time that Bush had been denying it to the press the day before, Secretary of State James Baker had been arranging the final details. When asked why he had lied the day before, the president could have invoked "national security" or "presidential privilege." Instead he instinctively lied again. "This surprised me," Bush claimed, pretending shock.