Whopper of the Week: Ari Fleischer

Gaslighting the press about nation-building.

“Q: When did the President change his mind about nation-building?

“A: Can you be more specific? What are you referring to?

“Q: Well, the New York Times really strongly interprets his speech yesterday—something that you want to build—now you’re going to take care of health, welfare, and education of the Afghans in the aftermath of the hostilities. That’s nation-building.

“A: The President has always been for those. I think what you’re getting—

“Q: He’s always been for—

“A: Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

“Q: Well, every statement by you—

“A: And what were those statements, Helen?

“Q: —that you don’t believe in nation-building.

“A: What were the statements that I made that would indicate that?

“Q: And the President’s campaign.

“A: What statement in particular, if you’re going to accuse the President of changing policy?

“Q: The President said he didn’t—I can’t give you word for word.

“A: Right. But here—I can.

“Q: But he said in the campaign that he did not believe in nation-building.

“A: Helen, I can give you word for word. And what the President said is that the purpose of the military should be to fight and win wars. The President has always believed in helping strengthen nations, and that’s why the United States has been Afghanistan’s largest supplier of food, health care, all the items of foreign aid that we provide to help build an infrastructure.

“Don’t confuse that, which the President has always supported, with the use of the military as peacekeepers, the use of the military to do things other than fighting and winning wars. …

“Q: Then he equates nation-building with peacekeeping forces, right? That’s what you’re saying?

“A: I’m—what the President has said is that the military should be used to fight and win wars. The President does believe in helping nations to grow, to be successful. And you can call that nation-building if you want; the President has always been for that.”

—White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer at an April 18 press conference.

“Q:  There’s been—some people are now suggesting that if you don’t want to use the military to maintain the peace, to do the civil thing, is it time to consider a civil force of some kind, that comes in after the military, that builds nations or all of that?  Is that—is that on your radar screen?

 ”A:  Well—I don’t think so.  I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations.  Maybe I’m missing something here.  I mean, we’re going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not.”

Candidate George W. Bush in the second presidential debate, Oct. 11, 2000

Discussion. Observe the master at work. Fleischer throws his questioner off balance first by hectoring her, and then by creating a plausible-sounding distinction between nation-building by civilian agencies of the U.S. government (which Fleischer says Bush has always favored) and nation-building by the U.S. military (which Fleischer says Bush continues to oppose). In fact, though, Bush had previously made no such distinction—in the debate, he opposed nation-building by civilians or the military.

(Thanks to Jonathan Chait, “Defense Secretary: The Peculiar Duplicity of Ari Fleischer” in the June 10 New Republic.)

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Whopper Archive:
May 23, 2002: Condoleezza Rice
May 17, 2002: Robert Mueller
May 9, 2002: Karl Rove
May 3, 2002: Gen. Richard Myers
April 25, 2002: Donald Rumsfeld
April 18, 2002: George W. Bush  
April 11, 2002: The Rev. Robert J. Banks, archdiocese of Boston
April 5, 2002: George W. Bush  
Mar. 29, 2002: Major League Baseball
Mar. 21, 2002: Billy Graham
Mar. 14, 2002: INS commissioner James W. Ziglar
Mar. 8, 2002: Robert Zoellick and the U.S. steel industry
Feb. 28, 2002: Al Sharpton
Feb. 22, 2002: Olympic skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne
Feb. 14, 2002: Kenneth Lay
Feb. 8, 2002: Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney
Jan. 31, 2002: Monsanto
Jan. 24, 2002: Linda Chavez
Jan. 17, 2002: George W. Bush
Jan. 10, 2002: Simon & Schuster
Jan. 4, 2002: The Associated Press

(Click  here  to access the Whopper Archive for 2001.)