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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 12/12/2007

Most Revealing Fibs: Fred Thompson

By Michael Dobbs

Campaigning in Lexington, SC, Dec. 4, 2007.

"Saddam was in the process of defeating the United Nations...thumbing his nose at everybody and leading them to believe that he had weapons of mass destruction and you can't do anything about it."

--Fred Thompson, campaign appearance, Newton, Iowa, October 1, 2007.

Fred Thompson is a difficult candidate to fact check. His speaking style is generally soporific and his use of language often vague. It can be difficult to tell whether he is making a mistake, or is simply confused. He has adopted the folksy style perfected by Ronald Reagan, which is more about persuading Americans to feel good about themselves than the marshaling of hard facts and arguments. Some of his speeches are almost "fact-free," a term used by my fellow factcheckers at to refer to political advertisements so vacuous that there is nothing to check.

Thompson's explanation for the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq is a case in point. He has created vague word pictures of a menacing Saddam Hussein who would surely have become the "dictator of that entire region" had he not been stopped in time. During a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, back in October, he said that the invasion was necessary because Hussein "clearly had had" weapons of mass destruction and "clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program." Asked to support this claim, he later said he was referring to Iraqi weapons programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Thompson's use of the pluperfect tense--"had had"--prevents me from labeling his Hussein WMD claim false, as some other news organizations have done. But it is certainly misleading. If you want to listen to the original tape, you can find it here.

The claim that the invasion was justified because Saddam was "thumbing his nose at everybody and leading them to believe that he had weapons of mass destruction" is a misrepresentation of history. Saddam Hussein permitted United Nations weapons inspectors to resume their activities inside Iraq in November 2002. He denied possessing weapons of mass destruction, a claim subsequently verified by the U.N. weapons inspectors and the CIA's Iraq Survey Group. The imminent U.S. invasion cut short the international inspection effort, obliging the U.N. to withdraw weapons inspectors on March 18, one day before the invasion.

According to the CIA, Iraq was forced to shut down its nuclear and biological programs in 1991-92 following the first Gulf War. Its last remaining chemical weapons facilities were destroyed by U.N. inspectors in 1997.

Some other occasions where Thompson has got his facts confused or mixed up:

  • The claim that the "Iraqi Study Group" reported that Hussein wanted to revive his nuclear program. He probably meant the "Iraq Survey Group."

  • Talking about Russia as the Soviet Union (which ceased to exist in 1991)

  • The claim that Americans have "shed more blood for other people's liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world."

  • The Pinocchio Test

    It is still too early to rank the candidates in terms of their overall truthfulness. I have handed out Pinocchios to all the candidates for individual statements that seem at variance with the facts, but will give them a pass this week. Let me know what you think of Thompson's performance on the campaign trail.

    By Michael Dobbs  | December 12, 2007; 6:00 AM ET
    Categories:  Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, History, Iraq  
    Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Most Revealing Fibs: John Edwards
    Next: Most Revealing Fibs: John McCain

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