Former President Donald Trump was often accused of having a complete disregard for the truth. Yet some of his predecessors’ falsehoods ranged from the bizarre to the horrifying. So how does Trump truly compare?
When Saddam Hussein invaded the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait in August 1990, President George HW Bush snarled: “This will not stand.”
But as US troops were scrambled to the Gulf, the American public was dubious about the justification for military action.
The Kuwaiti government-in-exile promptly hired a US public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, whose Washington DC office was run by Bush’s former chief of staff.
The PR firm coached a purported witness, introduced as a 15-year-old girl called “Nayirah”, to tearfully tell US congressmen in October 1990 that Iraqi soldiers had entered a hospital in Kuwait, removed babies from incubators and left them to die on the cold floor.
Nayirah, reporters were assured, was using an assumed name for fear of reprisals against her family back home.
Only after the war would it emerge she was the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the US. And her story was completely baseless, as John MacArthur details in his book, Second Front, Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War.
Bush is recorded as having publicly touted this tall tale at least six times as he blew the bugle of war.
“Babies pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor,” the president said on one occasion during a speech to US troops in Saudi Arabia.
MacArthur writes that the hoax helped rally the American people behind calls for military action.
In January 1991, Bush’s war resolution narrowly passed the Senate. Six senators cited the incubators story as justification for authorising the conflict, notes MacArthur.
Operation Desert Storm launched days later.
The irony is that it seems babies actually did perish after being removed from incubators during Gulf War One. Only it reportedly happened in a massive US-led allied air raid.
On the first night of bombing, as electricity failed amid the explosions, panicking mothers took their newborns from the machines at a paediatric hospital in Baghdad and sheltered in a cold basement where more than 40 of the infants died, according to a contemporary New York Times report.
They were among thousands of civilians estimated killed in the 42-day conflict.
While it has never been established that Bush knew the incubators story he repeatedly told was unfounded, the White House is generally expected to verify claims made by the president – especially one so horrifying.
American journalists failed to debunk the Nayirah testimony until after the war. The controversy was omitted from a recent admiring biography of Bush, and from glowing coverage of his presidency when he died in 2018.
Allegations of presidential dishonesty, however, greatly exercised media fact-checkers during the tenure of Mr Trump.
The Washington Post maintains a database of Trump statements – over 30,000 of…
Read More News: Who truly was the most dishonest president?