June 21, 2004

Even the editors don't read the letters to the editor

On Sunday, the Times compiled a history of Bush administration statements on the Iraq-9/11 link, calling it "difficult to say" if there was "a deliberate campaign to create guilt by association."

Strangely, this chart omits the most direct linkage made by the White House. As Sam Boone-Lutz pointed out in a letter to the Times on Saturday, Bush's official letter to Congress on the start of the war states,

I have also determined that the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Only the most Clintonian reading of this statement allows the administration to say that it never linked Saddam with 9/11. How could the Times fail to dig this up?

On the one hand, I think Bush could be hurt by the media continuing to press this question, even though his defenders are now arguing, Well he never said Iraq was involved in 9/11. After all, the Americans who think Saddam planned 9/11 didn't come up with the idea on their own. The percentage is down from over 50 to under 40. I wonder who that ten percent that has changed its mind blames for the confusion, regardless of what the White House considers plausible deniability.

On the other hand, the focus on Bush's attempts to link Saddam to 9/11 -- about which he does have at least some deniability -- is distracting from the matter of his attempt to link Saddam to al Qaida in general. First of all this is an inherently more important subject, in that regardless of whether Saddam had anything to do with 9/11, if it could be shown that he was helping al Qaida plan something in the future, that would be an even greater justification for the war.

And from a political point of view, the Bush administraton is even more vulnerable on this question, as it isclearly "trying to rewrite history." That's what the Times concluded in an unusually strong editorial.

Before the war, Mr. Bush spoke of far more than vague "ties" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. He said Iraq had provided Al Qaeda with weapons training, bomb-making expertise and a base in Iraq. On Feb. 8, 2003, Mr. Bush said that "an Al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990's for help in acquiring poisons and gases." The 9/11 panel's report, as well as news articles, indicate that these things never happened.

Mr. Cheney said yesterday that the "evidence is overwhelming" of an Iraq-Qaeda axis and that there had been a "whole series of high-level contacts" between them. The 9/11 panel said a senior Iraqi intelligence officer made three visits to Sudan in the early 1990's, meeting with Osama bin Laden once in 1994. It said Osama bin Laden had asked for "space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded." The panel cited reports of further contacts after Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, but said there was no working relationship. As far as the public record is concerned, then, Mr. Cheney's "longstanding ties" amount to one confirmed meeting, after which the Iraq government did not help Al Qaeda. By those standards, the United States has longstanding ties to North Korea.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


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