Bush's 9-11 Problem

The President wants to link Al Qaeda and Iraq, but the knot keeps slipping

Further, when they were rallying support for the war in 2002 and early 2003, the president and his key aides flatly said they had hard intelligence based on original documents that showed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium "yellowcake" from Niger to make nuclear weapons. The documents turned out to be obvious forgeries. The Bush team, offering no apology to the public, simply stopped telling this yarn.

As its strongest justification for going to war, the White House claimed that Hussein had large, hidden stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that threatened the Middle East and, if passed to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, placed the security of the United States and other democracies in jeopardy as well. So far, more than a year into the American occupation, no such stockpiles have been found.

To put it succinctly, very little of what the White House told Congress to persuade it to pass the war resolution has turned out to be true or come to pass. Poor planning by the civilian chiefs at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his two top aides, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, has contributed to needless casualties. Washington didn't have a contingency plan for a serious insurgency after cities were taken and "major combat" was over. U.S. occupation casualties continue to rise even as newly trained Iraqi forces begin taking over security duties. The prisoner torture scandal at the Abu Ghraib jail has also stained the Defense Department and the CIA.

Aside from acknowledging the yellowcake debacle and passing the buck on the mystery WMD by saying it received faulty intelligence from the CIA, the White House has sealed itself tight, admitting to no misstatements or exaggerations in the selling of the war.

In my research about the alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda link, I came across a document I'd never seen or heard about before, though someone in the vast news machine must have referred to it prior to this. It's not a closely held document—in fact, it's in the public record—and I would like to offer it as a concluding piece of evidence in the debate.

On March 21, 2003, the day after the war began, President Bush sent a letter to both houses of Congress laying out the legal backing and underpinning for his decision to go to war. In the letter's second paragraph, Bush wrote: "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."

Read his lips. He keeps swearing he never claimed a direct link, but here it is, as the saying goes, in black and white. It is very difficult to think of any interpretation of the above sentence other than that the president of the United States was declaring that Iraq was one of the "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Still, this debate is too primal to be shut down by the exposure of a single quote. Presidents have lied before. The screaming match will continue. The outcome will be decided only on Election Day in November, when the people will say whether this president's conduct can be tolerated.

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