2 Years Later | The War on TerrorNew York To Baghdad

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This is how President Bush opened his Why We Are In Iraq speech on Sunday:

“Nearly two years ago, following deadly attacks on our country, we began a systematic campaign against terrorism. These months have been a time of new responsibilities and sacrifice and national resolve and great progress.”

OK, fine. (Leave aside, for now, that some of those “sacrifices” have been civil liberties.) We can all agree that the campaign in Afghanistan, justified or not, had some connection to September 11 and the war on terror. Al Qaeda, after all, was pretty tight with the Taliban. But a couple of paragraphs later, we heard this:

“[W]e acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council.”

Hold on! We should be used to this sleight-of-hand by now, but it never ceases to amaze — the seamless folding of the case against bin Laden into the case against Saddam; the invocation of 9/11 to justify whacking “the dictator” (who, let it be said, was a bad, bad man; but he was no friend to Osama); the easy resort to the WMD threat (technically true: he did use them, horribly, against the Kurds; maybe that’s why he didn’t have any left). If you don’t take a moment to think about what the president is saying, you almost believe him.

But it bears repeating (again and again): The case that Iraq had any connection to Al Qaeda has never been proved. Never.

Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate kicked off with a discussion of Iraq. Points to the Rev. Al Sharpton for saying, essentially: Iraq? Never mind Iraq. What about Osama Bin Laden?

Good question. America’s most wanted terrorist is also America’s least mentioned terrorist. Wherever he is, he must be pissed: You deliver a devastating blow to the world’s superpower, and two years later everyone’s talking about Saddam Hussein, a lapsed Muslim and small-potatoes dictator.

Robert Scheer of The Nation rightly points out that Bush’s “big lie” technique has succeeded in conflating the identity of those responsible for the September 11 attacks with Hussein’s Ba’ath regime. It’s become a commonplace that Paul Wolfowitz and other Bush insiders have been super keen since the first Gulf War to go into Baghdad and kick butt. Until September 11, most people thought that idea was nuts. But, as Scheer argues, the attack changed the political equation, and suddenly Iraq was in the cross-hairs. Bush, citing Al Qaeda-Saddam links, rode the wave of post-9/11 public anxiety all the way to Baghdad. This week a preview of a book he’s co-authoring with Christopher Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us about Iraq,” was posted on Alternet:

“The story of the war in Iraq is the story of how a small group of men within the Bush administration misled a frightened nation down a long, treacherous road from Ground Zero to a bloody, no-exit war on the streets of Baghdad.

The Iraq war, however, was no gimme. To steer the balky U.S. citizenry and ship of state toward war with a country 6,000 miles away that most Americans saw as little more than a sad, battered joke would require a systematic campaign of carefully chosen lies.

To sell a war to the American people, presidents need at least two basic ingredients: self-defense and moral duty.”

Look at the president’s major addresses since September 11, 2001. In his 2002 State of the Union address, a few months after the Afghanistan campaign, the president said Kabul was only the beginning, and that states like Iraq posed a threat to all freedom-loving Americans.

“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”

Never mind that Saddam didn’t have any WMDs, and that even if he had had them, there was no evidence he’d have passed them on to terrorists (or that he even knew any terrorists).

Even if you accept (don’t!) that the adventure in Iraq was aimed at shielding us from future 9/11s, you’d have to conclude it hasn’t worked. At least, many Americans are starting to feel that way. As the Washington Post points out, the recent disintegration of the situation in Iraq is starting to hurt the president.

“[I]f most Americans believed that going to war with Iraq made them safer, there would likely be little debate about the financial costs of the war, which now stand at $166 billion, the amount approved for the current fiscal year and the amount requested for the next.

Since President Bush declared an end to the war in May, the administration has been besieged by bad news, and the president has paid a price. His job approval rating is hovering around 55 percent in most national polls, down about 20 points since April.”

More bad news for the prez. A CNN poll taken after Bush’s speech on Sunday found that 70 percent of CNN readers feel more anxious after the speech than before it. Maybe that’s because many of them know Americans who are actually getting killed. These casualties are mounting, and they seem self-inflicted — quite unlike those of September 11.


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