In the run-up to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration never missed an opportunity to link the names of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. In fact, official pronouncements so consistently twinned the two that, by some hypnotic power of suggestion, most people began to take the connection for granted. The result? Seventy percent of Americans now believe that Iraq was behind the September 11 attacks.
Last Wednesday, President Bush was finally cornered into answering the direct question: Was Saddam involved with the 9/11 attacks? His reply: “We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11.”
So where did we get the idea that he was? Well, from President Bush, among others. Earlier that same week, Bush gave a speech in Michigan and subtly hinted at the connection between Sadaam and 9/11:
“On the first front, to make sure America is secure, we’re making good progress. The two years from September 11th — we got hit, we got hit by people who cannot stand what America believes in.
But the best way to make sure the homeland is secure is to hunt these killers down, one by one, and bring them to justice, which the United States of America will do.
As part of making sure America is secure, I laid out a doctrine that said, if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, you’re just as guilty as the terrorists. To provide money to terrorists, you’re guilty, and we will hold you account. And the Taliban found out what we meant. We gave an ultimatum to Mr. Saddam Hussein. We said, get rid of your weapons. He ignored not only the United States, but the civilized world. That regime is no more. And one thing is for certain: no terrorist organization will ever get a weapon of mass destruction from Mr. Saddam Hussein.”
Notice the seamless rhetorical ease with which Bush slides from the Taliban to Saddam. He should be good at it by now, because he’s had a lot of practice. He and his administration have consistently peddled the line that Iraq and Al Qaeda are linked. So says the Washington Post:
“[Bush] frequently juxtaposed Iraq and al Qaeda in ways that hinted at a link. In a March speech about Iraq’s ‘weapons of terror,’ Bush said: ‘If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, refusing to use force, even as a last resort, free nations would assume immense and unacceptable risks. The attacks of September the 11th, 2001, showed what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of mass destruction.'”
The New York Times notes that while Bush never outright said that Hussein was involved in 9/11, he did manage to find a common denominator between the two — terrorism:
“The White House has never said Mr. Hussein was part of the Sept. 11 plot, though from the moment of the attacks there was a search to determine whether he was linked. As Mr. Bush has described the Iraq conflict as part of the war on terror, he has drawn a loose connection, saying that after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States could no longer tolerate the kind of threat Mr. Hussein posed or risk that Mr. Hussein’s weapons could reach the hands of terrorists.”
Joseph Wilson, the former U.S. ambassador who was sent to Niger to determine whether Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger, argues in Alternet that the administration’s “overblown rhetoric” about Saddam’s wepaons “inspired fear” and distracted the public, which was precisely the point:
“By trying to justify the current fight in Iraq as a fight against terrorism, the administration…tried to divert attention from Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the wave of terrorist attacks against American interests from New York and Washington to Yemen, and who reappeared in rugged terrain in a video broadcast last week.
It is perhaps not surprising that the administration is trying to redefine why we went to Iraq, because we have accomplished so little of what we set out to do — and severely underestimated the commitment it would take to deal with the aftermath of war.”