Fact of the Matter Is That Facts Didn't Matter

Well, the CIA managed, barely, to get one thing right on Iraq: There never was a case for linking Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a key rationale for President Bush's invasion of Iraq.

In an otherwise scathing report on how American intelligence agencies fell for misinformation that touted Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States, the Senate Intelligence Committee went out of its way to endorse the CIA finding that "the intelligence community has no credible information that Baghdad had foreknowledge of the 11 September attacks or any other Al Qaeda strike." This was also the preliminary conclusion of the bipartisan 9/11 commission appointed by the president.

Yet, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney still insist that the war against Bin Laden somehow naturally extended to Iraq. As recently as a June 17 interview with CNBC, Cheney asserted, without providing evidence, that "there clearly was a relationship. It's been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming." Nor would he rule out that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 plot. He even suggested that he had access to information that the 9/11 commission had not seen, an assertion that was later refuted by the commission's Republican chairman. Apparently, Cheney can now add the CIA and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee to the list of those to be condemned for not embracing his lies.

Of course, this outrageous stubbornness in the face of overwhelming evidence shouldn't be surprising. With no weapons of mass destruction found in occupied Iraq, almost 900 American soldiers dead and U.S. taxpayers having already coughed up more than $100 billion, the quagmire must be justified as being "the central front in the war on terror" if Bush is to win reelection in November.

That Bin Laden and Hussein were the unlikeliest of allies was long known by the CIA, as noted in the Senate report, and no facts unearthed have effectively challenged that. CIA analysts concluded, according to the Senate committee report, that Hussein "generally viewed Islamic extremism, including the [Saudi-based] school of Islam known as Wahhabism, as a threat to his regime, noting that he had executed extremists from both the Sunni and Shiite sects to disrupt their organizations" and "sought to prevent Iraqi youth from joining Al Qaeda."

Meanwhile, Bush has consistently ignored the fact that Al Qaeda had been largely funded and supported by powerful extremists in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two "allies" his administration coddled both before and after 9/11. Pakistan was even exporting nuclear weapons technology to "axis of evil" countries Iran and North Korea, as well as Libya – but not to Iraq.

Does any of this make sense? Where are the common-sense consistency, the respect for truth and the logical hierarchy of priorities in our foreign policy? Why can't the president explain – without lying – why we are in Iraq? Why are Americans dying in a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, had no role in 9/11 and posed no immediate threat to the U.S.?

The 511-page Senate Intelligence Committee report makes it clear that despite the haughty posturing of national security heavyweights, we do not have adults watching the store. The report's epic series of embarrassing conclusions about how the intelligence on Iraq became distorted is a testament to how political ideology and ambitions consistently trumped logic and integrity. The Senate report is a thoroughly damning indictment of the Bush administration's doctrine of "preemptive" war based on intelligence. In the case of Iraq, the intelligence that was false was adopted by the administration, while the intelligence that was true was ignored as inconvenient. And it is telling that the CIA, try as it did to accommodate the White House, couldn't find any evidence that Al Qaeda and Iraq were collaborators.

Not that the CIA didn't try, though. "This intelligence assessment responds to senior policymaker interest in a comprehensive assessment of Iraqi regime links to Al Qaeda. Our approach is purposefully aggressive in seeking to draw connections," said one report. "I was asking the people who were writing [the report on Iraq-Al Qaeda links] to lean far forward and do a speculative piece. If you were going to stretch to the maximum the evidence you had, what could you come up with?" the deputy director for intelligence at the CIA told the Senate committee.

With this approach, we might as well base our foreign policy on reruns of "The X-Files." Maybe this is why the president wants us to go to Mars: It's a preemptive strike.


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