On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, Condoleezza Rice joined the long list of Bush White House figures taking to the airwaves to rewrite their boss' tragic legacy. "No one," she told Charlie Rose last night, "was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11." Of course, Rice was just one of many Bush administration officials making that claim before and after the invasion. And as it turns out, Ari Fleischer and George W. Bush himself among others are continuing to peddle that same mythical link between Iraq and September 11th.
As ThinkProgress noted, then national security adviser Rice argued in September 2002 that Saddam had "links to terrorism [that] would include al-Qaeda." But on Wednesday, the former Secretary of State traveled back in time to whitewash history:
ROSE: But you didn't believe it had anything to do with 9/11.
RICE: No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.
ROSE: No one.
RICE: I was certainly not. The President was certainly not...That's right. We were not arguing that.
Of course, Rice wasn't the only one in the Bush White House contending "there were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime," as she insisted as late as September 2006. Echoing President Bush's farewell in January, former press secretary Ari Fleischer made the Saddam - September 11 connection just seven days ago.
"After September 11th having been hit once how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed and I think we are all safer with that threat removed."
But if Fleischer was butchering history to justify the calamity in Iraq, he was only following George W. Bush's lead.
An unapologetic President Bush made that clear during his final address to the American people on January 15, 2009. Just days before his departure, Bush seamlessly wove the invasion of Iraq into his revisionist history of the aftermath of September 11, 2001:
"As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe....
...And with strong allies at our side, we have taken the fight to the terrorists and those who support them. Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al Qaeda and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school. Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States."
Of course, Bush's subtlety in January was nowhere on display during his jaw-dropping December 15, 2008 interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz. The President wasn't merely content to ignore the bipartisan 9/11 Commission's conclusion that Al Qaeda and Iraq had no "operational relationship." Boasting that "there have been no attacks since I have been president, since 9/11," the President simply dismissed any criticism that it was only his 2003 invasion which brought Al Qaeda forces to Iraq:
BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take -
RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.
BUSH: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.
In an address ten days earlier to the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, DC, President Bush argued on December 5th that the truth should not be the lens through which his decision to invade Iraq should be viewed. Whether Saddam had actual connections to Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the September 11 calamity, he proclaimed, was virtually irrelevant:
"It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks. But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take."
For his part, Dick Cheney (aided and abetted by his biographer and 9/11-Iraq fabulist Stephen Hayes) has continued to proclaim as fact the nonexistent Bin Laden-Hussein connection. (In March 2008, Cheney anticipated Bush's "so what?" response to Martha Raddatz, shrugging off her assertion that "two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting" in Iraq by simply remarking, "So?") And in an interview with Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour on January 14, 2009, Vice President Cheney regurgitated his blatantly discredited claim about an Iraq-Al Qaeda nexus. Answering "I think so" when asked whether the 4500 Americans killed in Iraq was worth it, Cheney continued:
"He'd had a nuclear program in the past. He killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and he did have a relationship with al-Qaida. Now, we've had this debate, keeps people trying to conflate those arguments.
That's not to say that Saddam was responsible for 9/11; it is to say - as George Tenet, CIA director testified in open session in the Senate - that there was a relationship there that went back 10 years."
Of course, as ThinkProgress detailed, President Bush and Vice President Cheney throughout 2002 and 2003 warned of the mythical alliance between Saddam and Bin Laden. For example, on October 14, 2002, Bush announced that "We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade." On the eve of the war, the President told Americans that Iraq "has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda." And as hostilities commenced, Cheney on March 21, 2003 decried Iraq as the "geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
As I documented back in June 2005, President Bush continued to nurture the false Iraq connection to 9/11 long after he grudgingly admitted on September 17, 2004 that "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th." Bush's intentional conflation of the two included the amazing June 18, 2005 statement that "we went to war [with Iraq] because we were attacked." By December 2008, Bush's linkage had morphed into the "risk we could not afford to take."
As it turns out, for George W. Bush the "risk we could not afford to take" was not averting war with Iraq, but the absence of a compelling sales pitch for it. And to be sure, Bush was in that regard quite successful. As an October 2003 PIPA survey showed, even after the invasion of Iraq, majorities of Americans continued to believe Bush administration claims about Saddam (Iraq role in 9/11, an alliance between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and Saddam's WMD) all long since proven false. (Unsurprisingly, viewers of Fox News were the most delusional.) And as late as July 2006, fully 50% of Americans still believed the discredited claim that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction.
In his predictably self-absorbed farewell address to the nation, President George W. Bush grudgingly acknowledged, "There are things I would do differently if given the chance." But as he demonstrated that night, rejecting his repeated linkage of the 9/11 attacks to his war on Iraq is not among them. As for Condi Rice, she insists the deception never took place.
Of course, Rice's denial may be explained by the fact the "smoking gun" never took the form of "a mushroom cloud."
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)