McFilthy and McNasty

um, I mean Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank continue to distort the story surrounding the 9/11 commission’s report regarding the relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam’s regime. According to the two Washington Post men, the commission found that “the contacts that took place between Iraq and al Qaeda officials never led to actual cooperation.” The two then say that the commission’s report thus “challenges one of the Bush administration’s main justifications for the war in Iraq” that “there were extensive ties between Hussein’s government and bin Laden’s terrorist network.”
Both claims by Pincus and Milbank are false. First, the commission didn’t find that the contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda never led to cooperation. Rather, as Democratic commission member Lee Hamilton is quoted as saying later in the story, the commission was only saying “we don’t have any evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam’s government and al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States.” In other words, the commission is limiting its finding to the issue of cooperation (or lack thereof) with respect to attacks on the United States (although the report also says there “appears” not to have been “a collaborative relationship”). Moreover, the commission is saying only that it has no credible evidence of Iraqi cooperation in al Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S, not (as Pincus and Milbank would have it) that such cooperation didn’t occur. No wonder Lee Hamilton insisted that this finding is no big deal.
Second, the commission’s finding does not challenge the administration’s claim that there were extensive ties between al Qaeda and Iraq. The commission found that there were contacts between the two entities, but did not focus on the extent of those contacts, only on their nature, i.e. whether they involved Iraq collaborating with al Qaeda, particularly with respect to attacks against the U.S.
Third, Pincus and Milbank never show that the link between al Qaeda and Iraq was a major justification for the war, and I do not recall the Bush administration presenting it as such. The authors patch together statements by Bush and Cheney (some before the war, some after) discussing the connection, but that is not the same thing as presenting it as a “main justification,” on par (in the author’s latest telling) with WMD. The mainstream media’s line on the nature of the Bush administration’s justification[s] for the war seems to depend on which justification[s] can be depicted as the most vulnerable at any given time.
Pincus and Milbank also report that the opportunistic Senator Kerry is seeking to profit from the commission’s findings. Kerry said yesterday that “the administration misled America, and the administration reached too far.” Kerry added, “I believe that the 9/11 report, the early evidence, is that they’re going to indicate that we didn’t have the kind of terrorists links that this administration was asserting. I think that’s a very, very serious finding.” Yet, as the Bush administration responded, Kerry himself has said Saddam “supported and harbored terrorist groups.”
The more one analyzes this, the better it is for Bush. For example, do Americans really care whether the terrorists Saddam harbored were al Qaeda members, fellow travelers, or completely independent terrorists? Does it cast Saddam in a better light to say, as Pincus and Milbank do, that the butcher Zarqawi, who received medical treatment in Baghdad, was linked to al Qaeda, but selected his own targets and planned his own attacks? Does it matter if Saddam (but not al Qaeda) had a role in the 1993 attack on the world trade center, while al Qaeda (but not Saddam) gave us 9/11? I doubt it. And that’s why, characteristically , Pincus and Milbank lead with the bogus “Bush lied” theme and bury the evidence of Saddam’s complicity with terrorists (along with the lame distinctions designed to minimize that complicity) towards the end of their story.

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