Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Bush Has Said about Iraq and al Qaeda

President Bush's answer to a question on Monday about Iraq and 9/11 sparked something of a "he said, he said" controversy. In reviewing the record, let's start with the transcript of President Bush's remarks from Monday:
Q What did Iraq have to do with that?
THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?
Q The attack on the World Trade Center?
THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case.
Note that Bush said that he never claimed that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks, and only admitted that he has made the case that Iraq was a breeding ground for terrorists. The record shows that he has said much more.
I turned to the White House online archive of transcripts of the president's remarks, first from Portsmouth, New Hampshire on November 1, 2002, in which he said of Saddam Hussein:
We know he's got ties with al Qaeda.
On February 6, 2003, Bush elaborated on the purported ties between Iraq and al Qaeda:
Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.
On March 18, 2003, Bush refered to 9/11 in this letter to Congress on his authority to use force against Iraq:
Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate March 18, 2003
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
Consistent with section 3(b) of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243), and based on information available to me, including that in the enclosed document, I determine that:
(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither (A) adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq nor (B) likely lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and
(2) acting pursuant to the Constitution and Public Law 107-243 is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
On May 1, 2003, also known as Mission Accomplished Day, Bush again referred to a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda:
We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.
Bush repeatedly claimed that Saddam Hussein was connected to al Qaeda in the 2004 election campaign, as in this stump speech in Alamogordo, New Mexico on October 28, 2004:
This is a person who has had contacts with al Qaeda.
These samples do not represent an exhaustive search of the record.
As for why this matters, there is this interesting result from the latest New York Times/CBS poll:
The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June.
When the same question was asked in April of 2003, only 31 percent saw no link between Iraq and the war on terror.
Bush and his allies have sought to prop up support for their Iraq misadventure by conflating it with the war on terror. Nearly five years after 9/11, little evidence has been produced to support claims of such a connection. With our troops bogged down in Iraq and Osama bin Laden still at large, more and more Americans do not see that the Iraq debacle has advanced the national interest in keeping us safe from terror attacks.


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