Why Bush’s Case For Iraq Was Different (And False)

from American progress:

To justify the war against Iraq, the Bush administration made a number of exaggerated and misleading claims about the Iraqi threat that went far beyond the public statements issued by the Clinton administration. Going beyond the argument that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration made a unique case on two specific fronts to justify the war: the supposed connections to al Qaeda and the Iraqi nuclear threat. The administration argued that the evidence in these two areas amounted to a “grave and gathering threat” in a “post-September 11th world.” On the eve of the Iraq war, Bush said, “The danger is clear: Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other.” The imagery was clear: terrorists, such as those that attacked on 9/11, could do far greater damage with nuclear weapons, and the Iraqi regime was helping to make that scenario a reality. In fact, the evidence behind the supposed Iraq/al Qaeda connection and the evidence on the nuclear threat have turned out to be the weakest links in the case for war.

FALSE CLAIM — IRAQ WAS TRAINING AL QAEDA: The New York Times reported this weekend that the Bush administration was warned in February 2002 that its evidence for the claim that Iraq was providing weapons training to al Qaeda was based on the tales of a non-credible witness. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported at the time that the detained al Qaeda terrorist “could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used or where the training occurred. As a result, ‘it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers.'” Yet, despite this knowledge, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used the evidence in his U.N. presentation, and the administration repeated the claim over the next two years. In fact, even after the al Qaeda source recanted his earlier claims of an Iraq/al Qaeda link in January 2004, Vice President Cheney was still repeating it months later.

FALSE CLAIM — BUSH AND CHENEY LINKED IRAQ TO AL QAEDA AND 9/11: In a letter to Congress on March 21, 2003, Bush justified the Iraq war by arguing he was going after al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist network. Bush wrote, “I have also determined that the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with” the need to take action against “persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” Later, Cheney said it was “not surprising” that the American public was making a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

FALSE CLAIM — WHITE HOUSE HAD REASON TO KNOW AL QAEDA LINK WAS FALSE: Every piece of evidence offered by the administration to justify the link has been rejected, as the 9-11 Commission made clear. The claims that bin Laden and Iraq had joined forces at a meeting in Sudan has been debunked. The claim that Zarqawi was evidence of an Iraq/al Qaeda link has been debunked. The 9-11 Commission debunked the claim that 9-11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraq intelligence officials. And a claim that a high-ranking al Qaeda member was an officer in Saddam Hussein’s private militia was also debunked. There is evidence suggesting the White House knew all this prior to the invasion. Former White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz “wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no ‘compelling case’ existed for Iraq’s involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government were weak.” Similarly, another former counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, informed the White House that no “compelling case” could be found for an al Qaeda link.

FALSE CLAIM — NUCLEAR THREAT: Bush argued in his 2003 State of the Union that Iraq was close to developing a nuclear weapon. He offered two pieces of evidence: 1) “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” and 2) Iraq “has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.” On the first count, it has been well documented that the administration was warned at least three times not to claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. The administration was also warned that its reliance on a Niger document was misplaced and that it should not rely on British intelligence. On the second count, Condoleezza Rice claimed the aluminum tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs” despite the fact that she had previously been informed that “the government’s foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons.” The day before Bush’s 2003 State of the Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded the tubes “would not be suitable” for a nuclear program. The Department of Energy also published a dissenting view of the use of the aluminum tubes in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

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