It's hard to believe that it was just a slip of the tongue rather than a calculated lie when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sullied the memory of those who died on 9/11 by exploiting their deaths for propaganda purposes. The brainwashing of Americans, two-thirds of whom believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks, is too effective a political ploy for the Bush regime to suddenly let the truth get in the way.
"We know [Iraq] had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with al-Qaida in particular, and we know a great many of [Osama] bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime," Wolfowitz told ABC on this year's 9/11 anniversary.
We know nothing of the sort, of course, and the next day Wolfowitz was forced to admit it. He told the Associated Press that his remarks referred not to a "great many" of bin Laden's lieutenants but rather to a single Jordanian, Abu Musab Zarqawi. "[I] should have been more precise," Wolfowitz admitted.
Even if the leaders of the Bush team were half as smart as they think they are, it would be amazing that they "misspeak" as often as they have. This happened again Sunday when Tim Russert challenged Vice President Dick Cheney to defend his claim, made on "Meet the Press" before the war, that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. "Yeah, I did misspeak," Cheney admitted. "We never had any evidence that [Saddam] had acquired a nuclear weapon."
The pattern is clear: Say what you want people to believe for the front page and on TV, then whisper a halfhearted correction or apology that slips under the radar. It is really quite ingenious in its cynical effectiveness, and Wolfowitz's latest performance is a classic example: Even his correction needs correcting.
The Zarqawi connection has been a red herring since Colin Powell emphasized it in his prewar presentation to the United Nations Security Council, telling the world how Zarqawi was running a chemical weapons lab. Problem was, the site was not in Iraqi control but was in the U.S.-patrolled no-fly zone, and when reporters visited it in the days immediately after Powell's speech they found nothing that indicated anything like a chemical weapons lab.
The fundamentalist militia known as Ansar al Islam that controlled the area, meanwhile, was supported by Saddam's enemies in Iran.
Nor has any evidence of connections between Ansar al Islam and Saddam's regime surfaced since the U.S. invasion, as Wolfowitz conceded in congressional testimony last Tuesday.
At that same Senate hearing, Vincent Cannistraro, formerly the CIA's director of counter-terrorism operations and analysis, testified: "There was no substantive intelligence information linking Saddam to international terrorism before the war. Now we've created the conditions that have made Iraq the place to come to attack Americans."
So, Wolfowitz and the administration might prove to be right after all. Not about Iraq's ties with bin Laden before the invasion. Nor about the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction the president used to scare up support for war. But by turning its claim that Iraq is the "central front" in the war on terrorism into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Without this claim, the president's men would be revealed as imperial adventurers who wasted the lives and resources of this country to redraw the map of the world. That scheme, including "preemptive military intervention," can be traced to a "Defense Planning Guidance" document prepared by Wolfowitz in 1992 when he was Cheney's undersecretary of defense for policy.
Thus, it was not too surprising that the bodies recovered after the 9/11 attacks were barely in the ground before Cheney and Wolfowitz were arguing that a proper response to 9/11 was to go after Iraq -- whether or not Iraq had anything to do with the plot. They were willing to say anything to convince us they were right, even trying to sell this as a war without cost.
In March, one week into the war, Wolfowitz told Congress, "We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." Now we find that Iraq can't pay for its own reconstruction and since we went to war unilaterally, defying world opinion, we are unlikely to persuade anybody else to chip in.
Last week, a Washington Post poll showed that 60 percent of the American people opposed the president's plan to throw $87 billion more into this quagmire, on top of the $79 billion budgeted already. Perhaps, like people blinking in the sun after a long hibernation, Americans are finally awakening to the stupid and craven things being done in the name of our protection.