Does Dick Cheney have information about "long-established ties" between Iraq and al-Qaida that the 9/11 commission doesn't have? He must, right? Because he's still appearing before audiences telling tales of a Saddam al-Qaida collaboration, including a bit about "a brigadier general from the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan in the early 1990s to train Al Qaeda in bomb-making and document forgery."
The 9/11 commissioners, you'll remember from two weeks ago, were so surprised by this story they asked Cheney for any new information he might have that they weren't privy to. The Los Angeles Times reported today that the 9/11 staff had not, indeed, reviewed any new material that had led it to revise its findings that there was not a productive, collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida prior to the 9/11 attacks.
"We believe we have seen all the information the vice president has seen, and stand by the staff statement released at the last hearing," the commission spokesman said.
This is not the only area of confusion being created in the latest offensive by the Bush administration to defend the reasons for and consequences of the Iraq war. Are we safer now because of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course, Cheney said yesterday, echoing the recent GOP talking points: "America is safer, and the world is more secure, because Iraq and Afghanistan are now partners in the struggle against terror, instead of sanctuaries for terrorist networks." he said.
This argument has gone largely unchecked as administration officials and their surrogates state over and over that we are safer now because of their actions. Sunday's Meet the Press was a case in point.
There was Newt Gingrich: "Would we really be safer today if Saddam was still in power? Would we really have a better world if Saddam were still in power? I don't think so." Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, when asked by Tim Russert, "Are we safer now?" "Absolutely," McConnell said. His evidence: "Let's take a look at the new government in Iraq. We're talking about the old government with Saddam Hussein. The new government out of 33 ministers, six are women, 17 are PhDs. The Iraqi ambassador of the United States, a woman, was in my office the other day. She is extremely optimistic about the future of her country. How in the world could anybody argue that we're not better off now than we were around 9/11 and right after that?"
Even one of the Democrats on the show, Madeleine Albright, used the language "I'm not sure we're safer today than we were before" in her criticism of the administration's policies. But we don't have to weigh evidence like the number of women or PhD's in the new interim Iraqi government, or Cheney's word, or our own imaginings about whether we're safer. We have better information than that.
An Army War College report said the war in Iraq was an unnecessary detour and diversion of resources and attention from the goal of defeating al-Qaida. A London-based think tank said the "overall risk of terrorism to Westerners and Western assets in Arab countries appeared to increase after the Iraq war began in March 2003." The State Department's own data, revised after it grossly underestimated the terror threat, show that terrorist attacks last year were at a 20-year high. And as for Afghanistan being a "partner in the struggle against terror," as Cheney says: Our mission was only half-accomplished there, leaving the country on the "verge of anarchy," according to a recent report. The Taliban is still operating in Afghanistan, and serving as a disruptive force in the elections.
Dick Cheney will likely repeat his questionable statements about the war against terrorism and the administration's pre-Iraq war evidence on his Midwestern bus tour over the Fourth of July weekend. It's about time he was seriously challenged to present facts to back them up.