The White House counterattack shoots -- and misses -- again

The target this time: Michigan Sen. Carl Levin.

Published November 14, 2005 9:32PM (EST)

As we noted earlier today, the White House felt the need over the weekend to push back against a Washington Post story that undercut the president's claim that Democrats who voted to authorize the war in Iraq did so based on "the same intelligence" he had.

It turns out that was just the beginning.

This afternoon, the "current news" section of the White House Web site has exactly one item in it, and it's another one of these RNC-style talking-point memos called "Setting the Record Straight." The target this time: comments Michigan Sen. Carl Levin made this morning on CNN.

What did Levin say that was worthy of an official White House rebuke? That before the Iraq war began, George W. Bush and members of his administration blurred the lines between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida to such a degree that a majority of Americans came to believe that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11.

Now, we're all for setting the record straight when it isn't. So if the president never tried to link Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, then the record should be put straight. But he did. If members of his administration never made public comments suggesting such a link, then the record should be put straight. But they did. And if a majority of the American public didn't come to think that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, well, the record should be put straight on that, too. But a majority of Americans thought exactly that.

So how does the White House "set the record straight" about Levin's remarks? With this: "Sen. Levin and Other Democrats Previously Said That Iraq Was a Part of the War on Terror." That isn't exactly a bombshell -- the administration has spent the past two years insisting that Iraq is the "central front" in the war on terror -- and it's not particularly relevant: Whether Iraq is or isn't a "part of the war on terror," whatever that means, doesn't have a whole lot to do with the fact that the Bush administration misled the American public -- and successfully so -- about a link between Saddam and 9/11.

It reminds us of something Muhammad Ali is said to have whispered once into George Foreman's ear: "Is that all you got, George?"

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Carl Levin D-mich. George W. Bush Iraq War