"All of the bad guys in the Middle East are in Iraq"

The defense secretary's rationale for an escalation in Iraq doesn't acknowledge how the war started.

Published January 12, 2007 5:58PM (EST)

When George W. Bush spoke to the nation Wednesday night, he acknowledged that mistakes had been made in Iraq, but only to a point. To hear Bush tell it, the war in Iraq was getting better every day in every way until the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara sparked an increase in sectarian violence beginning in February 2006.

That's not how the American people see it. According to the latest AP/Ipsos poll, a large majority of Americans now believe that the war itself was a mistake. Saddam Hussein didn't have any weapons of mass destruction. He had no working relationship with al-Qaida. American troops have not been "greeted as liberators."

Sen. Robert Byrd reminded Defense Secretary Robert Gates this morning that the president sold his war on false premises. "We heard about mushroom clouds and ... drones from Iraq targeting our cities," Byrd said. "Those claims were little more than hype and fright."

Now the president and his men say that the United States needs to send more troops to avoid any number of disasters: more sectarian violence, a safe haven for terrorists, a broader Middle Eastern war. In light of all that has come before, Byrd asked Gates, "why should anyone believe the hype" this time around?

Gates' response: I'm new, so don't ask me.

"Whatever is the case when the war started ... and I can't and I won't speak to that ... the result is that virtually all of the bad guys in the Middle East are in Iraq: al-Qaida, the Iranians, the Syrians," he said. "I can't speak to the claims that were made at the beginning of the war, but we face a very complex situation today."

By Tim Grieve

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

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