For Bush in Iraq, it's always 9/11

The president cites the new bin Laden tape as justification for staying the course again.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 11, 2007 2:54PM (UTC)
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When a new videotape of Osama bin Laden emerged Friday, we wondered how long it would take for some member of the Bush administration to use it as a justification for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

The answer, of course: Not long.

At 9:15 on Saturday morning, George W. Bush himself made the connection. "I found it interesting that on the tape Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists," the president said. "If al-Qaida bothers to mention Iraq, it's because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive us out and to develop a safe haven. And the reason they want a safe haven is to launch attacks against America, or any other ally. And therefore, it's important that we show resolve and determination, to protect ourselves, to deny al-Qaida safe haven, and to support young democracies, which will be a major defeat to their ambitions."


Time was, the president mocked those who invoked the words of bin Laden in discussing U.S. foreign policy. When John Kerry said in a 2004 presidential debate that bin Laden was using "the invasion of Iraq in order to go out to people and say that America has declared war on Islam," Bush shot back: "Osama bin Laden isn't going to determine how we defend ourselves. Osama bin Laden doesn't get to decide. The American people decide. I decided the right action was in Iraq."

Now Bush routinely quotes the words of bin Laden as proof that Iraq really is the "central front" in the war on terror. "Hear the words of Osama bin Laden," the president told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May. "He calls the struggle in Iraq a 'war of destiny.' He proclaimed 'the war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever.'"

Testifying before the House Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees Monday, Gen. David Petraeus tried the same approach. "For what it's worth," he told California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman, "al-Qaida believes that Iraq is the central front for the war on terrorism."


Here's Sherman, with the obvious retort: "Well, al-Qaida is telling us that they think it's the central front. They might be lying. They've been known to do so, General. And if we allow [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and bin Laden to tell us where to fight them, they may not give us their best advice."

Tim Grieve

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

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9/11 George W. Bush Iraq War Osama Bin Laden War Room