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Reprinted from Consortium News
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right).
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Presidential aspirant Jeb Bush this week may have damaged his chances by flubbing the answer to an entirely predictable question about his big brother's decision to attack Iraq.
On Monday, Fox's Megyn Kelly asked the former Florida governor: "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?" Jeb Bush answered, "I would've. And so would've Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would've almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got."
Bush: "In retrospect, the intelligence that everyone saw -- that the world saw, not just the United States -- was faulty."
After some backfilling and additional foundering on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bush apparently memorized the "correct" answer. So on Thursday, he proceeded to ask the question himself: "If we're all supposed to answer hypothetical questions: Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq."
It is a safe bet that, by Thursday, Iraq War champion Paul Wolfowitz, now a senior adviser to Jeb Bush, had taken him to the woodshed, admonishing him along these lines: "Jeb, you remembered to emphasize the mistaken nature of pre-war intelligence; that's the key point; that's good. But then you need to say that if you knew how mistaken the intelligence was, you would not have attacked Iraq. Got it?"
It was then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz -- together with his boss Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and a string of neocon advisers -- who exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to make war on Iraq, which they had been itching for since the 1990s. They tried mightily (and transparently) to link Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks. Following their lead, the fawning corporate media played up this bum rap with such success that, before the attack on Iraq, polls showed that almost 70 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein played some kind of role in 9/11.
Not so, said honest intelligence analysts who, try as they might, could find no persuasive evidence for Hussein's guilt other than the synthetic kind in Wolfowitz's purposively twisted imagination. Yet the pressure on the analysts to conform was intense. CIA's ombudsman commented publicly that never in his 32-year career with the agency had he encountered such "hammering" on CIA analysts to reconsider their judgments and state that there were operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
The pressure was reflected in pronouncements at the highest levels. A year after 9/11, President Bush was still saying, "You cannot distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror." Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was more direct, claiming that the evidence tying Iraq to al-Qaeda was "bulletproof."
But Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush and Chairman of George W. Bush's President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, supported honest analysts in CIA and elsewhere, stating publicly that evidence of any such connection was "scant."
There was the looming danger of a principled leak, or possibly even an insurrection of some kind on the part of those opposed to creating pretexts for war. And so the administration chose to focus first and foremost on "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD).
It would be an easier -- and scarier -- sell a claim that Iraq had chemical, biological and perhaps nuclear weapons and that the Iraqis could give them to "terrorists" for another attack on the "homeland" (introducing a term that both the Nazis and the Soviets used to good effect in whipping up nationalistic fervor in wartime).
Brimming with WMD
Unable to get honest intelligence analysts to go along with the carefully nurtured "noble lie" that Iraq played a role in 9/11, or even that operational ties existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the administration ordered up a separate but related genre of faux intelligence -- WMD. This PR offensive was something of a challenge, for in the months before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had insisted publicly that Saddam Hussein posed no security threat. You don't remember?
On Feb. 24, 2001, Powell had said, "Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."
And just six weeks before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice told CNN: "let's remember that his [Saddam's] country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt." Obligingly, the compliant U.S. media pressed the delete button on those telling statements.