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Bush’s Evasion


Five years after 9/11, as things increasingly sour in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush’s public appearances get increasingly more pathetic.

During Bush’s August news conference a persistent reporter wouldn’t let him get away with his claim that Iraq is the central front on the so-called war on terror. “What did Iraq have to do with 9/11?” reporter Ken Herman asked.

“Nothing,” Bush said in a highly uncharacteristic moment of candor. The look on his face was priceless.

In a flash, the president realized he had finally admitted — before America and the world — what war opponents have said right along: there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Bush tried to recover, but his performance was quite pitiful. He blustered, “Except for it’s part of — and nobody’s ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a — Iraq — the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody’s ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.”

Notice how Bush interrupts himself twice: “[Iraq was] part of … ” Of what? “Iraq was a … ” A what? He was still somehow trying to connect Saddam to 9/11, but couldn’t complete the thoughts without contradicting his admission that Iraq had nothing to do with it. So he switched gears and invoked the “lesson of September the 11th,” before denying he “ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.”

Fine. Except no one ever claimed that he said Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks. What he, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said was that Iraq had close ties with al-Qaeda. Bush was pulling a fast one at his news conference. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

Administration people talked about Iraqi involvement in 9/11 often enough that some people still believe it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN Security Council and the world that Saddam Hussein “harbored” the late al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But a majority of Americans now disbelieve Bush’s claim that Iraq is the central front in the “war on terror.”

Bush claimed such an Iraqi–al-Qaeda connection at his news conference last month. But according to a just-released Senate Intelligence Committee report, the CIA dismissed this claim last fall. Saddam despises bin Laden. (So does Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah.) Maybe Mr. Bush hadn’t been informed.

That news-conference exchange began when Bush said, “The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.”

We can’t be sure if he really believes this or if he thinks the American people just don’t know any better. So let’s get this straight: U.S. intervention in the Middle East — euphemized as “the freedom agenda” — did not begin March 19, 2003, when Bush attacked Iraq in order to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The United States invaded Iraq in 1991 during the Gulf War. We might expect President Bush to know that, since his father was president at the time. Even though that war ended, the United States regularly flew warplanes over north and south Iraq to enforce illegal “no-fly zones.” This often entailed bombings that killed innocent Iraqis. Meanwhile a trade embargo caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children.

That covers only the involvement in Iraq over the last decade and a half. It doesn’t begin to account for heavy U.S. intervention in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East that goes back more than half a century, a bloody history with many Arab and Iranian casualties, thanks to U.S. money, arms, and CIA agents.

While this can in no way excuse what happened on 9/11, it is dishonest to pretend that those crimes had nothing to do with this long record of U.S. intervention.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.