believe the vice president when he claims that
there was a link of some sort between Saddam Hussein
and al Qaeda -- and by intended implication with
the events of Sept. 11, 2001. I believe, that
is, that he is not necessarily lying, not making
things up. I believe, in other words, that Cheney's
-- and President Bush's -- insistence on this
association is just more evidence that the two
of them are blinkered by ideology and seeing precisely
what they want.
tell you a story. There was a man who went to
see a psychiatrist. First, the shrink showed him
a picture of crossed sticks and then one of hundreds
of little dots. "What's that?" the shrink asked.
Snakes and ants having sex, the man replied. The
shrink told the man he was obsessed with sex.
"What do you expect," the patient replied, "when
you keep showing me dirty pictures?"
life as in jokes, you see what you want. Cheney
and Bush (protocol would insist on Bush first,
but we know better) always saw a link between
Hussein and al Qaeda. That link was tenuous at
best, but it was supported by this or that meeting
or sighting or the presence of someone in Iraq
with links to Osama bin Laden. Aficionados of
the Mafia will recognize the telltale signs. This
person is linked to this person who is associated
with that person who is married to yet another
person who was once in business with the brother-in-law
of yet another person. Once you have that mind-set,
the Mafia is everywhere.
is the same with intelligence. Very little of
it is definitive. We have learned that the hard
way. Even the mobile chemical labs in Iraq precisely
identified by spy satellites turned out to be
something else. Human intelligence can be even
more problematic. It turns out, after all, that
we knew next to nothing about what was going on
in Hussein's inner circle.
there contacts between Hussein's regime and al
Qaeda? Maybe. It's not inconceivable that someone
in the regime wanted to keep an ear open. Were
those contacts nefarious? Who knows? Did they
lead in some way to the events of Sept. 11? It
appears not. No evidence suggests that's the case,
and the lack of such evidence is not proof of
anything. It is not up to the critics of the war
to prove the negative any more than it is up to
astronomers to prove that the dark side of the
moon is not made of green cheese. A little intellectual
discipline is in order here.
not surprising that an administration already
bent on war would interpret every dot, every squiggly
line, as evidence that Hussein and bin Laden were
in cahoots. This made sense to Bush and Cheney
since, as we have found out to our dismay, they
cannot distinguish between one kind of evil and
another. Every possible suggestion of cooperation
somehow became proof. This was particularly the
case with Cheney when it came to weapons of mass
destruction. He seized on the murkiest of reports
to proclaim that Iraq had "reconstituted" its
nuclear weapons program, which, lo these many
months later, has yet to be found. So deluded
were our top guys that they invaded Iraq expecting
that the major problem would be how to clean up
after all the victory parades.
Cheney lying or was he merely so driven by ideological
or intellectual conviction that to him the occasional
tree became a forest? It's hard to say. As my
colleague Al Kamen reports, the vice president
did indeed say it was "pretty well confirmed"
that one of the Sept. 11 terrorists, Mohamed Atta,
had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence official.
Actually, that meeting has never been confirmed,
and Cheney, for obvious reasons, has recently
unconfirmed his statement, insisting he was never
so definitive. Kamen confirmed he was.
just as Cheney and Bush missed the forest for
the trees, so do those who defend them and insist
that the Sept. 11 commission overstated the case
by reporting (in a draft) that "no collaborative
relationship" existed between Iraq and al Qaeda.
The fact remains that Hussein's fingerprints are
not on the attacks of Sept. 11 and that the United
States went to war for stated reasons that have
simply evaporated -- weapons of mass destruction
and that vaporous link between two very bad men.
This brings me not to a joke but to the wisdom
of the late Don Quixote, who says something to
remember when this or that intelligence report
is trumpeted by Cheney or Bush in justification
of an unjustified war.
are the enemy of truth."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Posted: June 24, 2004