As James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times writes three days before the Dick Cheney-John Edwards debate: “the underlying message remains unchanged—Cheney plants the idea that [Saddam] Hussein was allied with the group responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” Even now, long after the 9-11 Commission laid that myth to rest, the de facto president and Terror War propagandist attack dog repeats the claim at every opportunity, having asserted without elaboration or credibility that he may have intelligence about this link to which the bipartisan Commission somehow wasn’t privy.
This is important as the Cheney-Edwards context looms. Pundits say there was no “knockout punch,” no “zinger” in Thursday’s Bush-Kerry debate. But there was something close. After Bush justified the invasion of Iraq by declaring “The enemy attacked us, Jim,” Kerry said to the moderator: “Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and frankly very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, ‘The enemy attacked us.’ [But] Saddam Hussein didn’t attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us.” To which the scowling chief executive could merely rejoin defensively, “Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that” as though someone had impugned his basic knowledge of history or geography, as in fact often happens.
Clearly Bush has sought all along to confuse in the collective mind what is confused in his own mind: this Iraq-al-Qaeda nexus. In Cheney’s mind, on the other hand, I sense there is much clarity. Knowing full well the lack of any connection, he has sought to establish one through the conscious, systematic dissemination of disinformation. Long after both Bush and Powell have acknowledged no evidence for any link between Saddam and 9-11, Cheney continues to suggest that the jury’s out on that question, and that anyway there are longstanding ties between Saddam and bin Laden.
“This is one of his major issues,” says Michael B. Feldman, former senior aide to Al Gore. “He tries to blur the lines between al-Qaeda and 9/11, and Saddam Hussein and Iraq. From the very beginning of the effort to see the [Iraq] war, this has been Cheney’s role. He’s.at odds with the facts. That doesn’t stop him. I don’t think it’s an accident.” Cheney was the chief figure creating the spooky “Office of Special Plans” which Congressional investigators don’t want to talk about until after the election—the office created specifically to promote this and other lies to justify the Iraq invasion. (Wouldn’t it be nice if this came up during the debates?)
Currently Cheney seeks to substantiate the link by arguing that the ubiquitously mentioned but elusive and mysterious Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, blamed for much of the resistance in Iraq and in particular the gruesome beheadings of hostages, is both a long time bin Laden and Saddam associate. I’ve questioned the reportage on al-Zarqawi elsewhere. Now I read, the same day I see Gerstenzang’s piece, a Telegraph article by Adrian Blomfield beginning with the not so surprising report that “American intelligence obtained through bribery may have seriously overstated the insurgency role of the most wanted fugitive in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”
Blomfield cites an American agent as stating, “We were basically paying up to $US10,000 ($A13,700) a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq.” Shades of the Chalabi disinformation scandal. There is a deep scandal here, that involves less Chalabi than the current “prime minister” Iyad Allawi who, having headed the organization validating the fictitious “45 minutes” charge that inclined British public opinion to support the war, also validated the dubious “Zarqawi letter” announced by the New York Times last January that linked Saddam to Mohammed Atta, Libya, Syria and a ‘Niger shipment.” At that time longstanding CIA operative Allawi (not yet prime minister) dutifully affirmed the document’s accuracy. Few outside the Project for a New American Century give it any credence today. But tales of Zarqawi are crucial to Cheney’s fanciful Saddam-bin Laden narrative.
Cheney, insisting on non-existent links, grasping at straws, exploiting disinformation, leaves himself way open to a frontal attack from John Edwards, if the Southern trial lawyer has the cojones to do it, during Tuesday’s debate in Ohio. “Mr. Vice President,” he should say (breaking the debate rules if necessary), “you keep insisting on this Saddam-al-Qaeda link. But the 9-11 Commission and dozens of press reports make it very clear that there is no evidence of that link. You’re more responsible than anyone in getting 44% of the American people (according to a June Gallup poll) to believe in that link. Won’t you say to those people watching us now, whose trust you so abused, and to the families of those 1060 dead American troops, that in your zeal to go to war in Iraq you lied to them? That you cynically used the emotions of 9-11 to whip up support for a war of choice? Have you no shame, Mr. Cheney?”
Of course Edwards won’t say that, any more than Cheney will tell Edwards “Fuck yourself” (as he did to Pat Leahy on the Senate floor) in a televised debate. It’s too impolitic for a debate between politicians whose foreign policy perspectives are in fact not dissimilar. But as Justin Raimondo remarked in connection with the first Bush-Kerry debate, we can appreciate how “as just a purely political event,” a debate of this sort can appropriate “the anti-interventionist narrative” if only for the opposition candidate’s advantage. While contemptuous of both tickets, I hope Edwards will apply this line of attack Tuesday night, as he confronts the least popular figure in the administration. In doing so he might stimulate broader, more honest and informed debate about the war, and jolt some of the 44% out of their delusion.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org