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Thursday, August 31, 2006


The invisible straw man

The assertion that George Bush has now admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 has spread rapidly through the liberal (and left) world. Here are some examples from a column by Katha Pollitt in The Nation about the use of the term "Islamo-Fascism", which I use only because I have it at hand, not because it's the best and certainly far from the only example. Pollitt writes:
Saddam Hussein and the Baathists of Syria...have nothing in common with shadowy, stateless, fundamentalist Al Qaeda--as even Bush now acknowledges.
Pollitt derives her claim, as do all the people who have fallen into this trap, from one answer Bush gave in a press conference on August 21. She writes of
those who wondered why, if terrorism was the problem, invading Iraq was the solution. (From the President's August 21 press conference: Q: "But what did Iraq have to do with September 11?" A: "Nothing." Now he tells us!)
But the problem is the Pollitt, and so many others, apparently only heard the soundbite on the TV news, and forget to watch (or read) the entire answer [highlights added]:
Q What did Iraq have to do with that?

THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q The attack on the World Trade Center?

THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.
And, just in case anyone missed it, Bush repeated the identical formulation days later in his widely broadcast interview with NBC's Brian Williams:
BUSH: Well those are two different questions, did we fight the wrong war, and absolutely -- I have no doubt -- the war came to our shores, remember that. We had a foreign policy that basically said, let's hope calm works. And we were attacked.

WILLIAMS: But those weren't Iraqis.

BUSH : They weren’t, no, I agree, they weren't Iraqis, nor did I ever say Iraq ordered that attack, but they're a part of, Iraq is part of the struggle against the terrorists. Now in terms of image, of course I worry about American image. We are great at TV, and yet we are getting crushed on the PR front. I personally do not believe that Saddam Hussein picked up the phone and said, “al-Qaida, attack America.”
If that isn't a strawman worthy of starring in "The Wizard of Oz," I don't know what is. As far as I know, no one in the world, not even the most rabid members of the Administration like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, has ever made such a claim. But everyone has fallen for it! Now over and over all I hear is the first word of Bush's answer: "Nothing." Folks, he didn't mean it, as everything else he said, even in the same answer, makes abundantly clear. And we should all be clear on that.

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