"We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.... Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists," President Bush told a Cincinnati audience on October 7, 2002. "Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof--the smoking gun--that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
The problem with the president's statement, recent reports from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission reveal, is that it flatly contradicted what his own intelligence agencies were telling him at the time about the threat--or in this case, the non-threat--from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The case for the Iraq War was based upon the Bush administration's assertion that Iraq: (1) had massive stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs); and (2) would use them on Americans or give them to al-Qaeda operatives with whom Saddam Hussein was working.
The CIA did tell the Bush administration before the war that Iraq possessed WMDs, an assessment that that turned out to be inaccurate. The administration seized on those inaccurate reports and embellished them even further for public consumption.
But WMDs alone didn't make Hussein a threat: he had to be working with terrorists who were inclined to use them on Americans in order to be a threat to the United States. And the CIA definitively informed the administration that Hussein was not working with al-Qaeda and that, in fact, Hussein regarded al-Qaeda terrorists as enemies of the state and had actively worked against al-Qaeda.
The CIA concluded that Hussein would not use WMDs or engage in terrorist attacks against the U.S., either directly through the Iraqi Intelligence Service or through a surrogate like al-Qaeda, unless he believed an American invasion to remove him from power was imminent. The recently released Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq stated flatly: "The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship."
According to the Senate report, the CIA had repeatedly told the administration that Hussein "generally viewed Islamic extremism ... as a threat to his regime, noting that he had executed extremists from both the Sunni and Shi'a sects to disrupt their organizations. The CIA provided two specific HUMINT [Human Intelligence] reports that support this assessment, both of which indicated that Saddam Hussein's regime arrested and in some cases executed Wahhabists and other Islamic extremists that opposed him. The CIA also provided a HUMINT report ... that indicated the regime sought to prevent Iraqi youth from joining al-Qaeda."
The recently released 9/11 Commission Report also noted that while bin Laden was willing to take help from wherever it was offered, he regarded the Hussein regime as an enemy and "had in fact been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan, and sought to attract them into his Islamic army."
Not only had the CIA informed the administration of the mutual antipathy between bin Laden and Hussein, but before the war the Bush administration's National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002, the most authoritative U.S. government intelligence assessment on national security issues, concluded that Iraq wouldn't cooperate with al-Qaeda. According to the National Intelligence Estimate, Hussein's regime feared "Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger case for making war."
In its march to war, the Bush administration not only listened to (and embellished) erroneous …