Did President Bush Mislead the Country in His Arguments for War with Iraq?

By Pfiffner, James P. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Did President Bush Mislead the Country in His Arguments for War with Iraq?


Pfiffner, James P., Presidential Studies Quarterly


President Bush has been accused by some in the popular press of lying in his arguments for taking the United States to war with Iraq in 2003. But in order to make judgments about the accuracy of the president's statements, the claims must be analyzed separately. This article examines several sets of statements by President Bush and his administration: first, about the implication that there was a link between Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11; second, about Iraq's nuclear weapons capacity; and third, about Saddam's chemical and biological weapons and his ability to deliver them. The possibility that the intelligence process was politicized is also examined.

Although the record at this early date is far from complete, the article concludes that from publicly available evidence, the president misled the country in implying that there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11. The administration's claims about Iraq's nuclear capacity were based on dubious evidence that was presented in a misleading manner. Claims about chemical and biological weapons were based on legitimate evidence that was widely accepted internationally, despite the failure to find the weapons by late 2003. Claims of Saddam's ability to deliver these weapons, however, were exaggerated. Finally, there was circumstantial and inconclusive evidence that in 2002 the intelligence community may have been under unusual pressure to support the administration's goals.

A Link between Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, and 9/11

Two days after the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001, a Time/CNN poll found that 78 percent of respondents thought that Saddam Hussein was involved with the attacks on the twin trade towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. (1) From that time to the beginning of the war and into the summer of 2003, President Bush and his administration strongly implied that there was a link between Saddam and the al Qaeda hijackers, despite Osama bin Laden's contempt for Saddam as the head of a secular state (Fisher 2003). (2) Although Bush probably knew that the evidence was quite sketchy at best, he used the implied link to bolster support for war with Iraq in Congress before the authorizing resolution and more generally with the American public before and after the war.

In early October 2002, President Bush was trying to convince Congress to pass a resolution to give him unilateral authority to go to war with Iraq. In a major address to the nation on October 7, he said "We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.... We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gasses." He also said that a "very senior al Qaeda leader" received medical treatment in Baghdad. In the same speech, the president closely connected the need to attack Iraq with the 9/11 attacks: "Some citizens wonder, 'after 11 years of living with this {Saddam Hussein} problem, why do we need to confront it now?' And there's a reason. We have experienced the horror of September the 11th." Thus, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a major reason for attacking Iraq.

Vice President Cheney said on "Meet the Press" in late 2001 that a meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi official in Prague in 2001 was "pretty well confirmed." (3) On September 27, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld argued that the link between Saddam and al Qaeda was "bulletproof." (4) National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on September 25, 2002, "There clearly are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq.... There clearly is testimony that some of the contacts have been important contacts and that there's a relationship there." (5)

The problem was that evidence for a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda was never very solid. The administration based part of its argument on a claim that 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague in April 2001. …

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Did President Bush Mislead the Country in His Arguments for War with Iraq?
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