It’s an old military adage that bad intel can get soldiers killed, but it now turns out that false talking points may be even more lethal, a lesson that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney continue to teach the world as the death toll mounts in Iraq.

In pounding the Democratic-controlled Congress into submission on Iraq War funding last week, the President and Vice President let loose a withering barrage of non-sequiturs, appeals to fear, long-discredited canards and personal attacks on critics for endangering U.S. troops.

Fearing an escalation of the rhetorical assault over the Memorial Day weekend, Democratic leaders crumbled, reneging on their vow that Bush would never again be given a blank check. Instead they cleared the way for a bipartisan vote that handed the President more than $100 billion without any meaningful strings attached.

But Bush’s Iraq War talking points – while appealing to some Americans and frightening some Democrats – remain a potpourri of cherry-picked intelligence, irrational arguments and outright lies.

Back were some golden oldies – like Saddam Hussein failing to comply with U.N. demands to get rid of his WMD, even though the world knows that he did – and some newer favorites – like the need to listen when al-Qaeda boasts about driving the U.S. out of Iraq, although U.S. intelligence knows al-Qaeda actually believes that “prolonging the war” is in its interest.

At the May 23 Coast Guard commencement, Bush reprised some of his old talking points and unveiled a new one, citing intelligence that Osama bin Laden tasked al-Qaeda forces in Iraq in January 2005 to conduct terrorist attacks outside of Iraq, including possibly the United States.

“I’ve often warned that if we fail in Iraq, the enemy will follow us home,” Bush said. “Many ask, ‘How do you know?’ Today, I’d like to share some information with you that attests to al-Qaeda’s intentions.”

Bush then laid out the story of bin Laden ordering Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to divert some of his operatives in Iraq to terrorist activities outside Iraq.

“Bin Laden emphasized that America should be Zarqawi’s number one priority in terms of foreign attacks,” Bush said. “Zarqawi welcomed this direction; he claimed that he had already come up with some good proposals.”

The operations, however, were thwarted, Bush said, and Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. bombing raid inside Iraq in June 2006.

Though Bush presented this two-year-old intelligence as support for his argument that the U.S. forces must fight the “enemy there, so we don’t have to fight them here,” the information actually would seem to establish the opposite; fighting them there makes it more likely that they also will attack here.

Boon to al-Qaeda

As U.S. intelligence has been reporting internally for years, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was a boon to al-Qaeda, diverting U.S. forces away from its leaders hiding along the Pakistan-Afghan borders while helping al-Qaeda attract thousands of new recruits, build a battle-tested force in Iraq, and reestablish its financial infrastructure.

The Iraq WAr even has turned into a cash cow for al-Qaeda, which is sending money raised for its operations in Iraq back to its headquarters in Pakistan to fund the leadership, the Los Angeles Times reported on May 20.

The Times wrote: “In one of the most troubling trends, U.S. [senior intelligence] officials said that al Qaeda’s command base in Pakistan is increasingly being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network’s operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activities.

“The influx of money has bolstered al Qaeda’s leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network.”

Al-Qaeda’s current strategy appears to be to keep the United States bogged down in Iraq; to continue exploiting the U.S. occupation as a propaganda, recruitment and money-raising bonanza; and to undertake terrorist plots against the West.

As “Atiyah,” one of bin Laden’s top deputies, wrote to Zarqawi in December 2005 about the Iraq War, “the most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest.”

[To read the “prolonging the war” passage from the Atiyah letter at the Web site of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, click here and then scroll down to the bottom of page 16 and the top of page 17.] 
 
Independent of the Atiyah letter, which wasn't intercepted until June 2006, a National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, concluded in April 2006 that the Iraq War had become the “cause celebre” that was spreading Islamic extremism around the world.

Yet, the Bush administration continues to use talking points that justify staying in Iraq as a way to counter al-Qaeda, though the reality appears to be that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been Bush’s gift to bin Laden that keeps on giving.

Scary Talking Point

At the West Point commencement on May 26, Vice President Cheney recycled another old and scary talking point, an al-Qaeda statement dating back to 2002 asserting a tooth-for-a-tooth right to avenge America’s killing of Muslim civilians, including children, by inflicting similar havoc in the United States.

“Al-Qaeda’s leadership has said they have the right to ‘kill four million Americans, two million of them children, and to exile twice as many and to wound and cripple thousands,” Cheney said, reviving a claim which was made three years ago by President Bush.

But Cheney, like Bush, stripped the statement, attributed to al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith, of its context. It was a twisted moral rationalization seeking to justify the 9/11 attacks to a disgusted Muslim world; it wasn’t an operational plan as Cheney and Bush suggested.

Similarly, in their pre-Memorial Day political offensive, Bush and Cheney continued to cite al-Qaeda’s supposed dream of a “caliphate,” a religious state that in the Bush-Cheney view would stretch from Spain to Indonesia. Yet, whatever al-Qaeda’s grandiose visions, U.S. intelligence recognizes that there is no practical way for this ragtag group to achieve anything close to that goal, especially if the United States adopts a sensible Middle East strategy.

Prior to 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leaders were exiles from their homelands and pariahs in the Islamic world. They and other Islamic extremist groups had been defeated in country after country, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Expelled even from Sudan, al-Qaeda’s leaders fled to the farthest corners of the globe, in their case the caves of Afghanistan.

According to the 9/11 Commission and other studies, al-Qaeda attacked U.S. targets, in part, hoping for a clumsy U.S. military response that would alienate Muslims and give al-Qaeda another political shot in the Islamic world.

With the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda’s leaders almost miscalculated, provoking an intense U.S. assault on their bases in Afghanistan. But the Bush administration’s failure to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora and its quick pivot to invade Iraq gave al-Qaeda new hope.

Suddenly, al-Qaeda could point to Bush’s “crusade” in the Middle East that involved attacking an Arab country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

Bush-Osama Symbiosis

As it turned out, bin Laden’s interests and Bush’s interests were symbiotic. Bush got to conquer Iraq and finish off his father’s nemesis, Saddam Hussein, while bin Laden saw one of his Muslim enemies eliminated (Hussein) and al-Qaeda got its “cause celebre” to radicalize the Islamic world.

Yet, despite the recognition of the U.S. intelligence community that Bush’s invasion of Iraq has strengthened al-Qaeda, Bush continues to cite bin Laden’s quotes about the war to justify keeping U.S. forces there.

“Some in our country question whether the battle in Iraq is part of the war on terror,” Bush told the Coast Guard cadets. “Among the terrorists, there’s no doubt. Hear the words of Osama bin Laden. He calls the struggle in Iraq a ‘war of destiny.’ He proclaimed ‘the war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever.’”

But Bush’s repeated assertion that Americans must heed the words of the enemy and do the opposite cedes to al Qaeda control over U.S. actions. In effect, a superpower with global responsibilities has bound its decision-making to bin Laden's whims and rhetoric.

It also opens the United States to “Brer-Rabbit-and-the-briar-patch” tactics in which bin Laden can bait Washington to do the opposite of what he actually wants, for instance, calling on the United States to leave Iraq when he actually wants the U.S. to stay. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Bush-Bin Laden Symbiosis."]

Nevertheless, though losing ground politically and militarily in the Middle East, Bush still has beaten the Democrats in Washington. He did so by accusing war critics of playing into al-Qaeda’s hands, even though the evidence is that Bush’s policy in Iraq is what has helped al-Qaeda most.

White House spokesmen accused Democrats of wanting to set a “surrender” date by establishing a timeline for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Democrats also were chastised for undermining the troops and U.S. security by holding out for some concessions from Bush on an Iraq exit strategy.

Though the Democrats won control of Congress in November 2006 with what was widely regarded as a popular mandate to end the war, the party leaders decided that their slim majorities couldn’t withstand the Bush-led Memorial Day attacks on their patriotism.

Bush’s victory on Capitol Hill ensured not only more than $100 billion in new war funding but suggests that the U.S. occupation of Iraq may continue indefinitely and almost certainly into the next presidency, unless the Democratic cave-in is met with a groundswell of public outrage.

New Talking Points

Democratic leaders insist that their Memorial Day capitulation was only a tactical retreat and that new funding battles will be fought in September. But Bush is already laying the groundwork for a new set of harsh talking points.

Bush is signaling that war critics will be blamed for the escalating bloodshed expected among American troops over the summer. Bush’s talking point will assert that his domestic opponents are encouraging al-Qaeda by rewarding the terrorists with the promise of a U.S. withdrawal if they kill enough Americans and Iraqis.

“A few weeks ago, al-Qaeda’s number two, second-in-command [Ayman al] Zawahiri, issued a video in which he gloated that al-Qaeda’s ‘movement of violence’ has ‘forced the Americans to accept a pullout – about which they only differ in regard to its timing,’” Bush said in his Coast Guard address.

“We can expect al-Qaeda to continue its campaign of high-profile attacks, including deadly suicide bombings and assassinations. And as they do, our troops will face more fighting and increased risks in the weeks and months ahead,” Bush said.

At a May 24 news conference, Bush expanded on his prediction that the pressure for an Iraq War reassessment in September will make August particularly “bloody.”

“It could make August a tough month, because you see, what they’re going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to influence the debate here at home,” Bush said. “Don’t you find that interesting? I do – that they recognize that the death of innocent people could shake our will.”

Bush also made clear that he intends to build his Iraq War case by convincing the American people that they and their families are in grave danger if the Democratic war critics get their way.

“This concept about, well, maybe let’s just kind of just leave them alone and maybe they’ll be all right is naïve,” Bush said. “These people attacked us before we were in Iraq, … and they’ve been attacking ever since. They are a threat to your children. …

“Some may say, well, he’s just saying that to get people to pay attention to him or try to scare them into – for some reason. I would hope our world hadn’t become so cynical that they don’t take the threats of al-Qaeda seriously, because they’re real. And it’s a danger to the American people.”

At the news conference, Bush also bristled at a question about why bin Laden was still at large.

“Because we haven’t got him yet,” Bush snapped. “That’s why. And he’s hiding, and we’re looking, and we will continue to look until we bring him to justice. We’ve brought a lot of his buddies to justice, but not him. That’s why he’s at large. He’s not out there traipsing around; he’s not leading many parades, however. He’s not out feeding the hungry. He’s isolated, trying to kill people to achieve his objective.”

Lashing Out

Bush also lashed out at a question about whether the Iraq War had strengthened al-Qaeda:

“In other words, the option would have been just let Saddam Hussein stay there? Your question is, should we not have left Saddam Hussein in power? And the answer is, absolutely not. …

“As you might remember back then, we tried the diplomatic route: [U.N. Resolution] 1441 was a unanimous vote in the Security Council that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. So the choice was his to make. And he made a choice that has subsequently caused him to lose his life.”

In this old-favorite talking point, Bush never acknowledges the fact that Hussein did comply with Resolution 1441 by declaring accurately that he had disposed of his WMD stockpiles and by permitting U.N. inspectors free rein to inspect any site of their choosing. In March 2003, Bush forced the U.N. inspectors to leave and then, in defiance of the U.N. Charter, launched a preemptive invasion.

Though the history on this point is now well established, Bush continues to falsify the record – even saying at times that Hussein barred the U.N. inspectors. But Bush is never called on this falsehood by the White House press corps. [See Consortiumnews.com's "George W. Bush Is a Liar."]

On Memorial Day, President Bush tested out another talking point, depicting the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq as a test of American mettle and manhood.

“As before in our history, Americans find ourselves under attack and underestimated,” Bush said.  “Our enemies long for our retreat. They question our moral purpose. They doubt our strength of will. Yet even after five years of war, our finest citizens continue to answer our enemies with courage and confidence.”

For Bush and Cheney, their own triumph of the will has been their success in using tough-talking talking points to back down the Democrats in Washington.

But the tragedy on the ground in Iraq is that no matter how much “courage and confidence” American soldiers display – as their death toll rises toward 3,500 and the number of Iraqi dead soars into the hundreds of thousands – the soldiers find themselves fighting and dying for a war strategy that arguably is doing far more harm than good.

No talking point can change that painful reality.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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