The Truth, Mainly - 09/27/2004

One more time: Why Iraq?
by Leon Satterfield

One of my favorite dead journalists is William Allen White, the longtime editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, a friend and advisor to U.S. presidents, and—get this—a stalwart of the Republican Party.

His most memorable political opponent was Doc Brinkley, probably the quackiest of our medical quacks. He was known as "the goat-gland doctor"—I'm not making this up—because he claimed he could rejuvenate the virility of old guys by implanting goat glands in their aging bodies.

Brinkley preached his goat-gland gospel over his own radio station, the first one in Kansas, and thus became widely known. So he decided to run for governor as a write-in candidate in 1930. He damn near won. Probably would have won had all his supporters spelled his name right.

White was aghast at the number of Brinkley votes, and in a Gazette editorial after the election, he wrote that Brinkley voters were part of "a moronic underworld that can be taught to read and write, but not to think."

That charge brought an avalanche of angry letters from Brinkleyites who thought "moronic underworld" meant that White was suggesting they were going to hell. Literally.

White's wonderfully concise editorial response: "Dear Brinkley voters: I didn't mean that you were bad. I only meant that you were dumb."

Which finally brings me to my subject.

A Newsweek poll on Sep. 4 asked this question: "Do you think Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was DIRECTLY involved in planning, financing, or carrying out of the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, or not?"

That would be roughly equivalent to asking in 1944, "Do you think Adolph Hitler's regime in Germany was DIRECTLY involved in planning, financing, or carrying out of the terrorist attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, or not?"

Would anyone over the age of five have answered yes to that question? None of the kids I was in grade school with would have.

But get this: In the Newsweek poll, 42 percent of adult registered voters answered yes, they do think Saddam was DIRECTLY involved in the 9/11 attacks; 55 percent of Republicans polled and 32 percent of Democrats polled said yes, that's what they believe.

So how did so many of us get so confused about who was responsible for the carnage?

It wasn't because of what Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said on "Meet the Press." He said he had "seen nothing that makes a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and…what happened on 9/11."

But President Bush seems easily confused when he talks about terrorism. The A.P. reported last week that on ten different occasions the president has said that the late Iraqi terrorist, Abu Nidal, killed Leon Klinghoffer by throwing him and his wheelchair off the cruise liner, Achille Lauro, in 1985.

He said it again last week.

Problem is, the A.P. says, the Klinghoffer killer was a Palestinian, not an Iraqi, and his name was Abul Abbas, not Abu Nidal. But the president keeps getting it wrong. Abu Nidal, Abul Abbas. Iraqi, Palestinian. Who can keep all that straight?

One of the president's favorite justifications for fighting in Iraq is "we'll strike the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home"—clearly an attempt to lump Osama bin Laden's 9/11 terrorists with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

And the vice president encourages that kind of confusion by saying things like "We didn't do anything to provoke the attacks of 9/11. We were attacked by the terrorists, and we've responded forcefully and aggressively."

But the vastly greater part of the forceful and aggressive response has been in Iraq, not anywhere near to where we think bin Laden is hanging out.

Last year, Cheney called Iraq "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

Say it aloud: There is an embarrassing absence of credible evidence linking Iraq to 9/11; most of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. Say it again. Now one more time.

And remember what Richard Clarke told Leslie Stahl on "60 Minutes" last March. He said that after 9/11, nearly everyone in the administration agreed that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were probably responsible, so he was surprised when "Rumsfeld said that we needed to bomb Iraq. And we all said…no, no, Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it….I thought he was joking."

The only conclusion I can reach from all this is that the Bush folks—less Powell and Clarke—have generalized from William Allen White's editorial: while they're pretty sure Americans aren't bad, they're absolutely convinced we're dumb.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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