What’s wrong with the Democrats in Washington? Why has presidential candidate Howard Dean, who was an establishment sort of Democrat as governor of Vermont, been able to tap into widespread disappointment and anger among grassroots Democrats who are frustrated with what Dean calls “those Washington Democrats”?
Here is a small but telling explanation. Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell held a wide-ranging press conference, his first in months. During this session, he was asked about a report produced by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that concluded there was no evidence of a prewar connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and no evidence that Hussein had been likely to transfer weapons of mass destruction to Osama bin Laden’s network. Powell replied, “There is not–you know, I have not seen smoking-gun concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.”
No concrete evidence? The possibility of such connections? That is not how Bush depicted the supposed link between Iraq’s dictator and America’s number-one foe. In a press conference in November 2002, he declared that Hussein was “dealing with” al Qaeda. And during his high-profile May 1, 2003, speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln–remember the flight suit, the “Mission Accomplished” banner?–Bush said that Hussein was an “ally” of al Qaeda.
So what did those statements mean if there was no solid evidence tying Hussein to al Qaeda? Prior to the war, Bush had argued that invasion of Iraq was necessary because (1) Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and (2) Hussein maintained an operational alliance with al Qaeda. He claimed that Hussein could at any moment slip WMDs to bin Laden. Consequently, Bush’s assertions about the relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda was an essential part of his case for war. Last February, Powell told the United Nations Security Council that there was a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al Qaeda. Now he was saying his warning of an alliance between Hussein and al Qaeda was based on “prudent” concern, not actual facts. That is not how Bush presented the matter to the American public. Powell’s press conference comment offered more–and glaring–evidence of the gap between reality and Bush’s rhetoric and was yet another indication Bush (and Powell) had misled the nation on the way to war.