To this day, millions of Americans believe we invaded Iraq because of 9/11. 33 percent still believe there was some interconnection between Saddam Hussein and the nightmares here and in Washington and in Pennsylvania.
Iraq, of course, had nothing to do with 9/11.
Six years later, that has changed.
Iraq has distracted us from punishing those responsible for 9/11. If another 9/11 comes, our focus on Iraq will surely have been central to that nightmare.
How did we get here? What consequences have been paid by those who brought us here?
In our number one story tonight, no one person is to blame. And only some of those who are, recognize it.
- As we reported yesterday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells G-Q magazine he is “sorry” he gave the world wrong information when he told the U-N of the threat Iraq supposedly posed. He was not fired for doing so. He paid no price we know of, other than the admitted “blot” on his record, and whatever toll his conscience exacted.
- Unrepetant, however, is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also talking to G-Q.
Saying he does not lose sleep over the war, declining to apologize for it - despite pushing for it, despite using 9/11 the day after 9/11– for his own benefit, to pursue his goal of bombing Iraq. Rumsfeld, not fired for his performance, but for politics. Now in private life, reportedly trying to see how much he must tell, to make for a profitable tell-all. Mr. Rumsfeld was served, and the nation ill-served, by a flock of Pentagon hawks, bent on war, seeing 9/11 not as an obligation to answer, but an opportunity to exploit.
- Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz ,who also tied Iraq to 9/11, who ridiculed warnings we needed more troops to invade Iraq – not fired, named head of the World Bank, until resigning in disgrace.
- Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle – not fired, forced to retire not for pushing the war, but for allegedly profiting off of it.
- Undersecretary Doug Feith, who cherry-picked anti-Iraq intel – not fired, despite a Pentagon report later refuting Feith’s claim that Iraq and al Qaeda were in league.
And as you go higher in the administration, your reward for being wrong on the war grows proportionately.
- Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, responsible for the 16-word lie about Iraqi pursuit of yellowcake from Niger – not fired, promoted to National Security Advisor.
- His boss, Condoleezza Rice, who threatened us with mushroom clouds – not fired, promoted to America’s chief diplomat: Secretary of State.
- CIA Director George Tenet, who called the case for war a “slam dunk” – not fired, given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
And within the president’s circle of advisors, marketing the war:
- Andy Card and Dan Bartlett – neither fired. Card retired; Bartlett promoted, then retired.
- Karen Hughes – not fired, promoted, stunningly, to the task of winning hearts and minds in the Muslim world.
But let us go higher still.
- Vice President Dick Cheney, creator of his cherry-picking intel apparatus, gave its poisoned fruit to the media and then fed the lie to us on national television — even after truth, and shame, rendered its mendaciousness, manifest. He continues to do so to this day. Not fired.
- Cheney’s aide, Lewis Libby, came closest of all to suffering genuine consequences. Convicted of covering up Mr. Cheney’s role in sliming critics of the war, his consequences nullified at the last minute when the president commuted his prison sentence, ensuring that no one in his circle - least of all him – paid any price for selling us the lie of Iraq; for failing to punish the bombing of the U-S-S Cole; for neglecting the warnings pre-9/11; for turning back at Tora Bora; for ultimately ensuring that while the rest of the world suffers painful, deadly consequences for his actions, only he does not.
Only he and one other.
Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11. His reach, and recruiting, all benefiting from Mr. Bush’s war; his group’s strength today at a six-year high; his Afghan allies, the Taliban, as NBC reported tonight, also resurgent, planning the death of Americans, just 25 miles from Kabul. All while bin Laden himself operates freely, unmolested, with his own media operation, thanks to a regional Pakistani truce endorsed by Mr. Bush, in a region where Mr. Bush will not go, cannot go even if he chose to, because he has spent so much American blood and treasure, in the desert of a nation that had neither means nor motive to threaten us. But that tempted Mr. Bush and those around him who wished to transform the Middle East, so much so that he forswore the vow he made, standing here - literally atop New York’s dead - that their killers would hear us soon.
Six years later, we still hear them, because now, finally, Iraq and 9/11 really are connected–by him.
And we suffer the consequences.