The September 11 Commission (the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States) has found “no credible evidence” of a meaningful link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.  Flatly contradicting claims by the Bush administration that such a connection justified the war in Iraq, the commission’s preliminary report released on June 16 says that Osama bin Laden had long opposed Saddam Hussein’s secular regime and that his subsequent attempts to obtain help were rebuffed by the Iraqi dictator.

The September 11 Commission is an imperfect body.  It is guilty of not asking many questions that are essential to understanding the nature of the threat facing us.  While failing to focus on the nature of Islam, U.S. immigration policy, and other strategic issues, the commission’s experts nevertheless appear to have been thorough and professional in dealing with those specific aspects that they were instructed to examine.  Their conclusion reflects the consensus of the intelligence community.  The findings were supported by top CIA and FBI officials who had been under intense political pressure before the war to establish such a link.

The commission’s report is embarrassing for President Bush and his administration.  It came only two days after Vice President Dick Cheney made the latest in a series of assertions that a link between Saddam and Osama did exist, and one day after President Bush explicitly backed Cheney’s assertions.

It now appears that the two key justifications for war—WMD’s and the Al Qaeda link—were not based on facts, and it is noteworthy that both had emanated from the same source.  The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), founded in Washington in 1997, began advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as soon as it came into being, citing WMD’s as the reason.  In its January 26, 1998, open letter to President Clinton, it said that, given the magnitude of the Iraqi weapons threat, military action was the only option.  The letter was supposedly drafted by Paul Wolfowitz, who was among its 18 signatories; others included Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, and William Kristol.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 provided these people and their allies with a new theme.  On September 20, 2001, PNAC sent a letter to President Bush stating that, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”  The letter, signed by Bill Kristol and two-dozen leading neocons—including Perle, Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Martin Peretz, and Norman Podhoretz—argued that “failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”  The signatories went on to repeat the allegation of Saddam’s terrorist connection in literally hundreds of op-eds, interviews, and speeches.

The claim of Saddam’s link with terrorism was duly adopted by the Bush administration as a key justification for war.  Thus, on November 14, 2002, Rumsfeld warned that, “Within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qa’ida.”  Former CIA Director George Tenet, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, went much further: “Baghdad has a long history of supporting terrorism, altering its targets to reflect changing priorities and goals.  It has also had contacts with al-Qaeda.”  He added that “there is no doubt there have been contacts and linkages to the al-Qaeda organization” (emphasis added).  The theme was picked up by Mr. Bush himself, who declared on May 1, 2003, that “the liberation of Iraq removed . . . an ally of al-Qa’ida.”

How will the advocates of war deal with the latest blow to their credibility?  Some will claim that the war was meant to remove a potential, rather than actual, terrorist threat from Saddam.  Others, the majority, will do with the terrorist link precisely what they have already done with the WMD’s: pretend that the issue does not exist.  We may expect the war party to focus more on “human rights” and “democracy” as the real reason for the Iraq war.  They will take their cue from Wolfowitz, whose testimony before the Armed Services Committee on April 20 did not mention any WMD’s but focused entirely on the brutality of Saddam’s dictatorship.

He and his fellow conspirators have known all along that Iraq had no WMD’s and was not connected to Al Qaeda or to the September 11 attacks.  They wanted their war because their primary objective has never been to enhance this country’s geopolitical position.  They are plotting new missions as we speak.  If they are not unmasked, America’s misused power will generate countervailing power sooner than we think, albeit only after the world has become a poorer, nastier, and far-less-populous place.