Did Bush Press For Iraq-9/11 Link?

Commentary is rife about Richard Clarke’s revelations about the Bush administration’s preparedness for terrorism and its response to the Sept. 11th attacks in the 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, and in his forthcoming book. Choice soundbite:

“I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it.”

Clarke originally thought Donald Rumsfeld must be joking when, immediately after the Sept. 11th attacks, he pressed for the bombing of Iraq because there was a dearth of appetizing targets in Afghanistan. The president and his puppeteers continued to bully Clarke and other security analysts to bring back analysis suggesting an Iraqi link and reject the absence of any such evidence.

“The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, ‘I want you to find whether Iraq did this.’ Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

“I said, ‘Mr. President. We’ve done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There’s no connection.’

“He came back at me and said, “Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection.’ And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.”

Clarke continued, “It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, ‘Will you sign this report?’ They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, ‘Wrong answer. … Do it again.’

It is clear by now to anyone who wants to look that increasingly prominent criticism of the administration’s self-fulfilling prophecy approach to national security, and its outright lying, is coming from across the ideological spectrum and hardly motivated for political gain. BillMon expands on Clarke’s neo-con bona fides in his reflections on the 60 Minutes interview. It is insurmountably evident that it was not intelligence failure but, simply, the President’s men knowing what they wanted to hear and rejecting all contrary feedback because of an unshakeable commitment to invading Iraq, that determined the administration’s defining foreign policy direction. The administration damage control so far has been to claim that Clarke is describing conversations that never happened — despite CBS News having corroborating witnesses — and to accuse him of “auditioning for a job in the Kerry campaign” — as if he would have to lie to get that door opened for him.

My only question is why CBS News really had to pose its headline as a question.