Don't Blame Me

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, March 30, 2006; 12:36 PM

With his vision of Iraq belied not only by an insurgency that he didn't anticipate, but also by sectarian rivalries that he disregarded before the invasion, President Bush has come up with a new rhetorical line of attack: It's not my fault, it's Saddam's.

Agence France Presse reports: "President George W. Bush said former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's brutal divisive legacy, rather than the US-led invasion, was to blame for Iraq's current sectarian violence."

Bush made the comments in a speech before a small audience at Freedom House, an organization that tracks and promotes liberty around the world.

"Today, some Americans ask whether removing Saddam caused the divisions and instability we're now seeing. In fact, much of the animosity and violence we now see is the legacy of Saddam Hussein. He is a tyrant who exacerbated sectarian divisions to keep himself in power," Bush said.

"The argument that Iraq was stable under Saddam and that stability is now in danger because we removed him is wrong. While liberation has brought its own set of challenges, Saddam Hussein's removal from power was the necessary first step in restoring stability and freedom to the people of Iraq."

Richard Keil and Catherine Dodge write for Bloomberg: "The sectarian violence that has enveloped Iraq is boiling over now because Hussein left the nation 'physically and emotionally scarred' by purposely dividing ethnic and religious groups to prevent them from challenging him, Bush said.

" 'He sought to establish himself as the only force that could keep Iraqis together,' Bush said. . . . 'It is no wonder deep divisions and scars exist.' "

The new argument is just the latest in a long line of shifting rationales and excuses related to the war.

And it comes only a few days after Don Van Natta Jr. wrote in the New York Times about a British memo chronicling a meeting between Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair several weeks before the invasion, during which Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups."

So the same person who didn't see it coming, now says it was foreordained -- and not his fault.

Looking for News

When the president of the United States gives what is billed as a major speech on Iraq, and then sticks around to answer questions for another hour or so, one could reasonably expect that he'd make a lot of news -- or at the very least offer new insights into his thought processes. Otherwise, what else is the point of talking that long?

But so little of what Bush said was new that reporters once again found themselves scrambling for something to lead with.

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