The Propaganda Campaign Dissected

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, June 6, 2008; 1:22 PM

Yesterday's long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report further solidifies the argument that the Bush administration's most blatant appeals to fear in its campaign to sell the Iraq war were flatly unsupported.

Some of what President Bush and others said about Iraq was corroborated by what later turned out to be inaccurate intelligence. But their most compelling and gut-wrenching allegations -- for instance, that Saddam Hussein was ready to supply his friends in al-Qaeda with nuclear weapons -- were simply made up.

In an accident of timing, the report also validates former press secretary Scott McClellan's conclusion in his new book that the White House pursued a "political propaganda campaign" to market the war.

The White House response? That officials in Congress and elsewhere were saying the same things about Iraq. Or in other words, that other people bought the administration line. It takes a lot of chutzpah to defend yourself against charges that you've engaged in a propaganda campaign by noting that it worked.

About the Report

Here's a statement from Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller: "Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence. In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.

"It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qa'ida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qa'ida as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.

"There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate."

Here's the dissenting view from Kit Bond, the ranking minority member of the committee. Bond calls the report an act of political theater. And, like the White House, he points to "a public record . . . replete with examples of statements by Democrat Senators making the same characterizations regarding Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction and links to terrorism."

Senator Russ Feingold's "additional views" make for much more dramatic reading than the main report, though they make similar points.

Writes Feingold: "Even the deeply flawed October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) did not support the claims made by the President and the Vice President regarding an Iraqi nuclear program. That NIE assessed that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapon or sufficient material to make one, and that without sufficient fissile material acquired from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 or 2009. Yet the President made the following statements: '[Saddam] possesses the world's most dangerous weapons' ( March 22, 2002); '[w]e don't know whether or not [Saddam] has a nuclear weapon' ( December 31, 2002); and, of course, '[f]acing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud' ( October 7, 2002). Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney insisted that assessments related to Iraq's nuclear program that were disputed within the Intelligence Community were known 'with absolute certainty' ( September 8, 2002) and through 'irrefutable evidence' (September 20, 2002). And, on the eve of war, after the IAEA had reported that its inspectors had found 'no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq,' the Vice President asserted, '[w]e believe [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons' ( March 16, 2003).

"Administration officials' claims of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda were even more outlandish. Before the war, the Central Intelligence Agency assessed that 'Saddam has viewed Islamic extremists operating inside Iraq as a threat,' that 'Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden are far from being natural partners,' and that assessments about Iraqi links to al Qaeda rested on 'a body of fragmented, conflicting reporting from sources of varying reliability.' Moreover, the Intelligence Community consistently assessed that Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States rested on his being 'sufficiently desperate' in the face of a U. S. attack and his possible desire for a 'last chance at vengeance.' Yet the President not only repeatedly suggested an operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, but asserted that Saddam would provide weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda for an unprovoked attack against the United States: 'you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror' ( September 25, 2002); '[e]ach passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX - nerve gas - or some day a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally' ( September 26, 2002); '[Saddam] is a man who, in my judgment, would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army' ( October 14, 2002); '[Saddam] is a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda. . . . [A] true threat facing our country is that an al Qaeda-type network trained and armed by Saddam could attack America and not leave one fingerprint' ( November 7, 2002); and '[t]he danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other' ( March 17, 2003)."

At yesterday's press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was on the defensive: "The administration's statements on Iraq were based on the very same intelligence that was given to the Congress, and they came to the same conclusions, as did other countries around the world. The issue about Iraq's WMD ultimately turned out to be false, and we have fully admitted that. We regret it. And we have also taken steps to make sure that we can correct it for -- in the future. . . .

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