Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's misleading statements about the Bush administration's justification for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq -- that there were "[t]oo many unanswered questions about [Saddam Hussein's] weapons of mass destruction program," despite the Bush administration's pre-war claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that "[i]n the post-September 11 environment, [Iraq] was a threat that needed to be dealt with."
On the October 10 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer failed to challenge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's misleading statements about the Bush administration's justification for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In response to Blitzer's assertion that “a lot of analysts believe the U.S. has been weakened in dealing with North Korea and Iran by its involvement in Iraq,” Rice asserted America had to “deal with a threat that had been there for too long.” According to Rice, part of that “threat” was that there were "[t]oo many unanswered questions about [Saddam Hussein's] weapons of mass destruction program." In fact, in the run-up to the war, the Bush administration unequivocally asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, not that there were “unanswered questions” about whether Iraq possessed WMD. Moments later, Blitzer left unchallenged Rice's assertion that, "[i]n the post-September 11 environment, [Iraq] was a threat that needed to be dealt with," despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Rice's history of misleadingly linking the war in Iraq to Al Qaeda, and the track record of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney linking Iraq to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As Media Matters for America has noted, even Bush has acknowledged that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9-11.
Blitzer failed to point out that Rice's assertion that the United States “needed to deal” with Iraq because of “unanswered questions about [Saddam's] weapons of mass destruction program” misstates the administration's rationale for the war. In fact, Bush and members of his administration unequivocally claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion. As Media Matters noted, in an October 5, 2002, radio address, Bush asserted that “Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons.” In his speech in Cincinnati two days later, he unequivocally declared that Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons.” Moreover, Bush stated on February 25, 2003, “The risk of doing nothing, the risk of the security of this country being jeopardized at the hands of a madman [Saddam] with weapons of mass destruction, far exceeds the risks of any action we may be forced to take.”
As recently as the September 24 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, Rice stated that “everybody thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” as Media Matters noted. In fact, a year after the U.S.-led invasion, Rice still maintained that Iraq possessed WMD when the war began, as she stated during a March 18, 2004, interview with CNN chief national correspondent John King on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
KING: One of the debates about going to war in the first place, of course, has been over weapons of mass destruction. The president of Poland said today that he believes there are none, and they will not be found. The administration says we're still looking. Is it time, at the one-year mark, to just concede that point, that the intelligence was wrong, that there were no active stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and move on?
RICE: Well, I talked to the Poles, and they think they were a bit misinterpreted here, because there's been no stronger ally in this than the Poles. And President [Aleksander] Kwasniewski and the president [Bush] have talked about this, and they went to war for the right reasons.
Look, John, it's not as if anybody believes that Saddam Hussein was without weapons of mass destruction. We have to remember that we looked at the intelligence, the United Nations looked at the intelligence. Many, many allied -- the intelligence services looked at the intelligence. And he was considered a serious weapons of mass destruction threat.
Blitzer also left unchallenged Rice's assertion that "[i]n the post-September 11th environment, it [Iraq] was a threat that needed to be dealt with." Blitzer did not challenge Rice on how Iraq was a threat if it had no weapons of mass destruction, as she claimed at the time, nor did Blitzer ask her how the “post-September 11th environment” related to Iraq. Media Matters for America and others have documented Rice's history of making false and misleading statements during media interviews and public speeches in which she misrepresented the evidence of Iraq's purported WMD. For instance, as Media Matters noted, in The New York Times' investigation of the intelligence regarding Iraq's purchase of aluminum tubes, the paper reported on October 3, 2004, that Rice had misrepresented the state of intelligence on the tubes. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the White House and parts of the intelligence community had promoted the purchase as crucial evidence that Saddam had restarted his nuclear weapons program:
The tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,” Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on Sept. 8, 2002. “We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.
As Media Matters has repeatedly noted (here, here, and here), in the lead-up to the Iraq war, Bush claimed there was a connection between Saddam and the attacks on 9-11, including the specific assertion of such a link in a letter to Congress at the start of the war. As Media Matters also noted, as recently as last month, Rice herself baselessly linked the September 11 attacks to Iraq. On the September 10 editions of CBS' Face the Nation and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Rice justified the Iraq war by falsely suggesting that the 9-11 Commission report supports her claim that Saddam's Iraq had “contacts” with Al Qaeda before the U.S.-led invasion of that country in March 2003; Rice also linked Iraq with Al Qaeda via now-dead terrorist leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. In fact, the 9-11 Commission found that Iraq and Al Qaeda had no “collaborative and operational relationship,” and the September 8 Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that Saddam's government “did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates.”
As Media Matters has noted, during an August 21 press conference, Bush was specifically asked: “What did Iraq have to do with ... [t]he attack on the World Trade Center?” He replied: “Nothing.” Nevertheless, Blitzer did not ask Rice what about “the post-September 11th environment” made Iraq a “threat that needed to be dealt with.”
From the October 10 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: You know a lot of analysts believe the U.S. has been weakened in dealing with North Korea and Iran by its involvement in Iraq.
RICE: I just don't understand this argument. The United States is quite capable of taking care of several problems simultaneously. Iraq is -- was a desire to finally deal with a threat that had been there for too long. Too many Security Council resolutions violated. Too many unanswered questions about his weapons of mass destruction program. Too much ambition to dominate the region. Too many wars launched by this dictator. Too much harshness against his own people, including mass graves. It was time to deal with Saddam Hussein.
BLITZER: I'll leave -- we're out of time, but I'll leave you with one email we got from Scott Vanderbosch in Minnesota. He lost a son in Iraq. He said -- he wrote to us this. He said, “My son Jake died in Iraq on October 3rd, 2005. When will you finally admit that you were wrong going to Iraq and pull out? Why not try to save some American lives?”
RICE: Wolf, nobody can ever make up for the personal sacrifice of a father of his son. And all you can do is to mourn that sacrifice. We also know that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice. And the United States has had to, throughout its history and especially through its postwar history, to sacrifice when peace and security, and indeed freedom, were on the line.
Iraq was a threat. In the post-September 11th environment, it was a threat that needed to be dealt with. Yes, it's extremely difficult helping a country come to a democratic future that has never had that experience. But an Iraq that is secure, an Iraq that is democratic, an Iraq that is able to solve its problems through politics will be a centerpiece of a different kind of Middle East.
BLITZER: Senator Warner says you have two, three months to get this right, otherwise you've got to rethink the whole strategy.