Dick Cheney, we now know, is either one of the most deluded people in America—so senile that he can't remember meeting John Edwards—or one of the nation's most brazen liars. I'm talking about his statement during last week's vice presidential debate: "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9-11."
That, folks, marks one of the worst cases of verbal diarrhea you might ever witness during this entire, sordid presidential campaign—and that's saying something. What makes this lie so remarkable is that Cheney, as every American should know, not only suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9-11, he went around the country for the better part of two years telling anyone that would listen, in speech after speech, that evidence of the connection was "overwhelming."
For example, when the vice president appeared in Albuquerque a few weeks ago, he said Saddam Hussein provided a "sanctuary for terror," and then specifically, in the same sentence, mentioned Iraq's "relationship with the al Qaeda organization." A little Google research discovered on Sept. 14, 2003, Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press," that Iraq was "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11." You could spend all day online digging up examples.
So tell me, is the vice president loco, or just a liar?
Here's another example of Cheney's duplicity from an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" last November. Host Tim Russert said: "The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?"
Cheney answered: "No. I think it's not surprising that people make that connection."
Of course the vice president wasn't surprised people make that connection. He's the person responsible for it! Find me one self-respecting Bush supporter who will deny this. We all know nobody pushed harder for the Iraq invasion by attaching it to 9-11 than Cheney. Dating back to early 2003, he insisted that Muhammad Atta, an Egyptian and one of the lead 9-11 hijackers, met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague just months before the attacks. We now know that meeting never occurred (Atta was in Virginia Beach at the time) and while other administration officials, namely FBI director Robert Mueller and Secretary of State Colin Powell, discredited the claim, Cheney continued to push the lie anyway.
So allow me to clarify this once and for all: al Qaeda terrorists attacked the United States because of our government's support for Israel and because we occupy military bases near Muslim holy shrines in Saudi Arabia. How do I know this? Because that's what Osama bin Laden has been saying for more than 10 years! And that's what Atta believed as well, according to an MSNBC investigation entitled, "The Making of the Death Pilots." It didn't have a damn thing to do with Iraq or "hating freedom."
Then there's the bipartisan 9-11 Commission that concluded there was "no collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. What was Cheney's response to the report? He said he "probably" knew more than the commission did.
Most importantly, Cheney's denial before millions of Americans speaks to a larger crisis. Americans were lied to about the evidence supporting the Iraq war. We were lied to about the Bush administration's failure to act on information that could have prevented 9-11. Cheney was wrong when he said U.S. troops would be "greeted as liberators." We've been lied to about the cost of the war. We were lied to about who in the Pentagon was responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. While Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mismanaged the Iraq invasion by understaffing the forces and failing to secure Iraq's borders, we were lied to and told the mission was accomplished.
The Iraq war has been all about lies and obfuscation, and as the situation gets worse for our troops and national security, it's not surprising, unfortunately, that the denials coming form the administration have become more egregious. As George Packer, the New Yorker's Iraq correspondent, recently put it: "If Iraq looks nothing like the president's vision—if Iraq is visibly deteriorating, and no one in authority will admit it—the speeches can produce only illusion and cynicism."
When Cheney announced, "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9-11," he confirmed Packer's premise. Considering the gravity of this cynical denial juxtaposed with the unraveling nightmare in Iraq, you might think folks would be outraged. Yet, incredibly, more media attention was given to Cheney's denial of ever meeting John Edwards. But which lie is worse?
Consider this. Chuck Hagel, a well-regarded Republican and foreign policy stalwart in the U.S. Senate, last week described Iraq as "beyond pitiful and embarrassing, it is now in the zone of dangerous."
That apt description, I'm sorry to say, fits America as well, if we accept this administration's lies.
"Eventually the failures announce themselves anyway—in a series of suicide bombings, a slow attrition of Iraqi confidence, a sudden insurrection," concluded Packer. "War, unlike budget forecasts and campaign coverage, is quite merciless with falsehood."
If only the American public were as unforgiving.