TO PARAPHRASE President Reagan, there he goes again.
On Rush Limbaugh's radio program last week, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke about Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi and stated: "He went to Baghdad. He took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the Al Qaeda operations inside Iraq . This is Al Qaeda operating in Iraq and, as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq."
It is incredible that more than four years after the invasion, the vice president is still trying to convince the public that Saddam Hussein's regime was connected to Al Qaeda and that Zarqawi's presence in Iraq was evidence of a connection.
While the vice president doesn't say directly that there was a tie between the two, his clear purpose is to blur the line between Al Qaeda — the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks — and the Iraqi dictator in order to justify the war in Iraq.
The problem is, that's simply not supported by the facts or by our intelligence community — and everyone except the vice president acknowledges it. In September, for example, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan report that Hussein was "distrustful of Al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from Al Qaeda to provide material or operational support." And the CIA reported a year earlier, in October 2005, that the Iraqi regime "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates." As the Intelligence Committee report noted, the Iraqi intelligence service was actually trying to capture Zarqawi, who was in Baghdad under an alias. Is the vice president willfully ignoring what the rest of the government has concluded? Or does he have access to information he hasn't shared with us? If so, he should produce it.
The vice president has a clear, documented pattern of overstating and misstating information with regard to Iraq. He also, for instance, continued to claim that 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta may have met with an Iraqi agent in Prague — long after the intelligence community believed otherwise. Again, his obvious purpose is to link Hussein's regime with Sept. 11, even though the rest of the world has concluded that no such link exists.
The vice president has made so many outlandish statements that the country barely raised an eyebrow at his false statement last week. The public has stopped believing the words of a man who promised, before we invaded Iraq, that we would be "greeted as liberators" and reassured us nearly two years ago that the insurgency was in its "last throes."
But his comments continue to erode our credibility with the international community, which has already been severely damaged by our rush to war with Iraq with little international support. If, in the months ahead, we face a crisis over Iran's weapons programs and need to rally the international community, we may find that the world has little interest in trusting an administration that misstates facts.
By all accounts, Dick Cheney is one of the most powerful vice presidents in our history, if you define power as influence over policy. We need to ask ourselves: What does it mean for our country when the vice president's words lack credibility, but he still wields great power?