NO MORE convincing than before, President Bush on Tuesday put forward another version of his argument that al-Qaeda's role in 9/11 is the reason for the United States to continue the war in Iraq.
Speaking again before a friendly military audience, Mr. Bush was undoubtedly seeking to counteract growing pressure from a Congress in which Democrats and disaffected Republicans are pushing disjointedly for a withdrawal timetable, and reacting to the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, which puts an unconquered, much reinvigorated al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The trouble was that the logic of Mr. Bush's argument was the same mix of fact and fiction regarding 9/11, al-Qaeda, and Iraq that got the United States into this war more than four years ago. His line runs something like this: Al-Qaeda was behind the attack on the United States on Sept. 11. There is now fighting against U.S. forces in Iraq an organization that calls itself al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Therefore, argues Mr. Bush, if the United States does not want to be attacked at home again as it was on 9/11, it needs to continue the war in Iraq.
There are big holes in his argument.
First of all, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist when 9/11 occurred. It has developed in the past two years as the U.S. occupation and fighting in Iraq have continued. Iraq is now a prime training ground for Islamist fighters worldwide, rivaled only by Afghanistan, which the United States moved into a distant second place in 2002.
Second, the link between al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and al-Qaeda "central," if indeed it has any command and control structure, is tenuous. Al-Qaeda is a decentralized organization. The number-one objective of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is to get the Americans out of Iraq, and second is seeing to it that Iraqi Sunnis get what they consider to be their deserved piece of the pie in post-war Iraq.
Therefore, whatever plans al-Qaeda "central" may have for future attacks in the United States, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia presents a threat only to the 170,000 U.S. forces whom Mr. Bush insists on keeping in Iraq. More than 3,600 have died so far.
The latest news that has seeped out of "Green Zone" Iraq in terms of what passes for planning in this administration has the U.S. mired there at least through 2009. There also continues to be talk of permanent U.S. bases after the bulk of our forces withdraw, thus promising more U.S. casualties and continued taxpayer costs beyond the half a trillion dollars - about $2 billion a week - spent so far.
The question then becomes whether Mr. Bush actually believes his own convoluted argument or whether the new line is just another chapter in the five-year history of his attempts to bamboozle the American people. Unfortunately, if he is allowed to proceed, America loses either way.