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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

As war toll climbs, Bush still deceives

AS THE 1,000th American soldier perished in Iraq, President Bush dispatched his emergency crews to repair the downed wires that connect Saddam Hussein to Sept. 11 in the minds of many Americans. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz compared the ideologies behind Sept. 11 to Nazism, where "the two central fronts of course are Afghanistan and Iraq."

In the speech where he said a John Kerry presidency may mean "we'll get hit again," Vice President Dick Cheney said Saddam "had a relationship with Al Qaeda" and "had been a sponsor of terror." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a briefing, "As we commemorate the third anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, it's appropriate to honor the fallen and to reflect on how far we have come and to determine what more might be done. Consider three years ago Osama bin Laden was the co-conspirator of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. . . . Three years ago, Saddam Hussein and his regime were making a mockery of the United Nations. . . . The president faced a choice between confronting Saddam then or facing an even graver threat in the future."

Just to make sure the light of Sept. 11 continues to shine brightly on Saddam, Bush put on his political galoshes and waded out into streets awash in his deception. Hammering in what he said at the Republican convention, he said in Missouri, "Do I forget the lessons of September 11th and take the word of a madman, or do I take action to defend this country? Given that choice, I will defend America every time. Because we acted to defend ourself, because we took action to make America a safer place, more than 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq are now free."

As the 1,000th soldier died, it matters less than ever to Bush -- if that was possible -- that the Senate Intelligence Committee said there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the time of the invasion. It still does not matter that the bipartisan 9/11 Commission looked at past contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda and found "no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor have we seen evidence that Iraq cooperated with Al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."

Most of all, it does not matter that it has been a year since Bush was forced to admit, "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th." He continues to electrify crowds with sizzling juxtapositions. If you say "Sept. 11," "madman" and "defend this country" enough, it clearly is enough to drive Americans mad.

Thirteen months ago, a Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of Americans believed that Saddam was "personally involved" in Sept. 11 and 82 percent thought Saddam "provided assistance to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network." This overwhelming agreement was a natural result of an overwhelming public relations assault by the White House.

The assault was most noted by Cheney's televised assertion back then that Iraq is part of the "continuing operation on the war on terror." Cheney said victory in Iraq "will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

The assault is still working. Despite the findings of the 9/11 Commission and a general decline in support for the war, the percentage of Americans who still believe that Saddam was involved in Sept. 11 or provided aid to Al Qaeda remains significant. In a Newsweek poll last week, 42 percent of Americans still think Saddam was "directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks." Only 44 percent say he was not directly involved, and 14 percent remain unsure. That is virtually unchanged from a June New York Times/CBS poll that found 41 percent of Americans still thought Saddam was tied to 9/11.

Despite the facts, America remains roughly split over whether the war was just, which Bush hopes will be just enough in November. All his reasons for invading Iraq are dead. The 1,000th soldier is dead. The downed cables of Iraq sizzle in the street. The Bush presidency hangs on whether he can keep Saddam a live wire, avoiding the fatal shock of truth.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com. 

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