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Is Iraq Bush’s Watergate?

Did the president and his administration lie to the public about the war in Iraq? Could this be a new Watergate? These questions should be in the forefront of any discussion about the upcoming election.

Yet, just like the early reports of Watergate, coverage is absent from most front pages, instead being played out on Op/Ed pages. If Sunday night’s interview of former terrorism adviser Richard Clarke on CBS’s 60 Minutes, along with his book released today, is any indication though, this could, and should, change.

Clarke held the position of intelligence adviser under presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush Senior, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and certainly seems to have the credentials to issue valid statements about the responses taken against terrorist threats before and after Sept 11. Since he has served for both parties that have a stake in the upcoming election, it cannot be claimed he is playing a trump card to affect the outcome of the race for the White House.

Clarke’s allegations are grave indeed. In his interview, quoting facts from his book Against all Enemies, he said “(Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq. We all said, ‘But no, no. Al-Qaida is in Afghanistan.'” Rumsfeld then allegedly went on to say “There aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan, and there are lots of good targets in Iraq,” to which Clarke responded, “Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with (the Sept. 11 attacks).”

If this were true, it would give credence to the allegations that the Bush administration was planning to go into Iraq no matter what.

The Bush administration has said the Sept. 11 inquiry should be conducted carefully and methodically and not be prematurely made available before the election. In fact, the government has actively worked against the congressional committee’s efforts, in one instance refusing to release documents requested by the committee.

The interests of democracy, however, would be best served by voters being able to make an informed decision. The possibility of re-electing an administration that ineffectively combatted terrorism and then knowingly and intentionally misconstrued facts in order to justify a military strike against Iraq is unacceptable.

The administration has already attempted to discredit Clarke saying his claims are motivated by his demotion and subsequent resignation from the cabinet. But since CIA head George Tenet has said he repeatedly told the administration al-Qaida had no connection with Iraq, it is clear that certain aspects of the whole story do not pass a smell test.

The Bush administration is running its campaign on its efforts in combatting terrorism, a claim that Clarke questions. In the interview, Clarke said, “Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism.” Further Clarke states that his memos and calls for actions in the months leading up to the events of Sept. 11 were disregarded. “He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop Sept. 11. Maybe. We’ll never know.”

It is probably impossible to determine if and how Sept. 11 could have been averted. But the administration’s response to the terrorist attacks and its decision to go to war in Iraq should be scrutinized.

The administration is seemingly backing away from its former strongly touted stance that Iraq was an “immediate threat.” Rumsfeld, for example, flat out denied he ever said anything of the sort even after CBS’s Bob Schieffer showed him quotes on Face the Nation on Feb. 14. In the quotes, he and the president clearly used the term, yet Rumsfeld said, “I didn’t. The president didn’t. And it’s become kind of folklore that that’s — that’s what’s happened.”

As important as the Sept. 11 inquiry is, it is unlikely to shed light on the administration’s rationale for invading Iraq. Let’s clear this whole mess up once and for all and investigate the matter so we can, with reasonable accuracy, know who said what and when they knew it.

President Richard Nixon, avoiding impeachment, left office on less grave accusations even though the scandal had started before he was elected. Anything similar to the affair that cost him his presidency should be avoided at all costs, which is why the public deserves to know before it cast its votes for president. Even the Republican Party, if not Bush, should be able to see this.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science and an Oracle opinion editor.