SADDAM AND WOLFOWITZ….Atrios is puzzled by this story:

The Pentagon’s No. 2 official retreated Friday from his assertion that key lieutenants of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden are plotting with Saddam Hussein loyalists to kill Americans in Iraq.

….”We know it (Iraq) had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with al-Qaeda in particular, and we know a great many of bin Laden’s key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq,” Wolfowitz said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Today he took it all back:

On the subject of bin Laden deputies, Wolfowitz said he was referring to only one man ? bin Laden supporter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the few names that Bush administration officials previously have cited to assert links between al-Qaeda and Iraq before the war.

….”Zarqawi is actually the guy I was referring to ? should have been more precise,” Wolfowitz said Friday. “It’s not a great many ? it’s one of bin Laden’s key associates ? probably better referred to that way than a key lieutenant.”

….”I appreciate the chance to say it a little more carefully because this was sort of unanticipated,” Wolfowitz told the AP in retracting his statements. “I went … to talk about Sept. 11.”

What’s up with that?

The answer should be obvious. Wolfowitz is both a smart guy and a very experienced and media-savvy official, and it’s hardly plausible that he was just caught off guard by a morning TV host. Rather, he knows perfectly well that Good Morning America is seen by 6 million people, while his retraction will be read by a few thousand at most.

So he gets the best of both worlds: he spreads the rumor of Iraq-al-Qaeda connections yet again to the hoi polloi, but by retracting it he prevents sophisticated critics from accusing him of lying. It was just an innocent mistake, you see.

What a slimeball.

UPDATE: Then again, Laurie Mylroie thinks Saddam really was tightly linked to al-Qaeda, and presumably Wolfowitz is just too much of a wimp to say so. You make the call!

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