Nada Bokos, a CIA analyst in the lead-up to the war, recalls how, at “the CIA’s Iraq Branch in the Counterterrorism Center, we didn’t think Saddam had any substantial ties to al-Qaida”:
On Sunday, March 16, 2003, I watched Cheney on “Meet The Press” contradict our assessment publicly. “We know that he [Saddam] has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups,” Cheney said, “including the al-Qaeda organization.” I was basically watching Cheney field-test arguments that we would have to anticipate — and rebut — at CIA. Except instead of asking us questions behind closed doors, Cheney was asserting to the public as fact something that we found to be anything but. I found myself yelling at the TV like I was contesting a ref’s blown call in a football game.
Meanwhile, George Packer recalls reporting in Iraq and the friends he had in the country:
Spending a lot of time in Iraq did not make you more keenly aware of America’s larger strategic interests. It rendered you less likely to ask the essential questions about the inception of the war. It was in some ways a narrow, blinkered position. People who had no personal connection to Iraq, however well- or ill-informed, were readier to think that it was all inevitable—that the past decade was a footnote to the main event—that the tenth anniversary of the war would look exactly like this.