George W., on Iraq You're No Bill Clinton: Margaret Carlson Nov. 10 (Bloomberg.com -- The current U.S. president and his immediate predecessor are an odder couple than the one on Broadway. George W. Bush links with, and delinks from, Bill Clinton at will. While he often uses him as a benchmark for what a president shouldn't be, Bush also pulls Clinton out of the closet to clean up messes, sometimes in the company of his father, Bush I. Recently, Bush sent presidents 41 and 42 off to deal with the aftermath of Katrina. Bush's latest and most curious use of Clinton is to cite his words as proof of the administration's reasonableness in going to war. This comes just as the Senate is being forced into hearings on the possible unreasonableness of the intelligence Bush relied on for doing so. The White House puts out talking points citing Clinton's conviction that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and that he was a menace in the region. If Clinton believed it, why shouldn't the Bush administration? The Difference It's a hard charge to answer because Clinton did say what Bush says he said. But the argument misses one big fact: Clinton signed off on a speech, not on a war; he agreed on the problem, not the solution. Clinton was a president who demanded every available fact before proposing as much as uniforms in public schools. The certainty about the danger from Saddam that made it necessary for Clinton to rattle his saber at the dictator, as he did many times, is different from the certainty required to invade a sovereign country. Clinton had many flaws, but he wouldn't have ginned up intelligence to support a preconceived notion, nor suppress intelligence that didn't. In the Bush administration there was a cabal just for that. Colorfully described by Larry Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, there were the neocons with their fantasies of spreading democracy, Dick Cheney with his Darth Vader post-9/11 desire to hit someone and his insistence that Saddam was tied to al-Qaeda, and Donald Rumsfeld with his streamlined, agile army that could whup anyone and sustain few casualties. Pentagon Rogues For conjuring up the intelligence the CIA couldn't or wouldn't produce, there was a whole rogue operation out of the Pentagon. These folks amplified the scary stuff and ditched the rest. They gave God-like credence to an Iraqi defector who said what they wanted, and then fed his stuff directly onto the front page of the New York Times. Administration officials would then cite the front page of the New York Times in supporting their assertion about Saddam's capabilities, and voila, they had their slam-dunk case. Usually a cabal doesn't have the official leader in it. Of course, this one did. Bush loved his cabal. The one leader left out of the loop was Secretary of State Colin Powell, who never had a chance of getting the true picture. By the time Powell went to CIA headquarters to prepare his speech to the UN, Cheney had been there multiple times to scrub the data. Clinton would never treat fresh facts with indifference. When weapons inspectors couldn't find weapons, Bush concluded that Saddam was a genius at hiding them, not that he should adjust his thinking to accommodate the findings, or at least wait to see if any weapons turned up. Ignoring Condi, Sometimes Bush blocks out info he doesn't want to hear. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett had to force-feed him tapes of the nightly news to show how desperate the situation in New Orleans was after Katrina. Bush preferred Brownie's take. A month before Sept. 11, Bush ignored Condoleezza Rice when she brought him a briefing book that said terrorists were plotting an imminent strike. (Yet he hung on her every word when she said that ``the smoking gun could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.'') He never questioned, although other analysts did, her assertion that Saddam was importing high-quality aluminum tubes suited only for nuclear weapons centrifuge programs. This isn't to say Clinton was a foreign policy genius. It is to say that with the information Bush had, Clinton would never had done what Bush did. And it's ludicrous for Bush to say otherwise. If Only Indeed, if he had gotten the Condi intelligence warning that Osama was poised to attack, we don't know what Clinton would have done. We do know there would have been all-nighters to assess it. Bush was so convinced that Rumsfeld's army would make quick work of Iraq he never thought he would end up being so desperate he had to quote Clinton to answer critics. Rather than cite Clinton for the wrong proposition, he should recall what Clinton and his father actually did about Iraq. Both Bush I and Clinton knew enough to fear a post-Saddam Iraq, riven by civil war, and a post-Saddam America stuck in a country we can't govern and can't get out of. If only Bush II had listened.