Monday, November 24, 2003
Next on the paranoia express: the Saddam Hussein and 9-11 conspiracy coverup.
This is Laura Mylroie's and Stephen Hayes' beat. And let me admit a few things up front: (1) by about 12:00 noon on 9-11, I was arguing with people about whether Iraq was involved (I assumed it was); (2) I consider it a no-brainer that Islamist terror groups and nationalist/fascist terror groups can work together happily against a common enemy - even if they spend much of their down time trying to oust each other (see, e.g. the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades of Fatah and the Islamic Jihad, who have conducted joint operations in the West Bank); (3) I don't consider myself competent to evaluate the details of Mylroie's and Hayes' claims.
But I have a general aversion to conspiracy theories. And this one in particular makes no sense. We now know that our government committed us to war with Iraq on the basis of intelligence that was deeply flawed. What happened to Saddam's biological and chemical arsenals we don't know - they may have been destroyed long ago; they may be in Syria or Iran; they may still be in Iraq, hidden. But we thought he had an active nuclear weapons program; that was a major justification for the war; and he didn't.
There were numerous reasons for us to go to war with Iraq, and numerous legal justifications, extending back to and including the assassination attempt on the first President Bush. But the two justifications that would garner the most public support, domestic and international, were: that Saddam was building nukes, and that Saddam was involved with al-Qaeda.
The government was clearly willing to hype equivocal intelligence on the first point as part of making its case for war. That was never the entirety of the case, but it was certainly part of it, and an important part. Why on earth wouldn't the Bush Administration have beat the drum loud about the al-Qaeda connection if it was so clear?
Mylroie and Hayes fall back on charges of bureaucratic infighting to justify the government's refusal to state, boldly, the evidence of a connection. Three problems with this: (1) it applies in spades to the WMD claim (where there was a lot of public debate, not to mention the presence of the weapons inspectors to complicate any Administration claims); (2) the same Office of the VP and Pentagon outfits that looked into the WMD claims were - and are - looking into the al-Qaeda connections; (3) it paints a pretty pathetic picture of President Bush, a leader capable of ordering his government to war but unable to get the truth about the reasons for that war out of his own cabinet secretaries.
This won't hold water. Saddam's connections to international terrorism are not disputed. He was closely involved with the PKK, with Abu Nidal, and with anti-Iranian terrorist groups. The odds that his intelligence services had some contact with al-Qaeda operatives over the years must be counted very high. I'm sure his people talked with Hezbollah as well, even though Hezbollah's primary backer is Iran and their patron is Syria; after all, Iran graciously agreed to hold on to Saddam's airforce during Gulf War I. Even Hitler and Stalin cooperated when it was in their mutual interest. None of this is sufficient to prove that Saddam's intelligence services were behind 9-11. And it just beggars the imagination to suggest that, if the government had any really good evidence of such a connection, it would suppress it for petty bureaucratic reasons.
I'm not going to dismiss this stuff out of hand. The connections themselves make a lot of strategic sense. But the coverup alleged does not.
Anyone disagree with me on this? What am I missing?