TANGLED DEBATE: SADDAM'S AL QAEDA TIES
President Bush, to his credit, did not want the administration’s position to be misunderstood. The president took care to say that he had no evidence of Saddam’s involvement in 9/11. At the same time Bush said, "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties." In fact, Saddam Hussein was a supporter and ally of al Qaeda for many years. This was known and it has been documented (see the Stephen F. Hayes commentary). In fact, Saddam Hussein continued his support for al Qaeda after 9/11. In other words, he ignored President Bush’s warning to state sponsors of terrorism. It should also be remembered, in the case of Saddam Hussein, that a lack of evidence does not prove the dictator blameless. It is entirely possible that President Bush honestly suspects that Saddam Hussein supported bin Laden’s 9/11 scheme.
According to Yossef Bodanksy (director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare), Saddam Hussein fully supported a bin Laden plan to attack America. But the specific attack indicated by Bodansky was not necessarily the attack that took place on 9/11. In his book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Bodansky referred to a meeting between Qusay Hussein (son of Saddam) and Osama bin Laden. According to an Arab intelligence source used by Bodansky, “the meeting was extremely serious [and] … laid down the details of the biggest act of cooperation and coordination between the extremist Islamic organizations and Baghdad for confronting the United States, their common enemy.” According to Bodansky, the Iraqi dictator “promised to provide bin Laden with weapons that would combine major explosions with chemical calamities.”
The American public caught a glimpse of similar source material when The Weekly Standard recently got hold of a secret government memo detailing cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The October 27 memo “was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller….”
The Feith memo adds to Bodansky’s claims, suggesting that Saddam’s outreach to bin Laden goes back to a 1990 meeting of representatives in Jordon. According to the memo, Iraq used contacts in Sudan to establish closer, more regular ties to bin Laden in 1991. On his side, bin Laden saw advantages in working with Iraq. The information allegedly contained in the Feith memo is almost identical to the account of the Saddam-bin Laden alliance given by Yossef Bodanksy in his 1999 book.
While it is true that Bodansky presented no evidence proving (in advance) Iraqi involvement in the attacks of 9/11, Bodansky nonetheless warned of joint Iraq-al Qaeda preparations for chemical bomb attacks. Conceivably, such attacks could kill more people than died in the collapse of the Twin Towers. It is therefore reasonable, on the basis of two sources (the Feith memo and Bodansky’s work), to suggest that President Bush acted preemptively – just as he claimed – to prevent a future WMD attack on the American people. In fact, if we look back to a statement given by President Bush in October 2002, we find a reference to Iraqi training of al Qaeda members “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.”
It would seem that President Bush was reading the same intelligence referred to in the Feith memo and by Yossef Bodansky. It was therefore not a question of Saddam’s proven involvement in 9/11, but intelligence on Saddam’s assistance to al Qaeda’s WMD capabilities that forced the president’s hand against Iraq.
Let us say that al Qaeda one day attacked New York with chemical bombs, killing several thousand persons. One can only imagine the outcry. Why didn’t the government uncover the plot in advance? Why was nothing done to stop al Qaeda’s acquisition of chemical weapons or techniques for using them? In this event President Bush would have been subjected to merciless criticism for failing to act. So the President acted, but not to avoid criticism. He acted to forestall enemy preparations. (Whatever he does, the criticism is merciless throughout.)
The murky world of intelligence is not the clear world of strident ideological positives, so the president’s critics will predictably fall over one another to fudge the evidence. It’s easy to do, since facts are delicate and ideological agendas are indelicate. Maintaining their anti-Bush position is for them more important than an honest reading of the facts. The rest of us, more interested in what really motivated President Bush to invade Iraq, now have something that offers a bit of clarity. The tangled debate about the manipulation of evidence can now be thrown back into the faces of the tangled debaters themselves.
President Bush did not blur the connections between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden as much as his critics sought to sweep those connections under the rug, and dismiss them as somehow irrelevant. Our bombardment by contrary messages, the constant criticism of the president’s verbal slips, has led many of us to ignore the most basic White House statements as if they were exaggerations meant to rationalize policy. What if, in reality, the President’s critics are the perpetrators of exaggeration and distortion?
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