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Friday, June 18, 2004
More on Saddam, al Qaeda and the 911 Commission Report

By Steven Taylor @ 10:03 am

The bottom line about this entire discussion is that the way in which one views the war is going to affect the way one views this report. This fact is going to be radically amplified if one’s goal is to bolster one’s “side” (i.e., pro-Bush or anti-Bush). Indeed, the “Spy v. Spy” version of the argument, which I am trying to avoid (but it is quite easy to get sucked into) can rapidly boil down to an argument not about facts, or even reasonable inference, but about who said what-as in: “oh yeah? Well, Bush said…".

Now, I am not saying that what the President has said isn’t relevant-it is, especially if the goal is to determine his understanding of the situation,or his honesty or in other issue directly relevant to Bush. However, what Bush has or has not said is not directly relevant to 1) what the 911 Commission report actual says, 2) what the reality of Saddam regime-al Qaeda connections may have been, or 3) the press spin on this issue.

Briefly, I will say that in regards to #1, there are certainly statements made by the Bush administration that no doubt exaggerated the connection-which I think was a result of a combination of rhetoric, politics and actual belief. In regards to #3 it is pretty clear that many in the press, who appear to be anti-war, anti-Bush, or both, lead rather vigorously on the issue of the Commission’s statement that there was no connection between Saddam and al Qaeda in regards to 911. As I noted the other day, this was heralded as no connection whatsoever, but that isn’t what the report says. Indeed, in paying attention to the reporting, the cycle went like this: first the report was that there was no connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, then it was simply reiterating what was already known for anyone paying attention, that there is no evidence that Saddam helped with 911, and then ended up with the more nuanced (if I may use the term) position that combined the lack of 911 connection with the fact there was some evidence of numerous communications between Saddam and al Qaeda. Even NPR yesterday morning admitted that there were some “sketchy” connection between the two. Now, that is hardly a ringing endorsement, but when the banner headlines had been “NO CONNECTIONS” any admission of contact was something of a concession that really we remain at the status quo ante: we know that there were some contacts between the regime and al Qaeda, but we disagree on what that might mean.

Speaking for myself (and I note that because if you want to argue with me, argue with me-don’t argue as if I a spokeman for the administration who is responsible for everything ever said by the admin-it isn’t that I don’t want to hear it, or that it is unimportant-it is just on this topic, and practically all others, I am tired of comments that amount to nothing more than acting like I am the White House Press Secretary (no, lest I be misunderstood, I am not griping at you, Bret-but others))…anyway, speaking for myself I find it highly plausible that in a situation in which al Qaeda, over a decade, had been getting bolder and bolder in successfully attacking the United States, with 911 being the crescendo. To me, I find it highly plausible that in thaht context that bin Laden would be willing to work with a secular regime like Saddam’s if it furthered his goals of striking at the West. Further, Saddam, who was suffering under no-fly zones and sanctions, might agree to such an alliance if conditions were ripe. That it had no happened yet does not mean that it could not, or would not. As such, on going communication between the regime and al Qaeda suggests that such an outcome was possible. It is made further possible by the fact that there is clear evidence that Saddam would support terrorism if it served his purposes.

Quite frankly,the 911 Commission report itself in fact can be seen to bolster this position. From page 5 of the report (and I have included the entire paragraph, which includes info that both sides could use in their argument-i.e., no cherry-picking (indeed, this paragraph contains all the document’s references to Iraq):

Bin Laden also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite
his opposition to Hussein’s secular regime. Bin Laden had in fact at one time sponsored
anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with
Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Laden to cease this support and arranged for contacts
between Iraq and al Qaeda. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three
visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested
space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq
apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al
Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear
to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Laden associates have
adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible
evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

For one thing, this all demonstrates that bin Laden was indeed willing to consider working with Saddam. And it also shows that Saddam was at least willing to listen. A gigantic smoking gun? No. Setting the stage for potential collaboration if circumstances allowed? Not an unreasonable conclusion. Enough in and of itself to go to war? No. A piece of a puzzle that might have led to weight to a case for war? Yes. Does the the 911 Commission’s conclusion emphatically destroy the claim that there have been contacts between the two sides that could have resulted in collaboration. Absolutely not.

Now granted, if you are against the war, or view the War on Terror as a more law enforcement problem, you remain unconvinced. That is a legitimate position. However, for either side to act as if this is a slam-dunk (to borrow a phrase) that proves their position, then I would argue that this is a partisan response to the material, and not a reasonable one.

Filed under: War on Terror

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  1. I never believed there was a tie between these two, and neither did I care. I for one think the world is a much safer place without Saddam and his government. Now we need Bin Laden and his cohorts captured. You know, not just one man (Bin Laden)is the problem. It is an whole group of nuts, all over the globe.

    Comment by Cathy — Friday, June 18, 2004 @ 10:51 am

  2. Balanced comments all around, Steven. I think that the only problem with the argument is that “ongoing communication” is precisely what intelligence services do. I’ll bet the bottom dollar that our intelligence services have ongoing communication with a variety of unsavory groups; you might even say that intelligence services exist in part precisely to have that kind of communication.

    Comment by Brett — Friday, June 18, 2004 @ 11:16 am

  3. Brett,


    I take your point about “ongoing communications"-the issue is, however, what might the potential logical outcome of such communications be? If the CIA has ongoing communications with unsavory types, which they no doubt do, is there any real chance that the result will be collaboration to engage in terroristic attacks? I should hope not. However, communications between al Qaeda and the Saddam regime had tht potentiality. Clearly I took the potentiality as more likely than did you-both fair positions.

    Comment by Steven — Friday, June 18, 2004 @ 11:48 am

  4. Mr. Press Secretary,

    I fear that your “nuanced” understanding is going to fall on deaf ears. Those who think Bush is a liar are going to see “LIAR” in the report. Those who don’t will find their loyalties confirmed as well.

    such interesting times we live in.

    Comment by bryan — Friday, June 18, 2004 @ 6:51 pm

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