Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The Saddam - al Qaeda Connection(s)

We've been hearing an awful lot of shrill cries, ever since 9/11, about the failure to find any explicit connection between Saddam Hussein's regime and world terror in general, or to al-Qaeda in particular. The cries go up and down in volume, relative to the daily headlines, but they've been unceasing.

As I found myself saying to people before the United States invaded Iraq, we might never get the sort of documented proof that would stand up in a court of law. For the purposes of going to war, however, we had all the connections we needed:
  • Saddam was a known supporter of terror, Palestinian terror in particular; families of Palestinian suicide bombers were heavily compensated by Saddam, even at the height of UN sanctions. There was no telling when the money might go elsewhere.
  • Saddam had a known tendency to strike out without warning. He'd done so against Iran in 1980, and against Kuwait in 1990. He'd even viciously attacked Iraqis, using chemical weapons. There was no telling whom he'd attack next, given the whim and the opportunity.
  • Saddam had a known antipathy to the United States. He'd tried to assassinate a former President of the United States in 1993; statements and murals denigrating the United States were plentiful in Saddam's Iraq. There was no telling when he'd decide that it was America's turn to become a target.
  • Saddam had a known thirst for weapons of mass destruction, and had openly boasted of his WMD programs. His nuclear-weapons potential was seriously delayed in 1982, with the destruction of the Osirak reactor complex; but there was evidence that he had worked hard to restart the program. He was known to have used chemical weapons, and was known to be strongly interested in biological weapons. There was no telling when, aided perhaps by another rogue regime or by an unscrupulous Western power, he might get his wish.
  • Finally, Saddam had a known tendency to hide what he had. He was known to lead weapons inspectors around by the nose, enjoying his own game of cat and mouse; perhaps he never expected the world to call his bluff. Regardless, there was no telling what he already had, waiting for an opportunity.
These points, all well known in 2002, constituted a clear threat. Saddam might not hit us tomorrow... but he might hit us the next day, or he might make it possible for someone else to do so. If he did, he would do so when it suited him, and would not offer any warning.

For me, therefore, it was never about connections to al Qaeda. If he needed to find terrorists to do his dirty work for him, no doubt he'd find them, al Qaeda or not.

So how much stronger is the case for war, then, when it turns out that there were connections to al Qaeda?

Claudia Rosett, doing her usual thorough job, writes about this at length in today's Wall Street Journal. Here are a few excerpts:
If anything, Mr. Bush in recent times has not stressed Saddam's ties to al Qaeda nearly enough. More than ever, as we now discuss the bombings in London, or, to name a few others, Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, or the many bombings in Israel--as well as the attacks on the World Trade Center in both 1993 and 2001--it is important to understand that terrorist connections can be real, and lethal, and portend yet more murder, even when they are shadowy, shifting and complex. And it is vital to send the message to regimes in such places as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran that in matters of terrorist ties, the Free World is not interested in epistemological debates over what constitutes a connection. We are not engaged in a court case, or a classroom debate. We are fighting a war.
Indeed. And, as intelligence officers the world over understand, finding concrete evidence of clandestine collaboration can be devilishly difficult... and might not help in time to avoid the terrorist strike. People have become quite adept at speaking in code phrases, at using pre-arranged signals, at sending messages through third parties that are obscure to anyone but the intended recipient.

If our intent is to prevent 9/11 from happening again, standard police work won't get the job done.
Actually, there were many connections, as Stephen Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn, writing in the current issue of the Weekly Standard, spell out under the headline "The Mother of All Connections." Since the fall of Saddam, the U.S. has had extraordinary access to documents of the former Baathist regime, and is still sifting through millions of them. Messrs. Hayes and Joscelyn take some of what is already available, combined with other reports, documentation and details, some from before the overthrow of Saddam, some after. For page after page, they list connections--with names, dates and details such as the longstanding relationship between Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Saddam's regime.

The difficulty lies in piecing together the picture, which is indeed murky (that being part of the aim in covert dealings between tyrants and terrorist groups)--but rich enough in depth and documented detail so that the basic shape is clear. By the time Messrs. Hayes and Joscelyn are done tabulating the cross-connections, meetings, Iraqi Intelligence memos unearthed after the fall of Saddam, and information obtained from detained terrorist suspects, you have to believe there was significant collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda. Or you have to inhabit a universe in which there will never be a demonstrable connection between any of the terrorist attacks the world has suffered over the past dozen years, or any tyrant and any aspiring terrorist. In that fantasyland, all such phenomena are independent events.
(emphasis mine)

The Wall Street Journal might not keep that link available (and free) for long. By all means, read the whole thing now.

UPDATE: Norm Geras has more to say, a lot more, on the subject of anti-war apologists:
It needs to be seen and said clear: there are, amongst us, apologists for what the killers do, and they make more difficult the long fight that is needed to defeat them. (To forestall any possible misunderstanding on this point: I do not say these people are not entitled to the views they express or to their expression of them. They are. Just as I am entitled to criticize their views for the wretched apologia they amount to.)

The plea will be made, though - it always is - that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we all live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy that seeks to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else.
He goes on to explore "root-causes advocacy" a bit, as well as a reminder that correlation does not imply causation -- or, as the old saying goes, just because the cat had her kittens in the oven, that doesn't make them biscuits. Ditto for proportional response -- as he points out, if I make disparaging remarks about your mother, and you respond by burning my house down, then yes, I am not entirely blameless... but my remarks don't excuse your actions either.

In other words, for me to be wronged, and seek redress from you, it's not necessary for me to be perfect. (A good thing, too, because none of us are perfect, are we?) Similarly, the United States didn't need to be blameless before invading Iraq; the scales were unbalanced -- extremely so -- and that was enough.

Norm goes on at some length, but it's well worth it to read it all.

(hat tip: Instapundit)

LATER: It took me a while to realize why that final sentiment sounded familiar to me. I just realized that I'd read about it years ago in Merle Miller's excellent biography of President Harry Truman, Plain Speaking. (I highly recommend the book, by the way, if your interested in a sympathetic portrait of the thirty-third American President in his own words.)

The passage I was invoking came from chapter 33, "The Dean Resigns". I hope Merle Miller (and the descendants of Dean Acheson) will forgive me for quoting directly:
Mr. Truman was a good friend of Justice Brandeis, and when he was in the Senate, he used to go, almost every week, I believe, to the Justice's at-homes. On Monday evenings.

It may have been Justice Brandeis who told him, as the Justice once told me, that: 'Some questions can be decided even if not answered.' He meant by that that it isn't always necessary for all the facts on a given situation to be available. They almost never are, perhaps never are. And it isn't necessary that one side be wholly right and the other totally wrong, because that seldom happens either.

It is enough, the Justice used to say, that the scales of judgement be tipped in one direction, and,
after a decision is made, he would say, "One must go forward wholly committed.'
Good words to live by, particularly for those of us who must make difficult decisions... or who wish to understand those who do.

And yes, I see an application of this principle to President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq in 2002, despite the fact that many important questions (e.g. WMD) were unresolved. A decision needed to be made, and one was -- not because Saddam was completely evil or the United States totally blameless, but because the scales were tipped, more than enough, to enable a decision to be made. (But you knew I'd say that, didn't you?)


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