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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Saddam and Osama

Op/Ed - New York Post

We had a commission that held hearings and issued a report, all for the sake of clarity, no? Well, not so much clarity, not so fast.

Newsmap shows 1,289 articles out and about this morning under the headline, Panel finds no link of 9/11, Iraq. I suspect g'zillions of people will read no further than that headline, and will conclude for all time, like John Kerry has, that there is or was no relationship between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda, and that the President and his administration have purposefully misled the American people. I would wager it's just a little more complicated than that.

Though I imagine it's too little too late, and the damage (to the truth) is done, the New York Post makes this valiant attempt to clarify the clarification. You should read it.
To hear much of the news reporting yesterday, you'd think a national 9/11 Commission report had blown a giant hole in the Bush administra tion's rationale for toppling Saddam Hussein.

The commission did no such thing.

But that didn't stop congressional Democrats — led by presumptive presidential nominee John Kerry — from renewing their charges that the administration "misled America" about Saddam Hussein's ties to Osama bin Laden.

Again, that's not what the report says.

And even if it did, a Saddam-Osama alliance is not why America opened a front in Iraq as part of the War on Terror.

The staff report, released as part of yesterday's final public hearings, says there was no evident connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks.

In fact, the Bush administration has never said there was.

The report also says the commission has "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."

Again, the administration never said there was.

But the report does say that bin Laden actively sought to work with Saddam, through contacts arranged by the Sudanese government.

Indeed, it says, "a senior Iraqi intelligence office reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting bin Laden in 1994." Further, it says, "contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden returned to Afghanistan."

The report claims that those contacts "do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship." But that's far from a flat-out "no ties exist."

And, again, the administration has alleged only that Saddam and al Qaeda maintained contacts that were more than casual or inconsequential, none of which is denied in the commission report.

In fact, as Stephen Hayes writes in The Weekly Standard, the conventional wisdom in Washington long before George W. Bush took office was that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were partners in terrorism.

Two Clinton-administration stalwarts, Attorney General Janet Reno and U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, brought an indictment against bin Laden and a deputy, Mohammed Atef, in 1998 — charging that Saddam and Osama "reached an understanding . . . that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq."

Yes, those allegations were eventually dropped from the indictment. These likely means they couldn't have been proven in a court of law under federal rules of evidence — not necessarily that they were baseless to begin with.

(This underscores the dangers of treating global terrorism in the age of suitcase nukes as a legal — not a military — matter, as candidate Kerry proposes.)

Meanwhile, back in 1999, ABC News reported that Saddam had offered bin Laden asylum, citing their "long relationship" and a December 1998 meeting in Afghanistan between Osama and Iraqi intelligence chief Faruq Hijazi.

That same year, the Congressional Research Service reported that if Saddam Hussein "decide[s] to use terrorists to attack the continental United States, [he] would likely turn to bin Laden's al Qaeda," which was then recruiting "Iraqi chemical weapons experts."

Did everyone mislead America?

If, in fact, the nation was misled, the misleading began long before George W. Bush entered the White House.

But what if substantive Osama-Saddam ties were for real? Just because the Kean commission hasn't yet found any evidence does not mean it doesn't exist.

As recently as Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that Saddam "had long-established ties with al Qaeda" — a statement his spokesman reiterated again yesterday.

Further details can be found in Richard Miniter's vastly illuminating column on the opposite page.

In other words, the Kean commission — whose blatantly partisan Bush-bashing has been manifest from the get-go — is hardly the final word on the subject.

But the commission report does offer a clear rejoinder to those like Sen. Bob Graham — a possible Kerry vice presidential pick — who charge that the war in Iraq somehow constituted a distraction from the War on Terror.

Many seem to have forgotten that the first U.S. military action after 9/11 was to invade Afghanistan and destroy its Taliban government, targeting bin Laden strongholds — and capturing many of his top aides — in the process.

As a result, the report says, "al Qaeda's funding has decreased significantly. The arrests or deaths of several important financial facilitators have decreased the amount of money al Qaeda has raised and increased the costs and difficulty or raising and moving that money."

Moreover, though the organization re mains dangerous, it today has "a greatly weakened central organization."

Still, President Bush realized — as John Kerry, the Democrats and the Kean commission clearly do not — that the war on terrorism is not just about seeking revenge against the perpetrators of 9/11.

It's about neutralizing radical Islam's fundamental challenge to Western civilization — fighting to win a war that was imposed on the West by evil men in the service of a depraved ideology.

The path to victory is not clear, but the alternative is one, two, many 9/11's — each more horrific than its predecessor.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Why is that so hard to understand?