Roughly a month and a half ago, noted Winds of Change commenter Andrew Lazarus (referred afterwards here as simply "Andrew") wrote up an extensive two-part critique of the war in Iraq in guest blog that received wide traffic. Academic commitments have prevented me from responding to him in-depth up until this time, but with the conclusion of finals that I am now best prepared to respond to Andrew's critique in depth. Before I do so, however, I just wanted to bring out a number of caveats:
1. I'm long-winded and I type as such. This is simply the way that I write and should not be taken as an invocation of the Chewbacca Defense.
2. This is intended only to respond to Andrew's critique as it was expressed in both in of his guest blogs, as well as some of the statements that he made in the comments section. I have neither the time nor inclination to deal with every single argument ever made regarding the decision to invade Iraq and so if I don't cover your particular pet problem with the situation, I apologize.
3. As regular readers of Regnum Crucis are no doubt aware of, I use a point-by-point method of commentary rather than a traditional essay format in most cases because I feels that this is by far the most effective way through which to make my counter-arguments as well as because it helps to avoid the temptation to rely on straw man arguments when making one's points.
4. Don't ask me why the administration isn't using this information in its arguments. I'm not a politician, I don't work inside the Beltway, and I have absolutely no idea why people there do what they do or either side of the political fence. For lack of a better term, that isn't my area of expertise so I plan to steer clear of it as much as possible.
With all of that out of the way, allow me to begin.
On 9/11, the United States suffered a dastardly attack masterminded by a transnational guerrilla movement with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of members organized into cells in at least half a dozen countries.
While this may strike some as an unrelated issue to the question of whether or not the invasion of Iraq was justified, indulge me in correcting Andrew's misconceptions with regard to what exactly al-Qaeda is, as he is hardly alone in this regard as far as misunderstanding the nature and scope of the network's threat. According to Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who is certainly no neocon, there are between 70,000-120,000 al-Qaeda fighters, a figure that has no doubt risen since he made those remarks in July 2003. Now this isn't actually a reason to panic, since a great many of these individuals currently lie dead on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iraq, Kashmir, Kosovo, Mindanao, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Xinjiang, but it should nevertheless serve as an illustration that this is not the kind of organization that is just going to roll over and die in the wake of having its central base in Afghanistan destroyed by Operation Enduring Freedom. Indeed, the scale of the threat should serve as an illustration of exactly why tolerance of state sponsorship of the organization from any legitimate government post-9/11 should simply be an unacceptable option from the perspective of US foreign policy.
First, we used a combination of our own military, our ally (the Northern Alliance), and a combination of threats and bribes with the various warlords of Afghanistan, to overthrow the Taliban. (We promised the Afghans a better life, which we are delivering very, very fitfully, notwithstanding their splendid new constitution.)
I concur entirely with Andrew's contention that more being done to stabilize Afghanistan, though the Zapatero government of Spain appears to disagree with both of us in this regard. The principle problem in stabilizing Afghanistan would seem to be the the warlords, though it is important to note that progress is being made in this regard. For example, in the most recent factional fighting between warlord Ismail Khan and Herat military commander Zahir Naib Zada, the Afghan army moved in swiftly to restore order in Herat province. The situation is by no means ideal, but progress is occurring at a gradual pace and is certainly much, much better than it was at this same point in time last year.
The Key Difference
Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, and the defeat of the Saddam government does nothing to disrupt Al Qaeda's command structure, which is elsewhere. It does nothing to seize Al Qaeda's financial assets, which instead are being located by the much-derided law enforcement methods. It does nothing to deprive Al Qaeda of war materiel. It does nothing to discover the identities of sleeper agents, who were not controlled from Iraqi soil (with the possible exception of Ansar Al-Islam, over which the Saddam government had no control). Iraq was not even a source of Al Qaeda operatives.
This, to put it simply, is where Andrew and I part ways on Iraq. Indeed, I suspect that this issue, even more so than Iraqi WMDs, is what served to justify the war in the minds of its participants. Certainly this was the case for many of the people that I talked to prior to the war, even though the principle public rationale for war revolved around issue of Iraqi WMDs. The United States made it a clear policy after 9/11 that any nation that supported al-Qaeda was going to be subject to the full might of our closed hand. While one can argue about the consistency with which this policy is being applied with respect to Saudi Arabia (and I myself fail to understand how the fact that the Saudi magnates are in cahoots with al-Qaeda means that Iraq should be given a free pass in this regard), but for lack of a better term it would seem to me that Saddam Hussein called the tune and now it's time to pay the piper. If memory serves, I believe that Andrew himself has stated in the comments section that he would have supported the war if there had been what he would have considered clear evidence of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda. And while I strongly suspect that he will continue to find such evidence lacking regardless of whatever claims that I make, at the very least allow me to try to take issue of each of his contentions regarding the war in Iraq having made the United States safer.
According to the jihadi website Jihad Unspun, the self-styled "Amir of the Mujahideen in Baghdad" was none other than Abu Iyad, an al-Qaeda who was last noted as the most senior al-Qaeda leader in Georgia. If the JUS communiques are accurate and Abu Iyad was indeed leading the suicide army that Iraq recruited prior to the war, it would seem appropriate to class the apparent destruction of the al-Qaeda fighters who fought alongside the Iraqi military during the US-led invasion in An Nasiriyyah. And lest it be claimed that it was US pressure that brought al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein together, according to the al-Yawm al-Aakher article in question, al-Qaeda members began training at Nahrawan and Salman Pak as far back as July 2001, more than a year and a half before there would ever be any talk of a US invasion of Iraq. This assertion was also made in a White House fact sheet that was released on July 2, 2003, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq.
This also runs more or less parallel to my suspicions that the Saudi battalion of Unit 999, which was part of the Iraqi order of battle, was a front for al-Qaeda. My reasons for taking this opinion, as I noted in the linked Winds of Change post, have to do with the fact that all of the three other ethnic battalions that were headquartered at Salman Pak refer to known terrorist groups that were sponsored by the Iraqi regime. The Persian battalion is made up of members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, the Palestine battalion consists of Palestine Liberation Front and Abu Nidal Organization members, ect. The only question mark then is who the heck the Saudi battalion, as there is only one organization that could actually be considered an armed Saudi opposition group: al-Qaeda.
It is also worth noting that this explanation would also seem to answer a number of questions, not the least of which being how it was that bin Laden's name turned up on a list of Iraqi agents from 1993. While the supplier of the document is none other than Andrew's perennial adversary Ahmed Chalabi, the document nevertheless appears to be a genuine article according to US officials who have examined it. It would also serve to harmonize claims by former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman that Ramzi Yousef ran a network of Saudi nationals committed to destabilizing the royal family prior to his arrest in Pakistan. I am aware, incidentally, that Raman also considers Laurie Mylorie to be a credible source, something that I will deal with in the second installment of this blog.
Andrew, aware of the claims regarding Salman Pak, provided a link to this article by my one-time employer Knight-Ridder that lists the numerous examples of the fables that were relayed by Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress to various media outlets. The relevant excerpts can be found here:
Many articles quoted defectors as saying that Saddam was training extremists from throughout the Muslim world at Salman Pak, outside Baghdad.
"We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that," said a senior U.S. official.
Instead, he said, U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Iraqi counterterrorism units practiced anti-hijacking techniques on an aircraft fuselage at the site.
An Oct. 12, 2001, Washington Post opinion piece by columnist Jim Hoagland quoted an INC-supplied defector, Sabah Khalifa Khodada Alami, as saying that Salman Pak offered hijacking and assassination courses.
The article, which urged the Bush administration to examine possible Iraqi complicity in Sept. 11, said Alami was a former military instructor and ex-army captain whom the INC tracked down to Fort Worth, Texas, where he settled in May 2001 as a refugee.
Hoagland's column said the defector should not be automatically believed. Hoagland said he wrote it to call attention to "the difficulties that two defectors had in receiving an evaluation from the CIA."
In a Nov. 11 story in the Observer of London by David Rose, Alami was quoted as saying that "the method used on 11 September perfectly coincides with the training I saw at the camp."
The article said Alami was assigned to Salman Pak between 1994 and 1995.
However, a Nov. 8, 2001, New York Times article said Alami worked at Salman Pak for eight years.
The Oct. 12, 2001, Washington Post piece also cited an INC claim that an unnamed former Iraqi intelligence officer claimed that "Islamists" were trained at Salman Pak on a U.S.-made Boeing 707.
In a later article, which appeared to be based on an interview with the same man, the aircraft was identified as an old Russian-made Tupolev.
That defector complained in The Washington Post column that CIA interrogators in Ankara had treated him "dismissively" earlier that week.
The Nov. 8, 2001, New York Times article featured an interview in an unidentified Middle East country that was arranged by the INC with an unidentified Iraqi lieutenant general who said he'd been interviewed by the CIA in Ankara the previous month.
He and an unidentified Iraqi intelligence service sergeant claimed they worked at Salman Pak for several years and that trainees were being prepared for attacks on neighboring countries and possibly the United States.
The unnamed lieutenant general appears to have been the defector of the same rank, code-named Abu Zeinab, who was featured in the Nov. 11, 2001, Observer article.
The newspaper said the defector was interviewed by telephone, and that it was also given details of an interview that two London-based INC activists had conducted with Abu Zeinab at a safe house in Ankara, Turkey.
Abu Zeinab claimed that trainees were instructed in hijacking aircraft.
The defector's full name, Abu Zeinab al Qurairy, was revealed in a February 2002 article in Vanity Fair magazine that was also written by Rose, who declined to comment.
The defector said the Islamists at Salman Pak pledged to obey orders to carry out suicide attacks and that those who flunked training were "used as targets in live-ammunition exercises."
As I noted in the comments section of Andrew's first guest blog, this article does not exactly say what he believes that it does, for example, his claim that the alleged Boeing fuselage was in fact a Soviet-made Tupolev. On the larger issue of Salman Pak, however, the only actual quote that we get from Knight-Ridder with respect to the US intelligence assessment of the camp is an anonymous statement from a senior US official claiming that no evidence has been recovered to substantiate the claims made by Sabah Khodada and others that extremists from across the Muslim world were being trained at the camp. This does, not incidentally, rule out the known facts concerning the Turks, Palestinians, Iranians, and Saudis who are known to have been trained at the camp, just as was noted by the reputable Jane's Intelligence Review as far back as 1997.
It is also worth noting that on the subject of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, intelligence officials say a great many things and that Knight-Ridder has already been publicly rebutted by the National Security Council for their efforts to discredit the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Next, it should be recognized that the US has has already apprehended a member of Zarqawi's cell in Baghdad that was part of a network of cells that spanned from Baghdad to as far north as Mosul without ever carrying out any attacks against the regime that, if one is to believe Andrew, al-Qaeda supposedly hated with a passion. It is from these captured Zarqawi lieutenants that the US intelligence community was able to reach the conclusion that Zarqawi did indeed travel to Baghdad for medical treatment (and at an exclusive hospital no less) but did not have his leg amputated as had previously been believed.
Finally, there is the issue of Abdul Rahman Yassin, the only member of the cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing still free who is currently being pursued by US forces in Iraq. Yassin was provided support by the Iraqi Mukhabarat after the failed bombing and Iraq initially tried to claim that he had fled to Afghanistan in 1999 after his al-Qaeda connections came to light. Yassin's name surfaced again in connection with an alleged last-ditch peace offer by the Iraqi regime using a Lebanese gunrunner as a middleman (whose accounts directly contradict those of Tariq Aziz concerning the belief of the Iraqi leadership on whether or not the US would actually invade), but the information that he appears to have been more or less a guest of the Iraqi government was not disclosed at the time. When CBS News interviewed him in 2002, for example, they did so under the polite fiction that he was merely a "guest" of the Iraqi regime.
Not so long ago, I would have agreed with Andrew's assertion that the war did little if anything to disrupt al-Qaeda's finances, with the exception of those that were being relayed back and forth by the cell that was located in Baghdad as it was described by Powell at the UN. This cell's existence, incidentally, has been verified through intercepted phone calls between al-Qaeda operatives near the Syrian border and in Baghdad.
Unfortunately, like so many other things, this is no longer entirely clear. According to the work of journalist Marc Perleman of Forward, at least three entities known to serve as fronts for al-Qaeda financing appear to have directly profited from the seemingly systemic corruption in the UN oil for food program. They are the ASAT Trust, Liechtenstein-based legal firm, the al-Taqwa financial network (as well as its successor Nada Management), and the pro-Taliban Saudi company Delta Oil. While details are still forthcoming regarding the exact details of the oil for food scandal (which Andrew does not appear to regard as a legitimate scandal, judging from some of his more recent comments on the subject), the fact that at least 3 al-Qaeda front organizations apparently profited from the program's corruption is certainly disturbing to say the least, particularly as current evidence appears to indicate that Saddam knew damned well who had their hands in the cookie jar and used it as a mechanism with which to ensure political support for his regime.
Let me put it this way: if we were to apply the same standard to the ASAT Trust, al-Taqwa, and Delta Oil that many opponents of the war insist that we apply to Halliburton, Betchel, and Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it would seem entirely fitting to conclude that Saddam Hussein and his government were indeed pumping cash into al-Qaeda. By removing the regime that exploited the corruption in the oil for food program to begin with, those financial channels are now dry.
According to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Iraq has been working with Ansar al-Islam and supplying the organization with cash and training for at least as far back as March 2002. Jonathan Schanzer of the Weekly Standard likewise asserts Iraqi aid to Ansar al-Islam, citing among other things the testimony of a captured Ansar leader known only as Qods.
And then, of course, there is the reporting contained within the Feith memo, starting with bullet-point #31:
An Oct. 2002 . . . report said al Qaeda and Iraq reached a secret agreement whereby Iraq would provide safe haven to al Qaeda members and provide them with money and weapons. The agreement reportedly prompted a large number of al Qaeda members to head to Iraq. The report also said that al Qaeda members involved in a fraudulent passport network for al Qaeda had been directed to procure 90 Iraqi and Syrian passports for al Qaeda personnel.
Sensitive reporting indicates senior terrorist planner and close al Qaeda associate al Zarqawi has had an operational alliance with Iraqi officials. As of Oct 2002, al Zarqawi maintained contacts with the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] to procure weapons and explosives, including surface-to-air missiles from an IIS officer in Baghdad. According to sensitive reporting, al Zarqawi was setting up sleeper cells in Baghdad to be activated in case of a U.S. occupation of the city . . .
According to sensitive reporting, a contact with good access who does not have an established reporting record: An Iraqi intelligence service officer said that as of mid-March the IIS was providing weapons to al Qaeda members located in northern Iraq, including rocket propelled grenade (RPG)-18 launchers. According to IIS information, northern Iraq-based al Qaeda members believed that the U.S. intended to strike al Qaeda targets during an anticipated assault against Ansar al-Islam positions.
I will deal with objections to the evidence contained within the Feith memo a little further down the page. But here again, if all of this is true, it would seem to indicate that Iraq was indeed a source of war materiel for al-Qaeda and that the fall of the Iraqi regime has indeed deprived al-Qaeda of a valuable source of weaponry. Nor was this weaponry necessarily conventional in nature, as according to Ibn Shaykh al-Libi and CIA Director Tenet Iraq provided training in poisons and gasses.
And according to bullet-point #26 of the Feith memo:
26. During a custodial interview, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi [a senior al Qaeda operative] said he was told by an al Qaeda associate that he was tasked to travel to Iraq (1998) to establish a relationship with Iraqi intelligence to obtain poisons and gases training. After the USS Cole bombing in 2000, two al Qaeda operatives were sent to Iraq for CBW-related [Chemical and Biological Weapons] training beginning in Dec 2000. Iraqi intelligence was "encouraged" after the embassy and USS Cole bombings to provide this training.
It is worth noting that even if Iraq did not possess any WMDs at the time of the US invasion in 2003, the Iraqi Mukhabarat and the scientists would have almost certainly still possessed the expertise necessary to train others in their manufacture. Nor is this a new claim - it is simply a more specific phrasing of the allegation the Clinton administration chose to place in its 1998 indictment against bin Laden.
It does nothing to discover the identities of sleeper agents, who were not controlled from Iraqi soil (with the possible exception of Ansar Al-Islam, over which the Saddam government had no control).
No "possibly" there, Andrew. According to this after-action report on the ruins of the main Ansar al-Islam stronghold at Beyara, a coalition assault on one of the strongholds compounds turned up a list of suspected sleeper agents living in the United States.
Iraq was not even a source of Al Qaeda operatives.
Off-hand, I can think of several high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives of Iraqi origin: Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi, Abu Hadi al-Iraqi, Shakir, and Abdul Rahman Yassin. However, I fail to see what the number of Iraqis serving in al-Qaeda's ranks has to do with the justification or lack thereof for the war. Algeria, for example, has the dubious distinction of being the third largest contributor to bin Laden's legions even though their government is currently embroiled in a long-running war against its own al-Qaeda affiliates. The UK is also a plentiful source of recruits for the organization.
I recognize that many of these claims are controversial, so allow me to take the opportunity to refute some of the more common objections to many of these counter-claims before moving on to deal with the rest of Andrew's arguments against the war in Iraq.
This is probably the most common argument that is made, both in press reports or by "experts" of some stripe or another. The basic claim is that a secular despot like Saddam would never ally himself with a religious fundamentalist like bin Laden, who would almost certainly regard him as an infidel ruler to be destroyed. Ignoring the fact that claims of cooperation between the two actually date back to the Clinton administration and that to be quite honest I have ever actually heard an opponent of the war sufficiently explain them away, perhaps because of the apparent absence of both the neocons and Ahmed Chalabi to the situation surrounding the indictment, this is still a fairly common meme that regularly heard throughout blogosphere.
It is also patently false. If bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, or any other high-level al-Qaeda leader has ever issued a public statement calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, I confess that I have yet to read it. In bin Laden's 1998 declaration of war, Iraq is mentioned four times, one of which refers to it as "the strongest Arab state" and claims that US efforts against Iraq are made in order to ensure the security of Israel, a claim that certain quarters of the anti-war movement would likely agree with.
In a February 12, 2003 audiotape, bin Laden stated the following concerning Saddam Hussein:
"Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists.
The jurisdiction of the socialists and those rulers has fallen a long time ago.
Socialists are infidels wherever they are, whether they are in Baghdad or Aden.
The fighting, which is waging and which will be waged these days, is very much like the fighting of Muslims against the Byzantine in the past.
And the convergence of interests is not detrimental. The Muslims' fighting against the Byzantine converged with the interests of the Persians.
And this was not detrimental to the Companions of The Prophet."
Did bin Laden refer to the Baathists as infidels? Indeed, but he seems to regard them as infidels worth fighting with, at least against the United States. One wonders if this isn't more or less how he saw the CIA in Afghanistan working with the mujahideen through the Pakistani ISI during the 1980s ...
In an interview with the Saudi magazine al-Majallah following the Riyadh bombings, al-Qaeda training chief Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, who possessed beforehand knowledge of the bombings, said the following concerning Saddam Hussein:
"Allah has turned to him with forgiveness. He declared jihad and did not recognize Israel. There is nothing to bar cooperation with a Muslim who has made jihad his course and way for liberating the holy lands."
So if there is some kind of impossible ideological barrier between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, both of these men appear to be unaware of it.
There is also another point be made as far as al-Qaeda's willingness to cross ideological barriers in the service of its objectives. For example, I think that Andrew would agree that it's a lot easier to recognize the possibility of secular and religious Arab totalitarians who share more or less the same anti-Western worldview cooperating than the idea of Islamic totalitarians cooperating with a Christian kleptocrat who has business ties to the United States. Yet in the case of the latter, it can be demonstrably shown that this has occurred. The former government of Charles Taylor in Liberia, which had notable business ties to prominent members of the American Christian community including Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson, also provided substantial assistance to al-Qaeda with regard to helping the organization to transfer its assets into diamonds and hosting operatives at one of his military bases even after the 9/11 attacks. In light of the connection with the Taylor government in Liberia, which comes from European (read: "French") intelligence sources, I really don't believe that a credible case can be made that al-Qaeda is an organization bound by ideology. They'll work with any government, or anyone, willing to assist the network with its objectives.
The New York Times saw fit to publicize claims that Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed denied complicity between al-Qaeda and Iraq after being captured. Ignoring the fact that the US appears to have numerous other detainees (the highest of which appear to be Ibn Shaykh al-Libi on the al-Qaeda side and Farouk Hijazi on the Iraqi side) as well as phone intercepts claiming that such a collaboration did in fact occur, it also bears noting that the original Times account gives an incomplete picture of what was said with regard to at least one detainee.
Going back the Feith memo, at bullet-point #34:
During a 3 Sept 2002 interview, senior al Qaeda lieutenant Zubaida said that Bin Laden would ally al Qaeda with any entity willing to kill Americans. Zubaida explained, "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Bin Laden opposed a "formal" alliance because it may threaten al Qaeda's independence, but he saw the benefits of cooperation and viewed any entity that hated Americans and was willing to kill them as an "ally." Zubaida had suggested that the benefits of an alliance would outweigh the manageable risks to the integrity of al Qaeda. He said the potential benefits included access to WMD materials, such as weaponized chemical or biological weapons material, as well as funding and potential locations for safehaven and training.
That doesn't exactly strike me as that much of a denial from Zubaydah, but then I'm not a New York Times reporter ...
As for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Risen story refers only to "a debriefing" with the man, whose claims (in contrast to those of Zubaydah, which were initially given great fanfare) have not been made available to the general public so we are very much in the dark as far as what else Mohammed may have told his interrogators. It is also worth noting that news reports claim that Mohammed was still in Pakistani custody as of March 17 and is not referred to as being in American custody until April 7. The implication here is that we had only had the man in our full custody for little more than two months by the time the Times story broke and not knowing the circumstances of the interrogation it is impossible to say how credible his statements should be regarded. Hence, Mohammed's denial is more or less inconclusive.
As Andrew is no doubt likely to point out, much of the evidence that the administration utilized with regard to the connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda came from Doug Feith's Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (not the Office of Special Plans with which it is sometimes confused). According to Josh Marshall and his sources inside the Beltway, Feith presented most of his stuff on Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda to the CIA around August 2002 and I believe Marshall's description of their reaction was that it "didn't pass the laugh test." When the Feith memo first debuted last October, Andrew and I shared a number of conversations in various comments threads in which I argued that much of the information contained within the Feith memo post-dated October 2002 and that the statement released by the Pentagon on the subject of the memo was hardly the disavowal that some were spinning it as.
Well, come April 27, 2004, nearly six months later, and we get another New York Times story, this one on Feith and his work at the Counter-Terrorism Evalution Group that included his conclusions not just on Iraq, but on a whole host of other areas as well:
The team's conclusions were alarming: old barriers that divided the major Islamic terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, were coming down, and these groups were forging ties with one another and with secular Arab governments in an emerging terrorist war against the West.
Their analysis covered plenty of controversial ground. The two men identified members of the Saudi royal family who they said had aided Al Qaeda over the years. They warned that Al Qaeda had operatives in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where they were establishing ties with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. They suspected Abu Nidal, an aging Palestinian terrorist leader living in Baghdad, of being an indirect link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, even though many other analysts believed that he was essentially retired and that his once-fearsome organization had been shattered. Mr. Nidal died under mysterious circumstances in Baghdad in 2002.
After looking at this and having studied al-Qaeda in-depth for well over two years now, I have to say that all of those people who have belittled, lamblasted, and eviscerated Feith and Co with insults for over a year now owe them a major apology, Marshall included. Most of these conclusions are not assertions by conservative demagogues, they're self-apparent facts to anyone who's been seriously following the war on terrorism just based on open source information.
Hamas: According to Matthew Levitt, al-Qaeda recruited Nabil Aukal, a Hamas dawa'a activist, back in 1998 and received $10,000 from Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to set up a terrorist cell in the Gaza Strip. Among Aukal's guests prior to his arrest in 2000 was none other than future al-Qaeda "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. In addition, the US officials are said to have multiple confirmations of joint meetings between representatives of Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda.
Hezbollah: Al-Qaeda ties with its sister Shi'ite terrorist group have been known since at least 1998 according to the court documents from the trial of the embassy bombers. In June 2002, the Washington Post carried a story claiming that bin Laden directed his followers to form a closer alliance with the other terrorist network, citing US and European intelligence agencies.
Saudi royals: This is generally accepted as fact for anyone who's been following the utter wackiness that is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, even most opponents of the war that one tends to encounter online, but for those requiring further proof I would direct your attention to this article in US News & World Report (or, for those unwilling to pay the $2.95 to access the article, you can read most of it here with my commentary) that pretty much explains the real root cause of Islamic extremism.
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon: The most immediate thing that comes to mind here is Asbat al-Ansar, which is based in Ein al-Hilweh. The refugee camp is easily one of the most screwed up places on the planet, where Fatah militias battle Hamas and al-Qaeda fighters struggle against even more militant followers of Osama bin Laden. Things have gotten so bad there that even Lebanese intelligence have admitted that al-Qaeda is active inside the camp.
Abu Nidal: This is, in my mind, the weakest single piece of Feith's conclusions, though it does seem to revive claims that Abu Nidal was killed over an al-Qaeda row. It is worth noting that despite the US having full control over Iraq for over a year and having access to all of the regime's old intelligence files, we still have yet to come to any kind of conclusion of how Abu Nidal died and why.
Even if the Abu Nidal claim is inaccurate (and we honestly have no way of knowing one way or another at this point since we still don't even know why he was killed), we are still left with at least four major findings by Feith's team, all which were accurate and all which were regarded with skepticism by at the very least some segments of the US intelligence community at the time that they completed their initial assessment in November 2001. So under the circumstances and the number of bull's eyes that Feith had wracked up to date, it would seem at the very least that administration had good reason for trusting Feith and his team.
I approach Mylroie's theories concerning the true identity of Ramzi Yousef with some skepticism, though I would point out that there are at least two other schools of thought as to who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is entirely apart from that postulated by Mylroie. There is still a great deal that is not known about both Ramzi Yousef and his "uncle" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which is one of the reasons why I would pay quite handsomely for a chance to read the full transcripts of Mohammed's interrogations at the hands of US authorities. I've actually set one of my loyal readers, Pete Stanley, to the task of seeing if there's a way to harmonize all three of these theories into a unified construct and thus far his work has been extremely illuminating.
For the record, I myself have long been skeptical of Mylroie's assertions, particularly her claim that al-Qaeda is little more than a front for Iraqi intelligence. Judging from the fact that al-Qaeda is still very much alive and kicking after any semblance of the Mukhabarat's old command and control apparatus has been thoroughly dismantled would seem to knock a fairly major hole in her theory.
However, two things need to be acknowledged in particular with regard to Mylroie. The first is that her claims with regard to Ramzi Yousef's identity crisis are held by Indian intelligence chief B. Raman as accurate. Pakistan, the constant subject of India's formidable Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was Yousef's base of operations and Raman goes even further than Mylroie and establishes the Pakistani Sunni sectarian groups Sipah-e-Sahaba (SeS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as Mukhabarat fronts, as well as even acknowledging ties between Zarqawi and the Iraqi Mukhabarat going as far back as 1994. Call me stupid, but I imagine that Raman (who opposed the war in Iraq, incidentally) had access to a hell of a lot better intelligence with regard to Pakistan than I do during his time as an Indian intelligence chief.
Another thing that tends to keep me on the fence regarding Mylroie and her theories is the blatant sophistry and dishonestry employed by those who disagree with her. CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen's article featured in the Atlantic Monthly that can be fairly summarized as thus (kudos to Pete Stanley for this one) : "Mylroie's a nut. A conspiracy theorist. The neocons like her, so she can't be good. Ramzi Yousef denied that he was an Iraqi agent, so she must be wrong. Oh, and she's a nut." I believe that there is a term for this style of debating and it's called ad hominem.
Then there's always the Richard Clarke method of argumentation that appears more or less to be a gigantic straw man. He attributes to Mylroie the position that the "real" Ramzi Yousef was in fact with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, which he then "refutes" by pointing out that Yousef is incarcerated here in the United States. Simply speaking, you aren't going to find that anywhere in either of Mylroie's books on the subject of Yousef and Iraq.
Oh, and here's another fun fact to consider: while the process of
attacking refuting Mylroie, Bergen cites her belief that the Oklahoma City bombers were trained by Ramzi Yousef as evidence of her madness. Unfortunately for Bergen, Clarke's own book Against All Enemies also includes an admission that the belief that Yousef or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trained Terry Nichols while he was in the Philippines is indeed quite plausible. Given that Clarke has more or less been annointed as infallible by much of the American left following his appearance on 60 minutes (with little inconvenient facts like his past assertions of Iraq/al-Qaeda ties when it came time to blow up al-Shifa being swept under the rug), does his willingness to indulge in such crazy theories also make him an irredeemable crackpot? Inquiring minds want to know ...
But Can You Prove Any Of This?
This is a valid question, and one that is frequently asked regarding my assertions of connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Ultimately, the answer is no, no more than Andrew or any other blogger can definitively debunk claims of such connections. Neither myself nor Andrew have access to any classified intelligence that all of the major public figures on the pro or anti side of the equation have access to - were either of us to have irrevocable proof of our positions there would presumably be little if any need for all of the debates that have occurred here on Winds of Change regarding the issue of the war in Iraq. All Andrew or myself can do is present our respective viewpoints, the evidence cited to support either position, and then allow readers to make up their own conclusions.
Moving Right Along ...
As I said, it is the argument over ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda is the key contention between myself and Andrew and I strongly suspect between most supporters and opponents of the war as well. If Iraq was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, then clearly US military action against Saddam Hussein is going to make a great deal of sense to just about everyone outside the Chomskyite fringe and perhaps the Indymedia crowd. Similarly, Andrew's argument that every dollar we spend on Iraq is a dollar that isn't spent fighting al-Qaeda is inconsistent at best if one accepts the two as equally important parts of the same war.
With that being said, let me move on to Andrew's next argument:
What I find most incredible is that the response of the Spaniards to the ability of Al Qaeda to commit a terrorist act in Europe (as well as other acts in Asia and Africa) without any difficulties imposed by the Iraq War is taken as "appeasement". The theory that Western security can be vouchsafed by attacking a third party (evil as it was) has been tried, and found wanting. The Spanish punished a government that was unable to protect them because it didn't try.
With all due respect to Andrew, this is some very shoddy argumentation here. If one is going to argue (as he has) that the events of 3/11 "prove" in some fashion that the war in Iraq has not hindered al-Qaeda, then I say that we should take this argument to the next logical step. On December 22, 2001, just days after the fall of Tora Bora, Richard Reid attempted to bring down Flight AA63 from Paris to Miami using his now-infamous shoe bomb. That Reid failed in this attempt is due more to the timely reaction of the flight passengers than anything else. But, using Andrew's argument, it would seem that one could cite Reid's attempt as proof that the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan had not served to make America or its citizens safer.
More to the point, he appears misinformed as to why the Spanish electorate voted the way that it did with regard to the victory of the Socialists in Spain - it had nothing to do with some grand strategy by the Aznar government and more to do with how the national debate over on whose head responsibility for the bombing should lie. As it seems many a Democratic strategist is now learning with regard to John Kerry, how early perceptions are framed are extremely important. In Spain, the national debate more or less went like this: if the culprits were the Basque ETA as had initially been argued by the Popular Party, then it made perfect sense for the Spaniards to re-elect the Popular Party, who had favored a hard line against them (and oh-by-the-way one of the junior partners in the Socialist coalition tried to have negotiations with them). If the culprits were al-Qaeda, however, then it was Aznar's fault for joining in the US-led coalition against Iraq and it made perfect sense to vote out the Popular Party. To the best of my knowledge, the Popular Party never put out a counter-argument to that claim, instead investing all of their efforts to pinning the blame on the ETA, so when proof emerged in the form of both forensic evidence and multiple claims of responsibility from al-Qaeda as to who the perpetrators were, the Spanish people acted as they had been conditioned to by the way that the debate was framed for them. To attempt to project the domestic US political debate with regard to Iraq on the Spanish electorate is erroneous at best and extremely misleading at worst.
Faced with the obvious, that none of whatever success we have enjoyed in locating Al Qaeda agents and frustrating their plans is in any way related to anything captured or interdicted in Iraq, proponents of the war propose various grandiose general theories to explain why the Iraq War has made us safer.
I'm not certain whether or not Andrew classes me in the ranks of such individuals, though if so I quite flattered. Nevertheless, allow me to enter into this line of discussion for the purposes of refuting some of what I believe are mistaken assumptions on Andrew's part.
The flypaper theory posits that by attracting Islamoterrorists to Iraq, we are first distracting them from conducting further attacks in the United States, and second localizing them where our superior conventional military strength can annihilate them. The first argument is weak. For one thing, on 9/10/2001 we could have made a similar, mistaken, claim about the success of the Clinton and Bush anti-terrorism policies pursued until then. Even more important, this line of reasoning falters on Al Qaeda's post-Iraq attacks in Europe. The second argument is scarcely any better, for while it might apply to a traditional army being lured to a strongpoint and destroyed, it makes no sense in talking about a fairly small terrorist movement which will not attack in massed formation, and which moreover can abandon Iraq for other countries if the heat is too great.
I myself have never bought into the flypaper theory, instead regarding it as more as a consequence of our being in Iraq than anything else. Bin Laden has long sought to draw the United States into a protracted guerrilla conflict in order to duplicate what he views as the success of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Had we actually placed Afghanistan under full military occupation as some have suggested, I think we would have pretty much faced the same situation we are now dealing with inside Iraq there. We dodged that bullet and apparently had some mistaken belief that we could dodge it in Iraq as well (re: Chalabi's claims of the INC running a vast underground resistance movement), leaving us with little choice but to occupy Iraq following the collapse of the Baathist government in early April 2003. As a result, al-Qaeda resources that were previously being allocated to such regions as Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya are now being sent to Iraq as part of a concerted effort to dislodge the US from Iraq at any and all costs.
Should al-Qaeda succeed in this endeavor, the network will not only establish a base of operations within the Middle East with which to forment instability throughout the entire region but will also have achieved at its propaganda objective of defeating the United States in a protracted clash of wills and prove itself as a superior alternative to any standing governments for the anti-Western elements of the region. Given what we are repeatedly told about the level of Arab anger against the United States because of our intervention in Iraq, this is not something that we dare afford, which is precisely what calls for a US withdrawl from Iraq or claims that defeating the insurgency there is unwinnable need to take into full account.
More realistic than the flypaper theory is the theory that Arab governments everywhere will be so awed by the American military might in Baghdad, and the bases we will establish there with or without the consent of the Iraqi government, that they will cooperate in the fight against terrorism. (Why the fate of the Taliban isn't sufficient example is unclear to me.) Perhaps it is because, as Rumsfeld said, Iraq has better targets. There is evidence of a weak effect along these lines, although Libya and Syria were both seeing some liberalization before 9/11.
Libya has indeed been trying to get back into the fold of respectable nations since at least Qadaffi's decision to hand over the two Lockerbie bombers for trial, but clearly these attempts had not stopped the nation from also pursuing an aggressive WMD program, including covert efforts aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons that went on completely under the noses of the much-vaunted international non-proliferation regime. Still, does anyone honestly believe that Qadaffi would have agreed to surrender his entire WMD arsenal in toto, let alone inform the United States and the UK as to the extent of the nuclear black market run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, had he not come to the conclusion from watching the events of Operation Iraqi Freedom that the benefits of possessing such deterrence capability far outweighed the risk?
As for Syria, Bashar al-Assad was quite prompt in kicking out the Iraqi notables who found safe harbor in his nation after the fall of Baghdad, not even bothering to retain Iraqi scientists for his own WMD programs. He would almost certainly have not taken so drastic a move were he not fully convinced that his nation was facing the prospect of immediate military action by the United States in the event of his non-compliance, which is one of the strongest arguments in my mind against Syria being the source of Iraqi WMDs.
Overall, the collapse of the Tunisia meetings and the lack of any forward motion for Bush's Middle East Initiative suggests that the benefits are limited. Perhaps the anti-American forces inside and outside of these governments have done the addition and decided that we simply have no troops to spare to occupy any more countries. Or perhaps the country most closely linked to Al Qaeda, namely, Saudi Arabia, figures its close personal friendship with the Bush family will continue to exempt it.
Except if we're talking about which country is most closely linked to al-Qaeda, it bears remembering that al-Qaeda's leadership isn't currently based in Saudi Arabia - they're in Iran, being protected at military bases controlled by Qods Force, the elite of the IRGC. And with all due respect to Andrew, anyone who believes that Saudi money has tainted only the right of the American political spectrum is a fool - like any good Machiavellians, the Saudis have invested quite heavily on both sides of the political fence and thus maintain one of the largest and best-funded lobbies in DC. The December 15, 2003 edition of US News and World Report, which gave probably the most extensive outline with regard to how the Saudi money machine operates both for al-Qaeda and on Capitol Hill, describes in full the sinister nature of the beast as well as the kind of kowtowing that the Clinton administration had to engage in in this regard. There is little if any reason to believe that this is going to change, whether or not Bush is defeated in the upcoming US presidential elections.
The situation with respect to Iran is far more complex due to the fact that hardliners within the Iranian government could always hide behind the facade of their "moderate" president Khatami in front of the international community. Joe once compared Khatami's behavior to being akin to that of a union boss who's been bought off by the mob and that's a fairly apt description of how the Iranian hardliners have used him since his election in order to prevent their nation from returning to its rightful status as a pariah state. Now that Iran possesses at the absolute least break-out nuclear weapons capacity, the IRGC likely figures that they can prevent the US from taking action against their nation by exploiting our ultimate nightmare (nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist group, in this case Iran's wholely-owned subsidiary Hezbollah) as well as relying on the short attention span of the international community with respect to these very pressing issues.
As I noted above, Syria has clearly been walking a tight rope with regard to placating domestic anti-American factions within the Syrian Baathist Party while ensuring the larger survival of the regime.
And last, and most ridiculous, is the triple-bank-shot theory that we will establish such a wonderful democracy in Iraq (doing what, I ask, with Fallujah?) that flowers begin to bloom over the entire region.
What Andrew seems to be saying here, at least as I understand it, is that US efforts to establish a democracy in Iraq are ultimately futile. Ignoring the point that it was not the entire town of Fallujah but rather a small but dedicated group of no more than several thousand or so individuals (not all of them Iraqi) by most estimates, if the mission of establishing a democracy in Iraq is nothing more than the crazy pipe dream of Perle and Co, then the logical alternative is to install another puppet strongman who will keep the Iraqi nation intact (and of course, US pride) and on a reasonably pro-Western foreign policy track the same way that the Algerian junta does for the French. And while I'm sure Andrew would be aghast to hear this, Chalabi or one of his minions would be the most likely candidates for such a job, as they appear more or less reliable so long as one keeps in mind what kind of people they are and lines their purses as such.
I take a somewhat different view of establishing a democracy in Iraq in large part because I don't think that the new Iraqi society that comes into being over there will be an abhorration from the fires of hell if it isn't a Middle Eastern clone of the United States. As a result, I'm not as concerned as other warbloggers if the Iraqi constitution contains within it a reference to Islam seeing how most Latin American nations have constitutions containing at least some similar reference to my own Catholicism. If the Iraqis want a constitutional monarchy with a Hashemite prince on the throne, let them have it. If they want more regional autonomy to prevent one group from dominating the others, something resembling the Swiss canton system would seem to be workable. If they want religious or tribal leaders to have a de jure as well as de facto voice in the government, something resembling the old French estates system would seem to be in order. However, the key thing, at least in my mind, is that whatever the particulars of the new Iraqi government that it be accountable to the people, guarantee as much individual liberty as possible (if we reach Turkish standards I'll be quite satisfied), and above all be a welcome, productive, and above all beneficial alternative to the decades of brutality and horror that were wrought under Saddam Hussein.
Andrew has noted the issue of armed groups with respect to ensuring the establishment of a democracy inside Iraq and, as I have noted, most political parties in Southeast Asia maintain armed or paramilitary wings in some fashion but still manage to hold more or less fair elections and transitions of power. Heck, a number of political factions within the US more or less did the same not so long ago (what else is one to call the Black Panthers, for example?). So I don't see the mere existence of armed wings as an impregnable obstacle towards the establishment of a democracy inside Iraq, so long as one recognizes that democracy does not equal a utopia.
The prison abuses at Abu Gharib are of course extremely disturbing and should be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of our laws, regardless how high or low in the chain of command that it goes. There's too much material floating around on the subject and I haven't had the time to go through it fully, but I tend to agree with two of the more common memes floating around, one being that it's a far bigger deal here in the US than it is in Iraq and the second being that claims that the Abu Gharib abuses have cost us the war are more or less politically motivated in nature by people who, no more than a month ago, were declaring that the Sadr Revolt was the beginning of the end for the US occupation in Iraq. That we have moved from an active insurgency to abuses that occurred at a prison as being the current subject of the "US is losing Iraq/Iraq = Vietnam" in all honesty tells one more about the agendas of the people making them than it does about the actual situation on the ground.
In conclusion, my counter-argument to Andrew's primary point is that Iraq operated as a state sponsor of al-Qaeda and that removing the Baathist government from power did indeed serve to make America the rest of the world safer both directly and indirectly. I hope to have completed my response to the second part of Andrew's guest blog sometime later this week, possibly to run concurrently with my Winds of War on Thursday.