June 17, 2004

Follow-up thoughts on the 9/11 report
Posted by Jon Henke

A few thoughts on the Commission statement, and responses to other bloggers...

*** The Bin Ladens....

Contrary to popular understanding, Bin Laden did not fund Al Qaeda through a personal fortune and a network of businesses. [...] According to Saudi officials and representatives of the Bin Laden family, Bin Laden was divested of his share of the family wealth. [...[ Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of Al Qaeda funding, but we found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded Al Qaeda.
This seems to corroborate the view that, rather than direct Saudi support, the factionalized nature of the Saudi regime worked to Al Qaeda's advantage by allowing supporters to funnel money without involving the government. It also explains why the US did not lump Saudi Arabia into the "axis of evil", despite the obvious connections to 9/11.

So, does this mean we can quit discussing Bush's "close relationship" to the Bin Laden family? Heck, they're the one group in Saudi Arabia who took money away from Osama Bin Laden.


*** Secular/Fundamentalist...

In light of the historical animosity between Shia and Sunni Muslims, the confirmation of the Hezbollah role in the attack led many to conclude that Bin Ladin's Sunni-populated organization would not have been involved. Later intelligence, however, showed far greater potential for collaboration between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda than many had previously thought. A few years before the attack, Bin Ladin's representatives and Iranian officials had discussed putting aside Shia-Sunni divisions to cooperate against the common enemy. A small group of Al Qaeda operatives subsequently travelled to Iran and Hezbollah camps in Lebanon for training in explosives, intelligence and security.
So, as Tacitus writes, "all those claiming that the "secular" and religious fanatics of the Muslim world would never consider working together are now definitively shown wrong".

Clearly, the willingness was there on the part of Al Qaeda. It appears the hold-up was not a religious split, but very likely a two-fold Iraqi security concern - Al Qaeda presence and cooperation in Iraq would:
1: ...expose Saddam Hussein to internal terrorist groups he did not fully trust.
2: ...expose Saddam Hussein to international (read: US) backlash over support of terrorist groups that targeted the west.

The question is simple: at what point would those security concerns be surpassed by the desire to strike the west? Or, could covert support eliminate them entirely?


*** The Cost-effectiveness of terrorism...

Actual terrorist operations were relatively cheap.
This is precisely why we cannot defeat terrorism directly. We can only make it cost-ineffective by forcing them backwards at every step. i.e., when they attack us, we convert their bases to democracies - or, at least, more liberalized societies. Otherwise, as long as the cost remains low, the marginal utility of terrorism will always remain high.


*** Kevin Drum makes a good point, but misses one important aspect....

... were there ever any connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda? Of course there were. This is the Middle East, after all: everyone has connections of some kind with al-Qaeda.
[...]
So did Iraq have zero contact with al-Qaeda? No. But that's not the point. What's telling — and never acknowledged by war supporters — is how little contact Iraq had with them despite enormous opportunity.
It's true, and it's a point I've made often. (though, I would still like to know the fate of the CIA assessment that "Iraq has provided training to al-Qa'ida members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs")

But, that misses the point. Kevin assumes that Bush is arguing that Iraq was currently engaged in the sort of support for Al Qaeda we feared from Iraq, but the argument Bush made was that there were already some links, and Saddam "could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own" - not that he was doing so. In short, the threat lay in the future.

And, completely aside from the question of Bush's rhetoric, what's incorrect about that estimation? Clearly, it was a distinct possibility, growing as time went on, and world attention fled Iraq.


*** Liberal Oasis...

So, in response to my point that the right side of the blogosphere largely didn't believe there was an operational relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, Liberal Oasis cites.....Dick Cheney? Why haven't I heard of his blog?

Taking his larger point, though, one has to point out that - at the time Cheney made that statement - that form of cooperation was the estimation of not just the Bush administration, but of the CIA as well, even predating the Bush administration.


*** Final note...

I want to reiterate for readers from both sides of the divide on this, I do not believe there was significant operational cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but nor do I believe the Bush administration has made unsupportable statements to that end. When they did claim some limited cooperation, our intelligence agencies were claiming some limited cooperation. When they merely claimed links....our intelligence agencies - and the 9/11 commission - also claimed there were some links. Links...nothing more, nothing less.

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Sometimes a writer can brush away all the chatter and grab the essential truth at the heart of an issue. This morning's lead editorial in the New York Times is one such moment of clarity.

-----------------------------------

    The Plain Truth

    It's hard to imagine how the commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks could have put it more clearly yesterday: there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11.

    Now President Bush should apologize to the American people, who were led to believe something different.

    Of all the ways Mr. Bush persuaded Americans to back the invasion of Iraq last year, the most plainly dishonest was his effort to link his war of choice with the battle against terrorists worldwide. While it's possible that Mr. Bush and his top advisers really believed that there were chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, they should have known all along that there was no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. No serious intelligence analyst believed the connection existed; Richard Clarke, the former antiterrorism chief, wrote in his book that Mr. Bush had been told just that.

    Nevertheless, the Bush administration convinced a substantial majority of Americans before the war that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to 9/11. And since the invasion, administration officials, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, have continued to declare such a connection. Last September, Mr. Bush had to grudgingly correct Mr. Cheney for going too far in spinning a Hussein-bin Laden conspiracy. But the claim has crept back into view as the president has made the war on terror a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

    ...

    This is not just a matter of the president's diminishing credibility, although that's disturbing enough. The war on terror has actually suffered as the conflict in Iraq has diverted military and intelligence resources from places like Afghanistan, where there could really be Qaeda forces, including Mr. bin Laden.

    Mr. Bush is right when he says he cannot be blamed for everything that happened on or before Sept. 11, 2001. But he is responsible for the administration's actions since then. That includes, inexcusably, selling the false Iraq-Qaeda claim to Americans. There are two unpleasant alternatives: either Mr. Bush knew he was not telling the truth, or he has a capacity for politically motivated self-deception that is terrifying in the post-9/11 world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/17/opinion/17THU1.html

Posted by: Oregonian at June 17, 2004 09:51 AM

Oregonian,

Although the editorial is titled "The Plain Truth", what is true about the line "there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda"? Of course there were "links" and plenty of evidence: have you been reading the discussion on that point in this blog?

The Times' blatant exaggeration and hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Posted by: Rory Daulton at June 17, 2004 10:56 AM

Let's remember for a minute that this isn't a war against al Qaeda, it's a war against terrorism. Al Qaeda isn't the only terrorist organization in the world, and Iraq gave plenty of support to other organizations. Hussein gave $25,000 to the family members of suicide bombers in Israel; don't even try to argue that that wasn't supporting terrorism. Iraq also allowed Ansas al-Islam to operate within its borders, and harbored known terrorists in Baghdad itself.

Those against the war try to paint it as a war only on al Qaeda, but it is dangerously short-sighted of them to do so.

Posted by: Steverino at June 17, 2004 11:37 AM

To re-cap, Bush specifically said there was no evidence of a connection between Iraq and AQ AS FAR AS 911. Bush and his advisors said that Hussein had connections to and was supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations - including, but not limited to, AQ. This is demonstrably true: the payments to Palestinian suicide bombers' families, harboring Palestinian terrorists in Iraq, the connections to AQ demonstrated by Steven Hayes and others, etc. The media conveniently gets confused over this in order to place the administration in the worst light.

Posted by: S. at June 17, 2004 03:08 PM

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