Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saddam's Terrorist Connections

Well, this is odd. ABC is reporting that the Bush administration is trying to cover up a report released last week by the Pentagon on Iraq's ties to al Qaeda because the report says there were none. Yet if you read the Executive Summary of the report they link to it's clear that Saddam was indeed up to his jockey shorts in terrorist activity, that he was funding terrorist groups at home and abroad, and that he clearly intended to use terrorism to strike at American interests until he fled from Baghdad.

The ES does not say that there were no ties to terrorism, only that a direct connection to this particular terrorist organization, al Qaeda, was not found. Based on this flimsy platform, the New York Times performs a feat of logical acrobatics and concludes that "Oh, by the way, there was no al Qaeda link." The Times is so heavily invested in the meme that Bush had no justification for invading Iraq that it's apparently willing to make itself look stupid rather than admit they were wrong.

Absence of evidence for a direct link to al Qaeda is not proof of the non-existence of the link. But that aside, whether Saddam was in bed with terrorists who called themselves "al Qaeda" or not is completely irrelevant. The question is whether Saddam was engaged in extra-territorial terrorism, and no one, not even someone who works for the Times or ABC, can read the report and not see that he was.

If these good folks had actually taken the trouble to read the very document they link to they may have been more circumspect, even about their claims that there was no connection to al Qaeda. For instance, about al Qaeda the report says this:

Saddam and bin Laden often found a common enemy in the United States....Saddam's security organizations and bin Laden's terrorist network operated with similar aims, at least for the short term. Considerable operational overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the regional groups involved in terrorism. Saddam provided training and motivation to revolutionary pan-Arab nationalists in the region. Osama bin Laden provided training and motivation for violent revolutionary Islamists in the region. They were recruiting within the same demographic, spouting much the same rhetoric, and promoting a common historical narrative that promised a return to a glorious past. That these movements (pan-Arab and pan-Islamic) had many similarities and strategic parallels does not mean they saw themselves in that light. Nevertheless, these similarities created more than just the appearance of cooperation. (page 41, emphasis mine)

Saddam's interest in, and support for, non-Iraqi non-state actors was spread across a wide variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. For years, Saddam maintained training camps for foreign "fighters" drawn from these diverse groups. In some cases, particularly for Palestinians, Saddam was also a strong financial supporter. Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives. (page 42, emphasis mine)

Some aspects of the indirect cooperation between Saddam's regional terror enterprise and al Qaeda's more global one are somewhat analogous to the Cali and Medellin drug cartels. Both drug cartels (actually loose collections of families and criminal gangs) were serious national security concerns to the United States. Both cartels competed for a share of the illegal drug market. However, neither cartel was reluctant to cooperate with the other when it came to the pursuit of a common objective - expanding and facilitating their illicit trade. (page 43, emphasis mine)

The report is titled Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents, and it's chock full of information about Saddam's use of, and ties to, terrorism, both internal and international. To suggest, as some in the media evidently want to do, that unless it can be proven that the terrorists actually called themselves al Qaeda they don't really count as terrorists is unbecoming anyone with more than a third grade education.


The Real Obama

Barack Obama tried yesterday to dissociate himself from his pastor's hateful remarks without dissociating himself from his pastor. In many ways his speech was outstanding, but in the end it seems as if he's extending Pastor Wright a grace that he withholds from others. When asked a year ago about what should happen to Don Imus for the remarks he made about the Rutgers women basketball players that subsequently got him into so much trouble, he makes it clear that he thinks Imus should should be fired:

Ultimately, Senator Obama failed in his speech to do what he was trying to do, which is to somehow help us understand why he continued for twenty years to sit at the feet of a man filled with anger, bitterness, and racism. To explain that there are residual bad feelings prevalent among blacks of Wright's generation seemed somewhat beside the point and unhelpful. There was nothing stopping Obama from seeking out a church pastored by someone whose views were more in line with his own. Besides, those parishioners in the pews who were enthusiastically applauding Wright's nonsense were not septuagenarians.

There seem to be two Obamas. There's the Obama who wanted to punish Imus for his offensive racial remarks and there's the Obama who wants us to understand Pastor Wright. There's the Obama who wants to transcend race and there's the Obama who takes his children to hear the ravings of a race hater.

Perhaps as time goes on it'll become a little easier to discern exactly who the real Obama is. Meanwhile, the media have chosen to ignore the obvious conflict of church and state they're so vexed about when conservative pastors preach politics. Nor are they asking themselves what their reaction would be were a Republican candidate associated so intimately with a pastor like, say, the execrable Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, whose parishioners picket funerals of slain servicemen to emphasize Phelps' belief that their deaths are God's judgment for our tolerance of homosexuality.

The most eloquent speech since Demosthenes wouldn't save a GOP candidate from the media whipping post if the candidate had shown such poor judgment as to associate with Phelps, or even with the relatively innocuous Pat Robertson.