|If mere meetings between functionaries are sinister, then U.S. envoy Donald Rumsfeld's friendly meeting in the early 1980s with Saddam Hussein, just after Saddam had used poison gas against the Iranians, may take the prize.
Incredible as it may seem, despite the 9/11 commission's conclusion that Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein had no "collaborative relationship," President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue to insist that there was a "relationship." The president and vice president are calling a few meetings between members of the terrorist group and Iraqi government officials a "relationship." But by analogy, if a charity was able to arrange an appointment with a large corporation or foundation in an attempt to get a contribution but then ultimately got rejected in its solicitation, the Bush administration's logic would conclude that the charity and the corporation had established a philanthropic relationship. A similar outcome apparently occurred between Al Qaeda and the Iraqis. According to the commission, Osama bin Laden requested a haven for his training camps and help in buying weapons, but the Iraqis apparently never responded. That doesn't sound like much of a relationship.
All of the Bush administration's quibbling about the definition of the word "relationship" is as ridiculous as President Clinton's hair-splitting over the definition of the word "is" during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When a president's justification for actions taken hinges on the definition of a single word, that usually spells trouble.
If mere meetings between functionaries are sinister, then U.S. envoy Donald Rumsfeld's friendly meeting in the early 1980s with Saddam Hussein, just after Saddam had used poison gas against the Iranians, may take the prize.
Conveniently, just when the president is in dire need of something to cloud the whole issue, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who is seeking to curry favor with the only remaining superpower, claims that Russian intelligence services warned the United States after 9/11 that Saddam Hussein was planning terrorist attacks against U.S. targets. Putin's statement did nothing to address actual Iraqi-sponsored anti-U.S. attacks, which strangely were never carried out, or Iraq's relationship with Al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks. It only muddied the waters during a critical time when the 9/11 panel reached the devastating conclusion (for the Bush administration) that no collaborative relationship existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda. One wonders, after information from Ahmed Chalabi and his anti-Saddam group proved false and may have been concocted in Iran, whether we should put much faith in intelligence supplied by the former KGB.
But we must not lose sight of the larger questions. First, do a few meetings between members of Al Qaeda and officials from the government of Iraq justify the invasion of that sovereign nation? Only operational cooperation between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda in orchestrating the 9/11 attack would provide a justification for retaliation. And the president, vice president and Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security advisor, have all admitted that no link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack exists.
Second, past statements by Bush administration officials seem to be flatly false. Vice President Cheney, on at least one occasion, did link Iraq and 9/11, noting that "if we're successful in Iraq...we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographical base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Also, he keeps dredging up the now discredited allegation that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 plot, met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001. Casting much doubt that this meeting ever occurred are the Czech government, the CIA, the 9/11 commission and phone records and other evidence showing that Atta was in Florida at the time.
Furthermore, in the past, President Bush has stated that the relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq was much closer than the two organizations holding meetings. For example, in the May 2003, announcement that major combat operations were over, he said, "the liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of Al Qaeda."" And in the State of the Union address in January 2003: "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda."" The last statement appears to refer to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who the president claimed was a senior Al Qaeda operative living in Baghdad and working with the Iraqi government. But according to the New York Times, George Tenet, the now retiring Director of the CIA, admitted that Zarqawi did not work with the Iraqi government and was not under the direction of Al Qaeda.
The commission's conclusion of no "collaborative relationship" directly contradicts President Bush's very specific allegation that, "Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with Al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training." Numerous sources, in addition to the 9/11 panel, have shown those allegations to be untrue.
So the 9/11 commission has merely confirmed what those without naivet had suspected all along: the Bush administration lied and misled America into a needless imperial pet project that has killed thousands of innocent Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. military personnel. The amazing part is that the administration continues to claim that its Goebbels-like "big lie" propaganda is true after all, no matter how much evidence amasses to the contrary.
Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.
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