The Main Question Now Is Which Strongman Will Emerge to Take Charge in Iraq

News Abroad

Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org.

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The battle of will now underway in Fallujah between Iraqis and Americans will, I expect, increase. Further, I predict Iraqis will prevail, and I do so on the basis of two presumptions: Iraqis don't want Americans to rule them; and Iraqis care much more about the future of their country than do Americans.

For the sake of argument, let's assume my reasoning is correct, the American government abandons its goal of"a free and peaceful Iraq," and coalition forces prepare to leave Iraq on less-than-optimal terms. What would then be the least-bad outcome?

Having the central government control the entire country and patrol its borders, contain radical ideologies and ethnic tensions, and not attack neighbors. Further, it would ensure reasonable freedoms, permit the economy and culture to develop, dispatch oil and gas to the outside world, and move toward increased political participation.

Fine, but how to achieve this?

I began arguing a year ago, first on television, then in writing, that Iraq needs"a democratically-minded Iraqi strongman," returning to this theme again and again in subsequent months. He would combine several features:

  • No history of criminality or atrocities during the Saddam Hussein era;
  • No radical ideological beliefs, Islamist, Baathist, or other;
  • A recognized social standing;
  • Access to the tools of power; and
  • A power base that is not restricted to the Sunni, Shiite, or Kurdish populations, making him eligible to become leader of the whole country.

Who might fit these criteria? A high ranking military officer not incriminated by the previous regime's butchery, someone who could establish working relations with the coalition even as he defies it and works to extrude it and rule Iraq.

Until last week, this was a job description which no one appeared to fit.

Then came the news, at first blush dismaying, that ex-Major General Jassim Mohammed Saleh al-Dulaimi, 49, a Fallujah native and reportedly a relative of Saddam Hussein, is heading the Fallujah Protective Army, a brand-new Iraqi force working with the coalition to help avoid a confrontation between it and insurgents in Fallujah. Consisting of 1,100 volunteers, mostly disgruntled former officers and enlisted soldiers from the Fallujah region, it is tasked with staffing checkpoints and theoretically reports to the U.S. Marines.

As Mr. Saleh took command on April 30, the stocky general with a Saddam-style mustache wore his Saddam-era uniform, complete with maroon beret. In a scene broadcast across Iraq, he shook hands with Marine commanders and had the old Iraqi flag raised, to the cheers of onlookers. He set the tone immediately by declaring an intent to impose security and stability in Fallujah"without the need for the American army, which the people of Fallujah reject."

As his forces took up position, they celebrated what they saw as a victory over the withdrawing American forces."We won," exclaimed one of them to the Washington Post."We didn't want the Americans to enter the city and we succeeded."

Mr. Saleh seems to be popular in Fallujah, where his arrival met with wide approval. Residents flashed the V-for-victory gesture and mosque P.A. systems gloated over the American retreat. The Associated Press quotes a policeman saying,"We have very much respect for General Saleh. He was a real officer and is an observant Muslim. He did not harm anyone."

Mr. Saleh has filled many senior positions; one former general recalls him serving as a divisional chief of staff in the Republican Guard, commanding the army's 38th Infantry Division, the whole Iraqi army's infantry forces, and the Al-Quds Army. One of his relatives adds that Mr. Saleh was not political and so did not rise in the Baath party. Indeed, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne said that Mr. Saleh had opposed Saddam's regime and paid a"steep personal price."

However, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers said that Mr. Saleh"has not been vetted yet and probably won't be the one in command." Later, news came that another ex-major general, Mohammed Latif, would probably replace Mr. Saleh as head of the Fallujah Protective Army.

This confusion, plus the abrupt appearance of Messrs. Saleh and Latif, suggests that the race to fill the position of strongman has begun. I cannot predict who will eventually fill it but I can — sadly — say that someone of their general description represents the realistic best hope for Iraq.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Facts alone do not convince. It is a fact that by far the greatest stockpile of WMD in the Mideast is in Israel. It does not follow, based on this fact alone, that Israel is necessarily the greatest threat to American interests in the Mideast.

Hans Blix, Kofi Annan, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and yea, George W. Bush himself have all admitted that they were mistaken in overestimating the threat of WMD in Iraq last year. But apparently some "linguistically impaired partisan" megaposters on HNN know better than all these "champions of ignorance"

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

In his last post, Daniel wonders:

"why anyone else would go to the trouble of defending the proposition [of a substantial Saddam-al-Qaeda connection]."

A possible answer is provided in Gordon Craig's “Germany, 1866-1945”, p. 547, which quotes "Mein Kampf":

"...'even the most insolent lie' always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down."

Amazingly, there are still some Germans today who believe that their country would have been victorious in World War I had the "undefeated" army not been "stabbed in the back" by German politicians who agreed to an armistice. A comparable "Rambo legend" distorts many Americans' view today of what went wrong in Vietnam. (At least a half dozen articles devoted to perpetuating thisl atter fantasy have appeared already on HNN, a kind of clearinghouse and training ground for ahistorical mythmakers).

The myth that the Bush Administration's bungled invasion and occupation of Iraq is somehow helping to prevent another 9-11 keeps many otherwise sensible Americans from coming to the realization that the longer this arrogant and unqualified leadership continues, the more it weakens America's security.

From Craig again:

" 'all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want...As soon as you...try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away...'"

Bill Heuisler - 5/22/2004

You "provided evidence why the case for a connection between Iraq and al Qeada in general is dubious"? Where? Admit it, you left out the first half of the Bush quote where he said Saddam and Al-Qaeda were connected. Why?

Also, you continue to dance around questions about DCIA Woolsey's testimony under oath in Congress and in a Manhatten Court, about the whole Czech cabinet insisting on the Prague meeting, about Atta's allegedly renting a car before he applied for a driver's license and Tenet's tortuous answer about Atta's presence in either Prague or Florida on the date of the apparent Prague meeting with the Iraqi consul who was expelled the next week.

Reading you repeat your opinions has become boring. No offense intended, but opinions without facts reveal nothing but ignorance. Use your brain. Provide evidence or answer questions...or just admit you're wrong.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/22/2004

1) “Get your quotes right. We've been arguing about Iraq connections to Al Qaeda and 9/11. To leave out the first half of the President's remarks on 9/17/03 is to deceive. Isn't that what you accuse President Bush of doing?”

Actually, no it is not deceptive. You claim that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and that the evidence is pretty clear. Bush said the exact opposite. I have also provided evidence as to why the case for a connection between Iraq and al Qeada in general is dubious. They are two arguments, the one at least can be easily rebuked. For the record, my quite was, in fact right.

2) “On September 17th, 2003 President Bush asserted Saddam had Al Qaeda connections, but that there was no actual evidence of anything further.”

Than why do you maintain that there IS evidence of something further? Your words: “Stop quoting press sources denying Iraq-9/11 connections unless you can explain why an ex-CIA Director would lie about Salman Pak and Camp 999; why the Czech Cabinet would lie about Atta in Prague meeting an Iraqi Official on April 9th, 2001 and how Atta could've rented a car in April when he didn't apply for a license until May.”

3) “Mr. Bush spoke with reporters after speaking with leaders of Congress about energy legislation. You would recognize he was merely being careful, not excusing blame, if you weren't so set on fixing blame.”

Fixing blame? The vast majority of Americans believed that Iraq was connected to 9/11 because, in part, of what the administration was saying. This undoubtedly influenced their decision to support a war. After the war, Bush and the administration says there is no evidence of a connection. Republicans had no problem condemning Nixon for his crimes, why do they refuse to accept deceit so conspicuously made with such tremendous consequences? Is it simply because you know that the alternative is Kerry, as I suspect, and thus you will tolerate literally anything from Bush? It truly is beyond me.

By the way, you are right, he was being careful. He could have said that we don’t think there is a connection or that there is no connection we have discovered. Instead, he said there is no evidence… and Cheney replied simply “we don’t know” if there is a connection. We don’t know that Tony Blair is an Alien… there is no evidence for it. I doubt however, it would have been phrased that way.

Bill Heuisler - 5/18/2004

Get your quotes right. We've been arguing about Iraq connections to Al Qaeda and 9/11. To leave out the first half of the President's remarks on 9/17/03 is to deceive. Isn't that what you accuse President Bush of doing?

On September 17th, 2003 President Bush asserted Saddam had Al Qaeda connections, but that there was no actual evidence of anything further.

In actual fact he said, "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties,". But he added, "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks. Mr. Bush spoke with reporters after speaking with leaders of Congress about energy legislation. You would recognize he was merely being careful, not excusing blame, if you weren't so set on fixing blame.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/18/2004

It is this simple:

"We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11"
-- President George W. Bush

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday he had no reason to believe that Iraq's deposed leader, Saddam Hussein, had a hand in Sept. 11."
-- FoxNews Report, 09/17/2003

"I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that."
-- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in response to a question about a link between Iraq and 9/11

Bill Heuisler - 5/17/2004

Mr. Larison,
News summary? Those biased reporters quote other news sources and rehash anti-Bush arguments already refuted.
What does it say when you trust people like al-Ani and third-hand reports of anonymous press sources more than members of the Clinton and Bush Administrations?

Most of your specifics have been thoroughly refuted on this site in the past year (I attempted to get an article published on HNN that named names, dates and specifics, but I'm not a pedigreed academic and was refused). You are correct, this issue should be laid to rest, but anti-Bush misstatements like "there were no WMDs" and there were "no connections, 9/11 to Iraq" continue must be countered with the truth. Explaining how one basic so-called "no-connection" claim is false should be enough:

Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 highjackers, met with Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir, Iraqi Consul in Prague on April 8, 2001 – five months before 9/11. Ten days later the Iraqi Consul was expelled. The NY Times on 10/26/01 insisted the Czech government denies the meeting. But Milos Zeman, Czech Prime Minister, Jan Kavan, Foreign Minister, Stanislav Gross, Chief of Intelligence (BIS) and Hynek Kmonicek, UN Ambassador and Deputy Prime Minister all insist the Atta meeting occurred.

What's going on? Why does the NY Times contradict the Czech Premier? Why has Director Woolsey's CIA successor, George Tenet, publicly denied a Baghdad role in 9/11? Tenet testified to Congress on June 18, 2002 about the meeting in Prague: "Atta allegedly traveled outside the US in early April 2001 to meet with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, we are still working to confirm or deny this allegation."

Mr. Larison, you must agree this statement defies logic. If information proved Atta was in the US at the time of the Prague meeting, Tenet wouldn’t have said the US was, "working to confirm or deny". Law enforcement/FBI
would've known one way or the other wouldn’t they? But
the claim Atta was in the US at the time of the alleged Prague meeting comes from the NY Times story mentioned above. The NYT says, “Federal law enforcement officials stated on April 2 Atta was in Virginia Beach. By April 11, Atta was in Florida, renting a car." But there are no car rental records, nor could there be, because there are no "Federal officials" named and the FBI knows Mohammed Atta didn't get a driver’s license until nearly a month after the Prague meeting with the Iraqi consul. FBI records show Atta didn't get a license until May 2, 2001.
So who are the NYT sources? Why do you believe them?

Stop quoting press sources denying Iraq-9/11 connections unless you can explain why an ex-CIA Director would lie about Salman Pak and Camp 999; why the Czech Cabinet would lie about Atta in Prague meeting an Iraqi Official on April 9th, 2001 and how Atta could've rented a car in April when he didn't apply for a license until May.
Bill Heuisler

Daniel B. Larison - 5/17/2004

Here is the latest news summary (Mar 2004) that I could readily find, and it pretty well discredits the whole connection theory. Can we now lay the issue to rest?


Daniel B. Larison - 5/17/2004

To put some things in perspective, I hope, is a useful article that questions the assumptions of the Zarqawi-bin Laden link itself. This doesn't do much, in my view, to make up for an apparently cynical decision to spare that camp and exaggerate the linkage, but it may help to clear up just how "linked" Zarqawi was.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/17/2004

Mr. Heuisler,
There is not much point in replying now, but here goes.

The purpose of the earlier link was to offer evidence for the administration's lack of confidence in the Salman Pak connection to 9/11. They had no confidence in such a link, and yet it has been Mr. Woolsey who has treated it as if it were an obvious indication of a connection. Mr. Woolsey might be right to be suspicious, but he leaps from suspicion to certainty in most of his other public statements on all matters Iraqi.

I had no intention of directing anyone to the New Yorker article or lending credibility to Mr. Goldberg's journalism, which more than a few have seriously questioned, though I read the article when it came out in 2003 and was initially impressed by its findings. Like Mr. Moshe, I was and continue to be open to the possibility of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Of course it has always been possible, but it was always highly improbable. Over the course of the last two years, my confidence in the claims of the intelligence community has plummeted dramatically. The idea that Kurdish Islamists, of all people, were working hand-in-glove with the Iraqi government was ultimately too incredible, and I would suggest that our government relied too heavily on the PUK for its information about al-Ansar.

The PUK had a vested interest in eliminating a rival Kurdish faction and in encouraging the invasion of Iraq, so it encouraged our government to believe that the invasion of Iraq was integral to fighting these same terrorists to whom it was supposedly connected. As Mr. Kaplan notes in his article, it was the only tangible link between anti-American terrorism of any kind and Iraq. As such, it is hardly overwhelming or conclusive, much less a basis for a war to overthrow the supposed "sponsor of terrorism" in Baghdad.

If our intelligence community was led so far astray by the Chalabis of the world on WMD, which even Chalabi admits to some extent (and which intelligence officials now acknowledge with such embarrassment), I have serious doubts that the sources for the links between al-Ansar and Iraqi intelligence are very sound. The trouble is that this is the best evidence the government ever had of such a connection, and it is simply not convincing enough. In light of all other important pre-war claims about the 'Iraqi threat' being substantively disproven, these wisps of connections could not possibly justify this war. That is the bottom line for me. The fact that the administration could have destroyed this camp without the war only underscores this point.

The pro-war Economist never believed the al-Qaeda link story, British intelligence never accepted it and the terrorist link was scrupulously avoided by Mr. Blair in his arguments for the war. The State Department did not list Iraq, to the best of my knowledge, as one of the states in the world harbouring al-Qaeda--surely this is a significant statement that there was no consensus, not only within the CIA, but within the entire government about this supposed link. I submit that the British knew just how shoddy the evidence was, and they were not going to stake their credibility on such stories.

What the Kaplan piece and the attached Miklaszewski article undoubtedly demonstrate is that the terrorist camp could have been eliminated without a full-scale war against Iraq. The purposes of antiterrorism could have been served without causing so much destruction and without sucking us into an occupation from which we may not soon depart. At best, this article shows the kind of strategic folly to which we have become accustomed under this administration. In light of the, at best, very sketchy evidence concerning any links between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda or its affiliates, I find it hard to understand why the government would avoid attacking a known enemy in order to build up an argument for attacking a prospective enemy, especially when the latter fight would consume the bulk of our attention and resources.

The Miklaszewski article cites multiple government sources to confirm its claims. I would suggest that this means that these planned strikes are probably based on a number of accounts and more likely to be true, and that the reason given for their being called off is also probably true. They are necessarily anonymous, because of the sensitive nature of the revelations and the impossibility of high-ranking people or people with important access to give such information to the press without suffering damage to their careers. If a journalist of the reputation of Miklaszewski is saying that his sources know what went on in these NSC sessions, then I would suggest that it is true and his sources are probably NSC staff. They would probably know of the reasons why the strikes against the camp were called off. The only curious thing is that it has taken anyone two months to follow up on what should be a huge story.

I thank Mr. Moshe for pointing out that anonymous attribution is normal journalistic practice. But anonymous sources are not the only authorities in the Miklaszewski article. Roger Cressey, who is quoted in the Miklaszewski article by name, was an early staff member of the Bush National Security Council and remained in the Bush White House outside the council until September of 2002. Cressey clearly accepts the interpretation of these events that the rationale for invasion trumped antiterrorism. I submit that if he takes this claim seriously, then it is partly a function of his own experience within that administration and his own inside knowledge of the priorities of the administration. Therefore, when the article characterises what the "administration feared," I take it that Miklaszewski is stating the findings he gleaned from his interviews with his sources, Mr. Cressey and also the previously very hawkish Mr. O'Hanlon. Mr. Miklaszewski does not have a record of engaging in rampant speculation; if he makes a conclusive statement, I am inclined to believe it as a report of credible statements he has heard in his investigation.

Unlike the unaccountable Mr. Woolseys of the world, who has been able to say all kinds of baseless things that people take seriously because of his former position with the CIA, Mr. Miklaszewski has to have confidence that his sources are solid if he is to have any credibility as a journalist. Anonymous sources can sometimes be the beginning of great revelations--it was an anonymous "senior administration official" who inaugurated the entire furore over Valerie Plame; it was an initially anonymous whistleblower who revealed the plan to spy on UN delegations in 2002; it was an initially anonymous soldier who revealed the Abu Ghraib abuses to superiors, and an equally unattributed source who provided the media with photos of said abuse, etc. The list could presumably go on. The fact that a source is anonymous does not deprive its claims of validity, and very often such sources are quite accurate, because they are able to say what the official government line will not allow officials to say when the quotes are attributed to them.

If my last post was shrill, as it may well have been, it was because I find it outrageous that Mr. Bush would put the Iraq war ahead of eliminating known al-Qaeda affiliates. Say what you will, that is what I believe the Miklaszewski article shows to be the case. This substantiates one of the chief arguments of the antiwar crowd, which was namely that Iraq was diverting attention from the legitimate and necessary war against very particular, known terrorist enemies of the United States. Never did I imagine that the Iraq war would not only mean a diversion of resources, but that it would take absolute priority over the real war when the time came to choose between them.

Because I do not believe that there is any meaningful or significant connection of any kind between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda, my outrage is only stronger. I think I am in pretty good company in repudiating the al-Qaeda link (e.g., the virtual unanimity of news organisations, pundits across the spectrum and government officials on this point), and I grow weary of having to defend what even the administration has basically admitted since the war: there was no evidence of a connection. If there was no evidence, then it is fairly safe to say that there was probably no connection. If there was no evidence after the war, then there was likewise none before it--the administrations's decisions about attacking the camp then become very troubling indeed.

If there was no connection, and especially if the administration genuinely knew that there was no real connection, surely you do see why it would be profoundly offensive for the White House to avoid attacking Zarqawi to support its Iraq war? Regardless, given the last year's terrible events surrounding Zarqawi, I should think that it would be a common reaction to be more than a bit put off by the administration's failure to kill someone considered to be a serious terrorist threat in league with bin Laden.

I have no intention of laying at Mr. Bush's doorstep more blame than I believe he absolutely deserves. Unlike some antiwar folks out there, I do not attribute to Mr. Bush the essence of all that is wrong in the world; he simply possesses fantastically bad judgement and represents the worst traditions of our foreign policy establishment. In this case, his manifest failure to eliminate an enemy of the United States, while nonetheless pursuing what I consider an irrelevant campaign in Iraq, is a blow against Mr. Bush's image as a fighter of terrorism and a guardian of the national security. His blunder, for that is what it was, is as serious as Mr. Clinton's failure to apprehend bin Laden when he apparently had the opportunity, and we know what Mr. Bush's supporters think of that failure.

At the heart of my response to this story is the conviction, so far vindicated over the past two years, that this administration has been, at best, less than forthright and very often has engaged in rhetorical obfuscation and hyperbole to cover over the glaring gaps in their evidence. Their claims about al-Qaeda and affiliates in Iraq were always far-fetched, and the obsession with Iraq in top government circles only made these claims seem harder to believe.

Mr. Bush's claims that the Iraqi government provided aid and support to al-Qaeda was a spurious claim, in that he could offer no evidence of such support and there continues to be no evidence of substantive collaboration or support. Zarqawi getting bandaged up in Baghdad doesn't really cut it, even assuming that this story can be relied upon. In any event, he certainly never did offer the evidence, and neither, in any meaningful way, did Mr. Powell. Because they were working with such weak and insubstantial evidence, the administration's simple and absolute statements of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda were dishonest exaggerations and they must have known it at the time.

In general, if a claim comes from a public government official, I am inclined to doubt it until clear and irrefutable evidence in support is put right in front of me. Otherwise, I assume the government is trying to deceive me, which it usually is at some level. The conduct of this administration has done nothing to shake that distrust in government, and has only strengthened it.

Bill Heuisler - 5/16/2004

What I dismissed was the headline and the thrust of the follow-up article's headline, both of which indicted the Bush Administration for failure to act against Ansar al-Islam and Camp 999 for specific (and noxious) reasons.
That rather trite conclusion/headline is not supported by the third-party statement/opinion of unnamed sources about unnamed sources and yet the article in toto shows a serious and laudable process. The long exerpts I used named numerous people, places and events - all with accompanying named opinions. The difference is obvious,

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/15/2004

You dismiss the NBC article as “an editorial comment made by the writer of the story or it's a third-party quote from some "military official" either reading somebody's mind or quoting someone he didn't bother to name. Journalism isn't gossip.” I would dispute that claim but in any event, you go on to say that “nobody who quotes an unnamed third-hand source expects to be taken seriously.” This is simply not true. Journalists cite unnamed sources routinely, as well as “administration officials,” “defense officials,” etc. Indeed, I find it difficult to read more than 2 or 3 articles without citing such an “unnamed third-hand source.”

This is not a defense necessarily of the article in question or even a challenge of your (valid) point about speculation versus fact, merely to point out that your blanket criticism of it is unfair, especially in light of your own article, in which you do precisely the same thing. The article you present suffers from the same conditions that you lament should not be expected to be taken seriously!

Speaking of your article, it was well worth the read and very interesting, thank you. I also, believe it or not, agree with your conclusion about it: “at the very least,” there exists about the evidence of a link “an ambiguity too dangerous for any President to ignore.” Where we disagree is the solution to the ambiguity. To me, the solution is to gather more data, locate better intelligence, and beyond all else, continue investigating the possibility. To others, the solution is to assume the worst and launch a full invasion off of admittedly ambiguous data.

I do not deny the possibility of an Iraq-al Qeada link, nor do I suspect my colleagues on this site do, if they were directly asked about the mere possibility. What I deny is that the evidence, to the extent that it exists at all, supports the conclusion of a link. It does not. At best, the evidence is either unreliable, or inconclusive.

Bill Heuisler - 5/15/2004

Mr. Larison,
You are becoming a little shrill with your anxiety to paint President Bush with any and all dastardly deeds.
Read the damn NBC story. The relevant para is, "Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

How does anyone know what "the administration feared..."?
This is an editorial comment made by the writer of the story or it's a third-party quote from some "military official" either reading somebody's mind or quoting someone he didn't bother to name. Journalism isn't gossip
and nobody who quotes an unnamed third-hand source expects to be taken seriously. Frankly, I'm surprised Slate went with this garbage. You should be also.

Read my latest post. Read the quotes and the names and the references. Read the source article I exerpted. Try for even-handedness and you'll notice your inflamed rhetoric and gotcha prose is out of place.
Bill Heuisler

Daniel B. Larison - 5/15/2004

In this article, Fred Kaplan offers the sobering information, working from an NBC report two months ago, that the administration made the appalling decision to repeatedly forego launching attacks against the al-Ansar base in northeastern Iraq because destroying it would eliminate the only relevant terrorism connection, however tenuous, to Iraqi soil. In posts to OpinionJournal.com as long ago as a year, I had once speculated that this could be the only explanation for the inaction of the government when confronted with the government's knowledge of an al-Qaeda-linked camp within range of our Air Force.

The implications of this for the so-called al-Qaeda link are obvious: the link never existed, of course, but the camp's usefulness as a symbol for starting a war with Iraq was invaluable to the administration. And instead of fighting terrorists without going to war against Iraq, Mr. Bush chose to invade Iraq rather than fight actual terrorists. This is simply indefensible, and if it had occurred under the previous administration I know that the Republicans would have called it treason.

What is even more serious is that this proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the president sold out our legitimate war effort against al-Qaeda to pursue the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush had the chance to eliminate Zarqawi and his band long ago, and they refused. They refused! Perhaps Nick Berg's father was not so far off the mark when he laid his son's death at the feet of the president.


Bill Heuisler - 5/15/2004

Messers Larison, Moshe and Clarke,
But particularly Mr. Larison. Thank you for the link to the New Yorker Article of May 15, 2004 by Jeffrey Goldberg. Surely you all are aware the New Yorker article places our discussion into perspective without calling anyone names or disparaging any motives. In case Mr. Moshe or Mr. Clarke didn't read the article, it's long, but well worth the time. If you can't read the whole thing here are some relevant pieces:

New Yorker 5/15/2004 Jeffrey Goldberg
"In the ideological taxonomy of the Bush Administration, the C.I.A., because it has long downplayed the theory of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, has been regarded as being on the side of the doves. The hawks have accused the C.I.A. of politicizing the intelligence process by dismissing information that would substantiate the connection—and in that way strengthen the Administration's case against Iraq..."

A key moment in this argument took place one weekday last August, when a small group of Defense Department officials drove from the Pentagon to the headquarters of the C.I.A., ..." (Named the officials) "...to reëxamine evidence collected by the C.I.A. about the relationship between terrorist networks and their state sponsors, including Iraq and Al Qaeda, and to build a hypothesis, and then see if the data supported the hypothesis, rather than the reverse..."

"According to several people with knowledge of the meeting, (defense officials) told the C.I.A. officials that, based on their own reading of agency intelligence, it appeared likely that Saddam's relationship with Al Qaeda was serious and that it dated back to the terror group's early days in Sudan. Bin Laden had his headquarters in Khartoum in the early nineteen-nineties, before moving to Afghanistan, in 1996.

"...the C.I.A. itself is split on the question of a Baghdad-Al Qaeda connection: analysts in the agency's Near East-South Asia division discount the notion; the Counterterrorist Center supports it. The senior Administration official told me that Tenet tends to agree with the Counterterrorist Center."

When I saw Tenet, I asked if he now considered Saddam to be a primary sponsor of Al Qaeda. "Well, read my letter to Senator Graham," Tenet replied.

In October of 2002, when Bob Graham was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet wrote to him, explaining the C.I.A.'s understanding of the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. It is a curious letter, which begins with a statement that "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW"—chemical and biological weapons—"against the United States." At the same time, Tenet said, Iraq has "provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs." Tenet added, "Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression," and he suggested that, even without an American attack on Iraq, "Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase."

The evolution of Tenet's beliefs has made those opposed to an invasion of Iraq uneasy. Senator Graham thinks that the C.I.A.'s "evolved" understanding of the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection is the result of pressure from Rumsfeld. "Maybe the C.I.A. has been coöpted in this whole thing," Graham told me. "I'm not personalizing it to George, but institutionally the C.I.A. is being challenged by a very aggressive Defense Department."

Others who have watched Tenet, however, say that he does not trim his opinions for political reasons..."
"Information gleaned from the interrogations of high-level Al Qaeda prisoners pushed Tenet to rethink the opinion, advanced by C.I.A. officials such as Paul Pillar, the National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, that ideological differences between the secular Saddam and Islamic radicals, such as Al Qaeda, made it unlikely that these two enemies of America would form an alliance. Clearly, the Rumsfeld view, which maintains that the commonly held hatred of the United States trumps ideology and theology, is ascendant, at the C.I.A. as well as at the Pentagon. Pillar himself, in a faxed comment, conceded that, "despite major differences, tactical coöperation is possible," but added that "the contingency that would be most likely to motivate Saddam to develop a relationship with radical Islamists that would be deeper than limited tactical cooperation would be a belief that he was about to lose power"—such as in a United States-led attack on Iraq."

"According to several intelligence officials I spoke to, the relationship between bin Laden and Saddam's regime was brokered in the early nineteen-nineties by the then de-facto leader of Sudan, the pan-Islamist radical Hassan al-Tourabi. Tourabi, sources say, persuaded the ostensibly secular Saddam to add to the Iraqi flag the words "Allahu Akbar," as a concession to Muslim radicals."

"In interviews with senior officials, the following picture emerged: American intelligence believes that Al Qaeda and Saddam reached a non-aggression agreement in 1993, and that the relationship deepened further in the mid-nineteen-nineties, when an Al Qaeda operative—a native-born Iraqi who goes by the name Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi—was dispatched by bin Laden to ask the Iraqis for help in poison-gas training. Al-Iraqi's mission was successful, and an unknown number of trainers from an Iraqi secret-police organization called Unit 999 were dispatched to camps in Afghanistan to instruct Al Qaeda terrorists. (Training in hijacking techniques was also provided to foreign Islamist radicals inside Iraq, according to two Iraqi defectors quoted in a report in the Times in November of 2001.) Another Al Qaeda operative, the Iraqi-born Mamdouh Salim, who goes by the name Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, also served as a liaison in the mid-nineteen-nineties to Iraqi intelligence. Salim, according to a recent book, "The Age of Sacred Terror," by the former N.S.C. officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, was bin Laden's chief procurer of weapons of mass destruction, and was involved in the early nineties in chemical-weapons development in Sudan. Salim was arrested in Germany in 1998 and was extradited to the United States. He is awaiting trial in New York on charges related to the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings; he was convicted last April of stabbing a Manhattan prison guard in the eye with a sharpened comb."

"Intelligence officials told me that the agency also takes seriously reports that an Iraqi known as Abu Wa'el, whose real name is Saadoun Mahmoud Abdulatif al-Ani, is the liaison of Saddam's intelligence service to a radical Muslim group called Ansar al-Islam, which controls a small enclave in northern Iraq; the group is believed by American and Kurdish intelligence officials to be affiliated with Al Qaeda. I learned of another possible connection early last year, while I was interviewing Al Qaeda operatives in a Kurdish prison in Sulaimaniya. There, a man whom Kurdish intelligence officials identified as a captured Iraqi agent told me that in 1992 he served as a bodyguard to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, when Zawahiri secretly visited Baghdad."

"Ansar al-Islam was created on September 1, 2001, when two Kurdish radical groups merged forces. According to Barham Salih, the Prime Minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the group seized a chain of villages in the mountainous region outside the city of Halabja, and made a safe haven for Al Qaeda fighters. "Our intelligence information confirmed that the group was declared on September 1st at the behest of bin Laden and Al Qaeda," Prime Minister Salih told me last week, in a telephone conversation from Davos, Switzerland. "It was meant to be an alternative base of operations, since they were apparently anticipating that Afghanistan was going to become a denied area to them."

"Salih also said that a month before the September 11th attacks a senior Al Qaeda operative called Abdulrahman al-Shami was dispatched from Afghanistan to the Kurdish mountain town of Biyara, to organize the Ansar al-Islam enclave. Shami was killed in November, 2001, in a battle with the pro-American forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan."

"The Ansar al-Islam enclave, according to Salih and American intelligence officials, soon became the base of operations of an Al Qaeda subgroup called Jund al-Shams, or Soldiers of the Levant, which operates mainly in Jordan and Syria. Jund al-Shams is controlled by a man named Mussa'ab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian of Palestinian extraction. Zarqawi is believed by European intelligence agencies to be Al Qaeda's main specialist in chemical and biological terrorism. Zarqawi is also believed to be behind the assassination, on October 28th, of an American A.I.D. official in Jordan..."

"The Administration believes that Zarqawi made his way to Baghdad after the United States' invasion of Afghanistan, when he was wounded. Zarqawi was treated in a Baghdad hospital but disappeared from Baghdad shortly after the Jordanian government asked Iraq to extradite him. American intelligence officials believe that Zarqawi was also among an unknown number of Al Qaeda terrorists who have sought refuge in the Ansar al-Islam over the past seventeen months."

"Recently, I asked two former C.I.A. directors, James Woolsey and Robert Gates, to talk about the problem of analyzing an incomplete set of evidence—the same challenge that stymied intelligence analysts in the days before December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001. Woolsey, who served as President Clinton's first C.I.A. director, said that it is now illogical to doubt the notion that Saddam collaborates with Islamist terrorism, and that he would provide chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda. "At Salman Pak"—a training camp near Baghdad—"we know there were Islamist terrorists training to hijack airplanes in groups of four or five with short knives," Woolsey told me. "I mean, hello? If we had seen after December 7, 1941, a fake American battleship in a lake in northern Italy, and a group of Asian pilots training there, would we have said, 'Well, you can't prove that they were Japanese'?"

Gates, who was C.I.A. director under George H. W. Bush, said that the evidence linking Saddam to Al Qaeda is not irrefutable, but he noted that ambiguous evidence is an occupational hazard in intelligence work. Gates suggested that the current debate over Iraq's ties to terrorism is reminiscent of a debate about the Soviet Union twenty years ago. Then, he said, "you had analysts in the C.I.A. who said, 'Absolutely not, it would be contrary to their interests to support unpredictable, uncontrollable groups.' There were other analysts who said, 'Baloney.' They had a lot of good history, and circumstantial reporting on their side, but they didn't have good evidence. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, and we got hold of the East German Stasi records, we learned, of course, that both the East Germans and the Soviets were supporting Baader-Meinhof and other terrorist groups."

Gates continued, "I have always argued, in light of my fairly detailed knowledge of the shortcomings of our intelligence capabilities, that the fact that we don't have reliable human intelligence that proves something conclusively is happening is no proof at all that nothing is happening. In these situations, the evidence will almost always be ambiguous. On capabilities, it's not ambiguous. Can Saddam produce these weapons of mass destruction? Yes."

The ambiguity, Gates said, has to do with "intentions," and he went on, "If the stakes and the consequences are small, you're going to want ninety-per-cent assurance. It's a risk calculus. On the other hand, if your worry is along the lines of what Rumsfeld is saying—another major attack on the U.S., possibly with biological or chemical weapons—and you look at the consequences of September 11th, then the equation of risk changes. You have to be prepared to go forward with a lot lower level of confidence in the evidence you have. A fifty-per-cent chance of such an attack happening is so terrible that it changes the calculation of risk."

Thank you, Mr Larison for providing an elegant overview of our somewhat heated dogfight. My opinion? The article and the many quotes support - atthe very least - an ambiguity too dangerous for any President to ignore.
Bill Heuisler

Daniel B. Larison - 5/14/2004

My thanks to you, Mr. Moshe, for going to the trouble to add your observations. For everyone's information, I decided to go looking briefly for the stellar evidence to which Mr. Heuisler keeps referring, particularly concerning the infamous Salman Pak. There is a very helpful article at the following link that considers the Salman Pak link and Mr. Woolsey's testimony:

The author is not nearly as skeptical as I am about administration claims (though this was written some time ago), so perhaps that will alleviate the doubts of those who think that I am rejecting these al-Qaeda link claims out of sheer partisanship or fanaticism on my own part. The upshot of this article is that the Salman Pak evidence is based on defector reports (which I regard as inherently unreliable, based on the track record of Iraqi defectors to date) and that the administration did not make much of the Salman Pak evidence, such as it was, because it did not believe there was a connection to September 11. If they don't believe it, I don't see why anyone else would go to the trouble of defending the proposition that it proves anything about an al-Qaeda connection.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/14/2004

Mr. Larison has done such a fine job of expressing many of my thoughts, I have hesitated to respond until now, but along with endorcing his posts, I would like to add a few points in direct response.

1) “There's more evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda than there is in an Al Qaeda-Taliban connection in Afganistan.”

Frankly Bill, this is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard you make. Do you honestly believe this? Even if all the evidence you cite were true (I will get to that later), all of it, while perhaps compelling, could not equal the connection between bin Laden and the government that openly funded, housed, and supported him! I truly do not know how you can really believe this comment.

2) “Tell me it's coincidence this was the ONLY camp in the world that trained terrorists to highjack airliners without firearms.”

I will not tell you it is coincidence because it is not true. Many terrorist organizations have used training for high-jacking planes, not just in Iraq. Although never successful, it has always been the goal of Palestinian groups to try and high-jack Israeli passenger planes.

3) “Could you explain the anxious insistance to defend Saddam Hussein where 9/11 is concerned?”

Certainly, there is no compelling proof to the charges. There are very few people (and none outside of staunch conservative circles) that agree with you. Even President Bush himself admitted that there was “no evidence” (his words) linking Iraq to the attacks of 9/11. As for the general link between the two, observe:


4) “Or could your rush to disconnect Iraq have something to do with attacking the President?”

There is no right. If what I have said it interpreted as attacking Bush, then it is because Bush is wrong to suggest a link.

5) “There are Congressional testimony-transcripts by Iraqi defectors,”

Defectors testified many things, including the arsenal of WMD, and the inevitable reaction of the Iraqi people. We were wrong to base our invasion of Cuba on information from defectors in 1960, just as we are wrong to base the Iraqi invasion on it. History has shown time and time again that defectors are simply not reliable.

6) “satellite photographs with accompanying NSA and Air Force personnel depositions.”

Of what exactly? I have seen no photos, or heard anyone talk about them, that proves any link between Iraq and al Qeada, have you? If so, I would be more than willing to review your evidence.

7) “There is a Federal Court finding in Manhattan with a witness list numbering over fifty - Iraqis and American Intelligence agents.”

By all means, post some link to this information, and I would be glad to review it.

8) “Also, to an earlier point you apparently couldn't grasp, there's massive evidence (from PUK, Mukhabarat defectors and Turkish intelligence) of an Ansar al-Islam camp called School 999 in northern Iraq that had been training terrorists from Afganistan since 1992. Those terrorists called themselves Al Qaeda.”

I am curious as to why intelligence officials, as well as officials in the administration disagree with you that this is proof? Everyone I have heard either refutes this evidence entirely, or refuses to publicly endorse it. Indeed, at no point leading up to the war, to my memory, did Bush mention those things specifically, choosing instead to be vague enough to avoid being attacked for lack of evidence. I could be wrong about this, if I am, I will gladly recant.

9) “The narrow meaning you carefully parse comes from the linguistically impaired partisan Leftists who try to disconnect evil from evil to harm President Bush and the war effort against terror.”

It is no secret that not all terrorist groups agree with each other. Just as American skinheads and Neo-Nazis refuse to unite under the KKK, so too do different groups have different goals and objectives. This is not leftist propaganda, it is fact as derived from anyone who has studies the subject. Don’t believe me, by all means, numerous scholars say the same thing.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/14/2004

Iraqi defectors are frequently liars working in their own interest--see Chalabi, "hero in error". So is the PUK--these people sell out their fellow Kurdish factions to the lowest bidder! Why wouldn't they mislead us? I don't dispute the existence of the Ansar al-Islam camp, or even necessarily its al-Qaeda links. What I dispute is that it had anything to do with Iraqi intelligence. It was never in Hussein-controlled territory, and if it was such a terrible al-Qaeda base then why did it take invading Iraq to get rid of it? The Iraqi link, at least, is nonsense. There's nothing perplexing about this.

Your witnesses are unreliable--their so-called 'evidence' is no more worth taking seriously than are the claims about "aluminum tubes" for centrifuges or yellowcake from Niger, both thoroughly discredited. Making spurious claims does not place the burden of evidence on your opponent--your claims must actually stand up to scrutiny. They must credibly demonstrate something more than whisps of a suggestion of a link, and they never did, even when they were taken seriously. They do not stand up to scrutiny. If the evidence you cite weren't so flimsy and worthless, the government would trumpet this camp and the connection with al-Qaeda as a cornerstone of the justification for war. They haven't mentioned that connection in months, because they know it is fraudulent. British intelligence, as far as it can be trusted, never claimed an al-Qaeda link for Iraq and was embarrassed by American claims to that effect. Even Blair's government, perfectly willing to deceive, had no confidence in the claims you are putting forward as "fact."

As your warmongering friends like to say all the time, intelligence is often a matter of interpretation--I submit to you that the 'interpretations' offered by Mr. Woolsey and various others were very often in error. If someone was often wrong in making judgements about intelligence, would you rely on his judgements to support your position? I wouldn't.

It is not simply my "opinion" of Mr. Woolsey's information, as if this were simply a matter of parti pris argument. He has an ulterior motive and political project that give him an incentive to lie about Iraq, and he has been shown to be wrong about most of his predictions about Iraqi weapons. His bias might be overlooked if he weren't consistently wrong, but he is consistently wrong. Why would I believe his other claims, when he is so clearly pushing a policy agenda in contradiction with the facts on record? He has been routinely in error in questions concerning Iraq for many years running, as have Messrs. Wolfowitz and Tenet. They have no credibility. This is not simply my "opinion," as if I were opposed to them just because I didn't like them or just wanted to impugn their motives. This is the observation of how their words have matched with realities in the world--they rarely match, so I don't trust them. Why do you?

It is widely agreed in almost all informed opinion throughout the entire world, and even within this country, that there was no credible Iraqi link to al-Qaeda. Pro-war columnists admit it; pro-war editorial pages pass over the claim in embarrassed silence, not wanting to draw attention to their own gullibility. The administration doesn't claim it now, and our allies never claimed it. Your so-called evidence has been refuted long before now. Why it is up to me to refute claims proven false long ago escapes me. How does one prove to a true believer that his 'evidence' is meaningless? It's clearly not possible in your case.

Read a newspaper, any newspaper will do, and you will find that no one buys the story anymore, because it is just a story. They don't buy it because there is and continues to be NO evidence. I'm sorry if you don't like my emphasis on the total lack of credible evidence, but there just isn't any.

Next you'll be telling me that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons" (that's Cheney's line) and could launch unmanned aerial vehicles to attack the East Coast (Bush said that one many times)! After all, the government said so--it must have had 'evidence', right? Of course, as in the other cases, the 'evidence' did not support these claims.

If we both agree that responding to one another is a waste of time, I will be happy to stop if you will. Convincing you of blatantly obvious and established things is a tiresome chore, and I have had enough.

Bill Heuisler - 5/14/2004

Mr. Larison,
Discussion with you is perplexing; you say there's no evidence for Al Qaeda training in Iraq, but evidence presented to you is declared a "fish story" and a CIA Director under Clinton is a "blindly committed fanatic". There are Congressional testimony-transcripts by Iraqi defectors, satellite photographs with accompanying NSA and Air Force personnel depositions. There is a Federal Court finding in Manhattan with a witness list numbering over fifty - Iraqis and American Intelligence agents. Also, to an earlier point you apparently couldn't grasp, there's massive evidence (from PUK, Mukhabarat defectors and Turkish intelligence) of an Ansar al-Islam camp called School 999 in northern Iraq that had been training terrorists from Afganistan since 1992. Those terrorists called themselves Al Qaeda. Do you know what Al Qaeda means in Arabic? If so, you know the term is broadly applied by militant Islamists. The narrow meaning you carefully parse comes from the linguistically impaired partisan Leftists who try to disconnect evil from evil to harm President Bush and the war effort against terror.

But understand, your opinion of sources and findings really doesn't matter. Dismissal of evidence and broad, sweeping statements like, "There is NO evidence that Iraq was training al-Qaeda", render intelligent discussion senseless. If you refuse to be convinced by facts (and cannot refute, but descend to ridicule) then you become a champion of ignorance and not worth my time.

Answer the questions or refute the evidence.
Bill Heuisler

Daniel B. Larison - 5/14/2004

I cannot speak for Mr. Moshe, but I think the explanation is fairly straightforward. Many states sponsor what their adversaries consider terrorism, and yet most of these terrorist groups are not actively opposed to the United States or concerned with attacking American interests. Whether or not people in Hizbullah "hate" the United States is not the relevant issue. The issue is whether Hizbullah is intent on attacking American interests. The answer would appear to be no.

1983 was exceptional, and the attack occurred only because American troops were stupidly put in Lebanon in the middle of a civil war. If the attitude of Hizbullah changed, and Hizbullah did declare its intentions to attack American targets, then it would be legitimate to target Hizbullah. Because it has not, it is illegitimate to consider Hizbullah as part of the "war on terror". Likewise, it is mad, especially in light of our presence in Iraq, to isolate Syria and Iran and drive them further away from cooperation on account of believing that Hizbullah is our enemy.

Pakistan is a state sponsor of terror and the leading proliferator of nuclear weapons technology on earth, yet it is on par with our NATO allies in terms of the collaborative security arrangements we have with them. It has done more damage to international nonproliferation regimes than the small beer deals between Sudan and Iraq, if there were any, and yet the president is only too happy to sell Pakistan more weapons and upgrade its status. I consider this to be a fantastically stupid policy, but it is the very same policy of this administration that prattles on about fighting terrorism around the world. A realistic assessment would be that such a fight is endless, counterproductive and not in the national interest of the United States. It is optimal that Pakistan stop supporting terrorism against India, but it would appear that the Indians and Pakistanis are working that problem out among themselves. This is generally how most political reasons for terrorism are settled.

State-sponsored terrorist groups have a funny way of becoming legitimate political groups when the circumstances demand it. Iran sponsored SCIRI against Iraq, and at one time we regarded this as terrorism, but recently we have decided that SCIRI is a legitimate Shi'i organisation. We used to regard Mujahideen i-Khalq, the anti-Iranian Marxist/Islamist group, as an ally in the 1980s, but its character then became ambiguous when Hussein became the new incarnation of officially opposed evil. Now MEK is regarded as a cat's paw against the Iranian government by a large section of the Congress and by influential people in the administration. They are still terrorists, but we have no problem doing business with them. So, yes, some terrorists are considered different by our own government when it suits the purposes of the government, and I see nothing wrong with distinguishing among different groups in a similar fashion.

Anything James Woolsey has said about Iraq is probably not true, or it has grossly distorted the facts. He is one of the most blindly committed fanatics in the project for American hegemony, and I would never trust a word he says. Give me a moderately objective source for the Salman Pak fish story, and then maybe I would consider it.

There is NO evidence that Iraq was training al-Qaeda. None. Where is all of this plentiful evidence? At least it was true that bin Laden was in Afghanistan with the tolerance of the Taliban--his physical presence beats vague assertions every time. The government cannot seriously produce one shred of credible evidence that any such operation existed in Iraq in any area controlled by Hussein, much less does the government have any evidence that there was active collaboration between al-Qaeda and the government of Iraq. If the government had this evidence, it would be trumpeting this on a weekly basis, and its supporters in the major newspapers would be trumpeting it. They are not doing so, because they know it was all nonsense. It was, in fact, simply deception on the part of the government.

Bill Heuisler - 5/13/2004

This discussion is repetitive. You seem to think the US should discriminate between/among the various terrorist organizations. Are some less terrorist than others? Does Hezbollah hate us less than the Taliban or Al Qaeda? Do the connections between and among Syria, Sudan and Iraq mean nothing to you? Are you being deliberately obtuse? We've had this discussion before and you failed to answer my questions.

One more time:
Why this obstinacy about Iraq? There's more evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda than there is in an Al Qaeda-Taliban connection in Afganistan. Do you also resist the notion that Afganistan wasn't culpable? Will you finally explain Salman Pak and the 707 and the testimony of CIA Director Woolsey about Mukhabarat training Al Qaeda 40 miles from Baghdad from 1998 until 2001. Tell me it's coincidence this was the ONLY camp in the world that trained terrorists to highjack airliners without firearms.
Is all this coincidence? Or do you refuse the facts?

Could you explain the anxious insistance to defend Saddam Hussein where 9/11 is concerned? There's more evidence connecting him to 9/11 - and to OBL - than any other world leader. You cite Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - both countries we control. Would you have us invade Riyadh from our base there? Or could your rush to disconnect Iraq have something to do with attacking the President?

Daniel B. Larison - 5/13/2004

Mr. Heuisler,
The government of Iraq's involvement in the 1993 bombing has never been proven. Outside of the WSJ rumour mill, I know of no one in the pro-war media who advances this as fact, much less a justification for war ten years later. This is a talking point that has been pushed by hawks for years, and it has as much credibility as the idea that Iraq was responsible for the OKC bombing. I have given you all the reasons why the 'ceasefire' was no such thing and Iraq's so-called violations of this ceasefire were trivial compared to the ongoing air war against that country. You are not interested in that, but dogmatically repeat that Iraq invaded Kuwait, which somehow justifies invading Iraq twelve years later. It does not, and hardly anyone ever claimed that it did, but I despair of trying to convince you otherwise. Let me try one more time: aggression, which must include the resumption of major hostilities, is illegal and wrong.

You state, as if there were some consensus or well-known fact, that Iraq trained and supported al-Qaeda members. This is unsupported. You have offered no support. The stories about Ansar al-Islam-Iraqi connections were baseless (I suspect they were based in intra-Kurdish factional fighting, with one faction hoping to use us against another), and the once one-legged Zarqawi (remember, he supposedly was in Baghdad to have his leg amputated?) is apparently up and moving with two legs now. Without this connection, the conviction that Iraq has something to do with the real war in which we are engaged is baseless. I don't know why I'm even bothering to reply to this. No one in the pro-war camp in the media or in the GOP still publicly cites this connection as anything but an embarrassing untruth that Mr. Powell was forced to utter. Iraq's support for suicide bombers was awful, and it also had nothing to do with the United States. That also had nothing to do with this war, and you know that perfectly well.

The story about Salman Pak is one of these "true stories" that circulated in hawkish circles for years before the war, just the same way that the "true story" of Mohammad Atta meeting an Iraqi agent in Prague was circulated as gospel. Don't tell me you believe that one, too! This Salman Pak 'evidence' is supposedly based on the exquisite intelligence-gathering methods of our government--the same government that had no meaningful intelligence-gathering capacities in Iraq, and the same government whose intelligence services erred completely in their assessments of Iraqi weapons. It is all rubbish, and it is depressing to see how easily it is accepted. Honestly, I don't know about this chemical factory in the Sudan, but I do know that even if it is true it is not an excuse to invade Iraq. From what I have read about the "assassination plot" directed at President Bush, it was grossly exaggerated by the Clinton administration. Once again, however, if it happened it took place ten years before the invasion--what's the connection with invading in 2003 under completely different auspices? Talk about grasping at straws!

FDR's foreign policy was partly responsible for provoking Pearl Harbor. Incidentally, Japan engaged in what today's war supporters might call a "preemptive strike" to secure their national interests--now try to imagine what it would mean if the United States had committed an act of aggression just like that. What would the proper response of the American public be? This view of FDR's foreign policy used to be the respectable and intelligent conservative position on FDR and WWII until his idolatrous followers invaded the conservative movement. The only question in my mind is whether the provocative actions he took (such as the embargo, which was an act of war under international law at the time) was deliberate provocation or the same mismanagement his administration applied to everything else.

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/13/2004

Jonathan Dresner did such an excellent job in responding, there is little that I could add… but I will anyway on some of your points:

1) “9/11 started a war. Saddam Hussein supported, supplied and trained Al Qaeda and other terrorists who mean to kill us.”

I dispute this assertion. There is no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 and all of the evidence that connects Iraq to al Qaeda at all is under immense scrutiny by intelligence officials and other qualified experts. Furthermore, even if the shaky evidence some conservative claim IS accurate (which, again, is highly contested), it all amounts to little more than circumstantial evidence that only suggests possible communication. There is no evidence that I have seen substantiated, that claims Iraq supplied and trained al Qaeda. In any event, even if you are right on every count, there are numerous other countries whose ties are far stronger, verified, and more direct (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come immediately to mind).

2) “Saying "fanatics' resistance to U.S. foreign policy" is the cause of 9/11 is similar to blaming Roosevelt's foreign policy for Pearl Harbor.”

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor WAS resistance to FDR’s foreign policy… is that disputed? If I may say on Mr. Dresner’s behalf (not that I claim to speak for him), I don’t recall him ever laying blame. In fact, he even calls the 9/11 attacks “atrocious in every way” and explicitly disavows any advocacy of those actions. I know Mr. Dresner can speak for himself, but I didn’t want to let that comment slide.

3) “There's no question who invaded Kuwait in 1991, no question who violated the cease-fire agreement that suspended the '91 war and no question who refused UN supervision.”

All of those things are cause for action, not necessarily war. Before we went in to Iraq, Bush managed (to his credit) to get even stiffer inspections imposed with Iraq’s consent. The UN was satisfied to see what these inspections would yield. Thus, the arguments about inspections and UN violations are moot since the inspections were continuing and the UN was content to let them do their job.

4) “There's no question who funded the Iraqi who was the first WTC bomb-maker”

Actually, this theory has been totally discredited in Washington. It was first popularized by Laurie Mylroie, who even admitted that it was discredited! She claims that the CIA and State Dept. discredited her book because they did not want to look embarrassed. Indeed, even the most ardent neoconservatives did not dare use her as evidence. It should be noted that no one in the administration relied on the first WTC attack as evidence to invade Iraq in the lead up to the war. So in point of fact, there is indeed a question of who funded the first attack.

5) “There's no question who publicly congratulated the 9/11 terrorists and who funded the gas factory in Sudan and the homicide bombers' families in Israel.”

You are quite right. However, I do not recall this being a case to go to war by Bush, do you?

6) “We are at war with terrorism and have been so since 9/11. Someone recently wished there were a State called Al Qaeda so we could defeat it, but there isn't, so we must defeat those States who arm, support and train those terrorists.”

You will get little objection from me, so why not invade Spain? Or Italy? Or… the United States? There are known terrorists in all of those countries, and just as much evidence linking each of them to 9/11 as Iraq. The argument is not against going after terrorism… it is against going after anyone and then calling it fighting terrorism.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/13/2004

Mr. Heuisler,

You are mistaking my deep disrespect for and bemusement by Daniel Pipes for my broader position on these issues.

To take but a single example, the "taint of US support" is a very real problem in the establishment of a new Iraqi government. The aim, which serves both US and Iraqi interests, should be to leave with a government in place which is less corrosive to Middle East stability and hostile to US interests than was Saddam Hussein. However, as is apparent from both mainstream and alternative sources, those leaders most supported by the US, Ahmed Chalabi and the Provisional Governing Council, are widely considered Quislings who would be unable to maintain power under a functioning democracy because they have no native legitimacy. If we don't leave a functioning democracy, then we have to leave, as Pipes suggests, a "strongman", a caudillo, who retains power by force, and who we will have to continue to support heavily financially and militarily. The job of that man (though it would be infinitely more interesting if there were women candidates for the job) will be complicated by his continuing relationship with the US, which is clearly not something the Iraqi people are eager to maintain.

This is a very real problem that I take very seriously: what I don't take seriously is Pipes' attempt to make it seem simple or straightforward, or to try to put a "brave face" on our failure to think through the establishment of a legitimate but friendly government by postulating a "best case: it'll all work out even if we seem to be failing" future.

Your comments about degrading the sacrifice of our military, about downplaying the value of our freedoms, about not recognizing the danger posed by fundamentalist terrorists are clearly directed at someone else; those are not my positions, directly or by implication. However, I do wholeheartedly accept the charge that I disagree, personally and publicly as is my right, with and consider dangerous the vast majority of the policies, domestic and foreign, of George W. Bush.

Bill Heuisler - 5/12/2004

Mr. Larison,
9/11 started a war. Saddam Hussein supported, supplied and trained Al Qaeda and other terrorists who mean to kill us. You try to finess the second fact and somehow thereby modify the first. Saying "fanatics' resistance to U.S. foreign policy" is the cause of 9/11 is similar to blaming Roosevelt's foreign policy for Pearl Harbor. That might be true, but becomes irrelevant when events mature into attacks on our country. Your inverted blame-US argument is difficult to fathom, let alone debate. I'll only address the two main points of contention and thereby render the rest inoperable.

1) You wrote, "We have gone back and forth on the question of whether the U.S. started the war...". No we haven't. There's no question who invaded Kuwait in 1991, no question who violated the cease-fire agreement that suspended the '91 war and no question who refused UN supervision. There's no question who funded the Iraqi who was the first WTC bomb-maker and there's no question who tried to assassinate an American President. There's no question who publicly congratulated the 9/11 terrorists and who funded the gas factory in Sudan and the homicide bombers' families in Israel. There's no question who sponsored Salman Pak 40 miles from Baghdad - the only place in the world from 1998 to 2001 where terrorists were trained by Mukhabarat on a derelict 707 to highjack a civilian airliner without using firearms.

2) We are at war with terrorism and have been so since 9/11. Someone recently wished there were a State called Al Qaeda so we could defeat it, but there isn't, so we must defeat those States who arm, support and train those terrorists. We killed Taliban in Afganistan and are killing Al Qaeda in Iraq. We must kill the terrorists in Falluja so we don't have to suffer their atrocities here.

These basic principles are clear and simple. Before we wander farther astray and extrapolate motives, intentions and the Muslim psyche as opposed to so-called US Imperialism, please save time and refute them.
Bill Heuisler

Daniel B. Larison - 5/12/2004

Mr. Heuisler,
You're quite right that there are fanatics in the world who don't care about our political affiliations, but who hate Americans as such on account of their government. Those people have been immeasurably strengthened by the invasion of Iraq, which is one of the reasons why many perfectly reasonable Americans find that invasion dangerous and foolish for our own interests, to say nothing of the moral problem of starting a war. These same Americans believed, and still believe, that Iraq had literally nothing to do with the ongoing fight of which you spoke, and that attacking such a country was at best a waste of resources. If our government did not choose this war, where was the necessity that compelled the government to act?

We have gone back and forth on the question of whether the U.S. started the war, and I don't expect you to change your mind now. Nonetheless, might you grant that, when it is the U.S. that engages in major hostilities first after twelve years, it just might be that it is our government that has started the current war? Is it an example of twisted thinking to believe such a thing? Why are you so particularly offended when someone calls it a "war of choice"? Plenty of the supporters of this war have admitted that it is such, and yet they still manage somehow to defend the war.

The reality, as a considerable and growing number of Americans see it, is that the U.S. government did choose this war without very good reasons, it has tarnished our reputation and a majority of Americans believe that it was a mistake, if not simply wrong. Some conclude from this predicament that we really must finish what "we" started, while others see leaving as the least bad of all bad options. For all I know, you are referring to me when you spoke of barely-suppressed glee and schadenfreude, because I have made many very strongly-worded and sometimes bitter complaints against this war and its supporters. The bitterness stems from the frustration of being unable to convince the dyed-in-the-wool supporters, such as yourself, to see the inherent wrong in all of this, and from seeing my country go down the ruinous path of empire that has never brought any lasting good to any home country. I would take offense at the charge of schadenfreude if it weren't such a tired and incorrect complaint.

How people who never wanted this war are supposed to take pleasure in the deaths and setbacks resulting from it is really beyond me. There are very few people so obsessed with being right that they will accept their own vindication at the price of others' lives, and it is unfortunate that you think your opponents so immoral you would attribute such obsession to them. If one starts from the presupposition that opposing this war is to oppose America, then I guess it might make sense. The only thing that will bring pleasure to an original opponent of this war is the comeuppance of the authors of that war, and even that will be a poor and unimportant consolation in light of the thousands of lives lost and national strength wasted. Our army is stretched to the breaking point, and for what? I do not see America gaining anything out of this, and Iraq has lost as much as it has gained.

All the school-building and other goods that are occurring are ultimately irrelevant when the political goals of the United States are now so completely unattainable, thanks to the general dissatisfaction of Iraqis with our government. What does it avail anyone if we build a school that is then taken over by radicalised political forces? That is what Dr. Dresner probably meant by "losing the peace," though I cannot speak for him. I suspect that Dr. Dresner refers to it as peace (in the sense that the main phase of the war ended last year), because he distinguishes Iraq from the general fight against anti-American terrorists, while you clearly do not. What he was probably getting at is that there can now be no U.S.-mandated political solution to the situation in Iraq, in part because of the very nature of the American presence in Iraq today. That, at least, is how I would understand the phrase "losing the peace" in reference to Iraq.

You say that U.S. "retreat" in Iraq is unthinkable. Why is it unthinkable? Why is one of the few viable options available to us immediately rejected out of hand? Will it actually make our country less secure? This is highly doubtful. Pro-war arguments claim that it will make Iraq a "haven for terrorism," but what Afghanistan showed is that it is in countries where forces are being used as proxies to advance great power goals that the radicalised atmosphere, which allows terrorists to operate, emerges. The opposing view is that to remain in Iraq is to eventually make Iraq into the Afghanistan of the twenty-first century, the focal point for all jihadist activity and recruitment, thus reinforcing the appeal of jihad and giving it a tangible, main theater. This is what made Afghanistan a haven for terrorism in the 1990s, because the elements of the population who supported the jihadists in the 1980s continued to do so later on.

The "failed state" argument is often brought up, but what no one includes in the "failed state" argument is that bin Laden's main gripe against the United States was not abandoning Afghanistan but remaining in Saudi Arabia. We are likely to face just as many, if not more, threats of Iraqi terrorism the longer we remain in their country. If we were to leave Iraq, this would be in accordance with the desire of a majority of Iraqis--how then would they feel abandoned by our departure at their request?

If you jump into a snake pit of your own volition, but can leave at any time, is it especially wise to remain in the snake pit thereafter to prove how much resolve you have?

You write: "We lost our peace on 9/11 and the world can't reclaim peace until each terrorist in Turkey, Chechnya, Bali, Madrid, Teheran, Seattle and Baghdad has been killed or imprisoned."

Of course, "the world" was not attacked on 9/11, and much of the world did not know peace before that day, and whether or not these other conflicts are settled they are quite separate from our fight. Each and every terrorist killed or imprisoned? Then there will never be peace again. This makes our victory contingent on the survival or creation of even one terrorist. We are definitely losing at the current rate. Such perpetual warfare serves no one, least of all our country. I would suggest that if we were to make our war effort's success contingent on wiping out terrorism in Chechnya (?) and Tehran, you would find that most Americans would never support such a war effort. First of all, Chechen terrorism, as disgusting and destructive as it is, is a strictly Russian problem, and I think the Russians would look dimly on outside interference. As the fate of the unfortunate Mr. Kadyrov demonstrated, Chechen terrorism will continue for some time. It will continue to feed off of the inevitable brutality of the Russian army, and President Putin will continue to press down harder on the Chechens. That is the business of the Russian people, and I suggest we let them sort out their own affairs.

By getting rid of terrorists in Tehran, I assume you mean the government in Tehran. This would involve invading a very difficult country with three times as many people as Iraq. You would apparently advocate this, even though the Iranian government has engaged in no aggression of any kind against the United States or its forces since 1983, and then only through a proxy in the middle of a civil war in which we should never have involved ourselves. There is no rational reason why Iran must still be an adversary of the United States after all this time.

If we cannot have peace until every terrorist in Turkey is rounded up, whose definition of terrorist shall we use? Ankara's? In that case, we will be going after Kurdish terrorists for the rest of our lives, and it would not be entirely clear that such a mission would either be right or useful for our country. Such extreme and disparate goals scattered among all the various insurrections of the world make any such war effort unlikely to succeed. Not to mention that none of the places you mentioned had anything to do with the sources of 9/11.

You may find the fanatics' resistance to U.S. foreign policy entirely atrocious in every way, and that's fine and sensible, but don't confuse domestic criticism of that foreign policy with advocacy, unintentional or otherwise, for the cause of these fanatics. With the exception of a very few fanatics in this country, no American wants defeat in that vital fight, but hopes to find some means to achieve victory over those who attacked us. A considerable number of people believe that Iraq is a colossally expensive and wasteful sideshow in that effort, whatever the official party line may be. Please don't insult other people as twisted when they view the current conflict in Iraq as a product of broken foreign policy and poor choices by the president.

If you feel the need to loathe us, then so be it, but please don't assume that our positions are motivated by a loathing for our own country. You may think our positions despicable, but do not dare to suggest again that any of us desire the defeat or injury of our country.

Bill Heuisler - 5/12/2004

Dr. Dresner,
This is addressed to you and others of like mind on HNN.
My loathing for the shared thoughts almost decided me to abandon the website and the discussions. But I like you.
Reading your post - and others with similar assumptions - makes me wonder how the so-called educated class can be so naive, disconnected and gullible. And how can you?

"US retreat"? Unthinkable. But each of you write as though the war were voluntary, as if Iraq was victim and as though the US were losing. The surpressed glee of some is disgusting, but in each the schadenfreude is quite evident. Others I expected, but your post shocked me most.
"Taint of US support"? How can you pretend the liberation of Iraq is something we chose - and worse - something the US relishes and something that has soiled our honor.

You wrote, "Losing the peace, as we are,...". What peace? Where is your peace? We lost our peace on 9/11 and the world can't reclaim peace until each terrorist in Turkey, Chechnya, Bali, Madrid, Teheran, Seattle and Baghdad has been killed or imprisoned. When you visited Arbil, Basra and Ahvaz did you notice schools and businesses open and thriving, the clean water, ubiquitous satellite dishes and lovely uncovered faces of young women? Did you marvel at the smiling faces of children at play and savor the unhurried pace of life in places like Nasiriyah and As Sulaymaniyah? No? Then why the measured darkness?

Friends died so you could walk those streets, see the truth, and then come home and degrade their sacrifice as though the twelve-year war were some Imperialist venture.
We were attacked repeatedly for thirty years and finally the attacks reached our shores in 1993 and 2001. Frankly I expected better from such as you, more depth, perhaps the same empathy you profess for other innocents in other parts of this hate-moiled world. But no, ascribe motive, desecrate memories, scorn US altruism, pick the scabs of mistakes and attack the victims of terrorism - all in the name of Liberalism, pacifism or hatred of Bush.

Where have you gone? What twisted motive or riled emotion could raise such warped images of your own country? Many in Red States, and blue-collar families of Blue States, find your collective attitude appalling. When will you realize the enemy isn't American? When will you realize the enemy shouts Allah Akhbar through screams, grating a knife through a young US civilian's neck and grinning into a camera. When will you realize that terrorists hate you too, no matter what you think of President Bush?
Bill Heuisler

Ben H. Severance - 5/11/2004

A better approach would have been to compare the Freikorps directly to the Klan. Both are really generic terms for numerous outfits of self-appointed defenders of either the Fatherland or of White Supremacy and the Lost Cause. Neither had centralized leadership nor did they have an official or even coherent message. Both greatly disliked the consequences of defeat. The Freikorps attacked Bolsheviks the way the Klan attacked blacks, and the former undermined the new Weimar Republic the same way the latter undermined the new Southern Republican Party. As angry vigilantes, they posed a threat to stability but lacked the organization for governance.

The Red Shirts (and White League) are more akin to the SA and the Nazis. And the Red Shirts were indeed paramilitary--14,000 white men organized into 290 Rifle Clubs under a strict ex-Confederate chain of command all the way up to General Wade Hampton. The Red Shirts eliminated a black militia unit at Hamburg in early 1876 (murdering seven blacks) and later killed at least thirty more blacks during the Ellenton Riot, an incident provoked by the whites. Throughout the political campaign of 1876, the Red Shirts marched armed alongside Democratic candidates, forcibly "divided time" with Republican speakers, and flagrantly intimidated blacks on election day. During the electoral dispute that followed, the Red Shirts were prepared for civil war (and many hoped violence would ensue). Basically, like the SA, the Red Shirts were a Party Army that busted heads while their leader (Hitler or Hampton) garnered "respectability" as the only person who could leash the dogs. My study of Reconstruction leads me to conclude that in most southern states, Reconstruction came to an end at the point of a gun, albeit a measured use of violence under the later white paramilitaries.

I am also among those scholars who think Reconstruction could have succeeded had either the Federal government played a more interventionist role or had southern Republicans developed more effective biracial state militias. President Grant was well-intentioned and could be bold, but he was too erratic and inconsistent in his use of the Army (he was also a bit unwilling for the sake of legitimacy, he hoped the Reconstruction governments would eventually stand on their own). Unfortunately, southern Republican governors lacked the resolve to overcome armed white opposition. To be sure, several governors (e.g., Brownlow in Tennessee and Clayton in Arkansas, among others) used state militias aggressively and successfully, but only for short durations. Financial constraints and fears of race war handcuffed long-term law enforcement by state authorities. In the end, ex-Confederates realized better than the Republicans or Northerners that the politics of Reconstruction was the politics of force.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/10/2004

The circularity of Pipes' argument is almost charming. If the US could achieve what he describes in his third paragraph, then it would be hard to see how US retreat would be under "less than optimal circumstances." But the only way that the US could influence the selection of a "strongman" would be to win the peace. Losing the peace, as we are, anyone with a taint of US support would be unable to achieve broad legitimacy.

In other words, if a secular strongman is indeed the best thing for Iraq, then the best thing Daniel Pipes could do to ensure success is to shut up and stop supporting people. Otherwise, anyone we're happy about is going to find himself (perhaps what we need is to promote some female leadership, someone completely untainted by contact with previous patriarchal power structures) embattled by the same forces which embattle us.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/10/2004

The comparisons you draw make some sense, Mr. Severance, though I would qualify the remarks about the Freikorps and the Red Shirts. Perhaps I am incorrect, but my impression has been that the Red Shirts were primarily a manifestation of mobilised white opposition against Reconstruction governments in Southern states. I do not believe that they are comparable as a sort of paramilitary organisation that forcibly overthrew anything.

The Freikorps, like the Heimwehr in Austria, was nationalist and anti-communist and theoretically dedicated to the defense of the territory of the country during the tumultuous period of demobilisation after the war. Also like the Heimwehr, they shared many of the same attitudes as the Nazis as far as the use of violence and the appeal to action were concerned, but they were or remained somewhat distinct from them. There was certainly crossover between the membership in the Freikorps and the later SA (Roehm being the most obvious example).

The Freikorps here would, if anything, be more analogous to Baathist and Sunni insurgents in opposition to occupation, in that part of the appeal of the Freikorps was its hostility to the 'collaborators' who signed the peace treaty and governed during the Weimar period. The nationalist or anti-treaty appeal of the Nazis was similar, but the Nazis seem to me to have represented a more aggressive and revisionist nationalism that was still unformed in the Freikorps nationalists. In the Iraqi case, the more likely manifestation of the SA (or perhaps a fusion of SA and Bolshevik) is what we see with this Mahdi army and the other party militias. The Iraqi communists, for their part, are actually on 'our' side, but have no mass following; their appeal to the poor or workers has been taken up by Sadr.

As for our 'staying the course', if there is one thing that strengthens the forces of radicalism in Iraq right now and gives them popular appeal it is the occupation. Our 'staying the course' will discredit resistance to this radicalism as collaboration with the foreigner, just as opponents of the Nazis or Bolsheviks could be (somewhat credibly) depicted as being on good terms or in alliance with outsiders meddling in the affairs of the country. Staying the course in such a case seems to me more likely to cause us to founder on the shoals.

Ben H. Severance - 5/10/2004

In general, I agree with Mr. Pipes that an authoritarian figure will eventually emerge in Iraq. On the one hand, I have no problem with this. If General Latif can restore order in Fallujah and root out Al-Quaeda operatives within the insurgency, then let him loose. A reliable Iraqi constabulary that protects democratization will be essential to the upcoming transfer of power. On the other hand, the U.S. needs to guard against creating too many Iraqi state militias led by RGFC captains and colonels (and generals), lest such outfits become right-wing paramilitary bands that seek not only the elimination of Iraqi extemists, but also any effort to develop a republican form of government.

History suggests that the latter outcome is more likely than the former. After WWI, German army veterans formed Friekorps bands initially to exterminate communists (a loose parallel to the Iraqi fundamentalists) but later tried to topple the Weimar Republic (and eventually did so under the Nazis, a Freikorps offshoot). A similar course unfolded in the Reconstruction South, where first the decentralized Ku Klux Klan, and later such units as the better disciplined White League in Louisiana and the Red Shirts in South Carolina, all under ex-Confederate officers, overthrew the Republican governments before they could establish themselves. All the while, the U.S. army garrison engaged in an erratic and ultimately ineffectual series of military interventions to check the resurgence of southern white power.

The sad result in both historical cases is that the Third Reich emerged in Germany, while a quasi-Apartheid world emerged in the American South. Given these outcomes, perhaps the U.S. should "stay the course" militarily if for no other reason than to prevent something worse than what is already happening in Iraq.