Political Hay

A Collaborative Big Lie

If terrorists deny having links to Iraq, Bush critics are happy to believe them ahead of the U.S. President.

By 6.18.04

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The left's denial of the Iraq-Al Qaeda link is the Big Lie that has hardened into dogma. To cement the lie, liberals will even trust the testimony of terrorists over the words of the president of the United States. They don't believe George Bush's evidence for the link but they do believe Al Qaeda's denial of it. The 9/11 Commission, for example, takes this denial from professional liars and killers at face value in its attempt to disprove the link. "Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq," the Commissioners write. Notice the phrase adamantly denied, as if the intensity of the terrorists' denial lends credence to it. Do judges treat the testimony of terrorists as unimpeachable evidence when its "adamant"?

Alger Hiss adamantly denied his links to the Soviet Union. He was lying. And the left dogmatized his deception for decades. Even in its obit for Hiss, the New York Times was hedging its bets, treating his lie like an unsolved mystery: "To still others, many of them on the left, Mr. Hiss was what William Reuben, a friend and the author of one of the dozens of books on the case, called an 'American saint.'"

Back then -- as now with Saddam Hussein (the Commission acknowledges his "contacts" with Al Qaeda but denies a "collaborative relationship" between them) -- the left might occasionally concede contacts but would always dispute that contacts meant collaboration. Just because Alger Hiss met with Communists doesn't mean he "collaborated" with the Soviet Union. Just because Saddam Hussein harbored Nick Berg's beheader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, before the war doesn't mean he collaborated with anti-American terrorists. Zarqawi, I should make clear, had contacts with Al Qaeda but didn't collaborate with them. According to nuanced observers, he was an "autonomous" terrorist. Sort of like Saddam Hussein.

Yes, Saddam Hussein's regime cooperated with Al Qaeda in arms development and weapons training, let it set up terrorism camps in Iraq, counted Bin Laden as an "asset," but don't mistake any of this for a "collaborative relationship." If domestic criminals, accused of serving as accomplices to crime, could set the evidentiary bar this high for a "collaborative relationship," they would be free on the streets.

Perhaps Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein before the war should have hired a Madison Avenue public relations firm to launch a campaign against Bush for his McCarthyite smear against them. Remember when Sandinista strongman Daniel Ortega tried that tack? Ortega hired a New York public relations firm to persuade the American people and their leaders that his contacts with the Soviet Union didn't amount to collaborating with the evil empire in threatening the United States.

The campaign worked fairly well for a few years. Ortega's sympathizers in Congress accused Ronald Reagan of "red-baiting" and "McCarthyism." They savaged him for hyping the relationship between the Sandinistas and the Soviets. Sure, Ortega had at least 3,500 Cuban advisers train his army, had East German goons in his security force, had helicopters and ships courtesy of Moscow. But that didn't rise to the level of a dangerous collaborative relationship, the left lectured Reagan.

Journalist Evan Thomas wrote that Reagan had "exaggerated" the threat of Ortega. "To him, Nicaragua's Ortega, in his Castro-style fatigues, is not merely a Third World revolutionary who delights in tweaking Uncle Sam, but an agent of the Kremlin, bent on spreading Communism through the hemisphere." Thomas scoffed at Reagan's intensity on his "idée fixe" -- "stopping Communism." John Kerry assured his colleagues that Ortega wasn't forming a Soviet beachhead in Nicaragua, then a few days later Ortega surfaced in Moscow to pick up a large check. That didn't matter. Reagan still had no right to hold up a button saying "If You Like Cuba, You Will Love Nicaragua" and call Nicaragua a "cancer" and "second Libya, right on the doorstep of the United States."(Ortega, by the way, also had contact with Middle Eastern terrorists -- Managua during his reign boasted an Arab-Libyan cultural center. But whether his posters of Muammar Qaddafi signaled a willingness to collaborate with them remains an open question.)

The left described Ortega as a desperate mendicant, driven into the arms of the Soviet Union after Reaganites ganged up on him. "Without U.S. aid, to whom can Nicaragua turn for help but the Soviet Union after inheriting an economy bankrupted by the late Anastasio Somoza and his followers?" said one liberal at the time. Before too long, the left in the same way will dismiss Saddam Hussein's mere "contacts" with Al Qaeda as the product of American provocation.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.