The conventional wisdom before the Iraq war was that Saddam Hussein had plenty of weapons of mass destruction but no ties to Al Qaeda. It is beginning to look like the conventional wisdom was backwards: Saddam Hussein's regime had ties to Al Qaeda but nowhere near the level of weapons of mass destruction suspected.
Iraq under Hussein was a nest for anti-American terrorists. Little noticed in weapons inspector David Kay's recent remarks was his observation that Iraq was not less dangerous than assumed but more dangerous: "I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war."
What Kay means is that terrorists were traveling through a country where free-lancing scientists had nuclear, biological, and chemical programs underway -- erratic weapons programs even Hussein wasn't aware of that these terrorists could have easily exploited: "We know that terrorists were passing through Iraq. And now we know that there was little control over Iraq's weapons capabilities. I think it shows that Iraq was a very dangerous place. The country had the technology, the ability to produce, and there were terrorist groups passing through the country -- and no central control." Up until the war started Iraqi scientists were "actively working to produce a biological weapon using the poison ricin," says Kay.
The antiwar Democrats are cheering Kay's report that he found WMD programs but not WMD stockpiles. They conveniently ignore that the assumption of WMD stockpiles was a bipartisan blunder and completely ignore Kay's point that WMD programs, chaotically administered in a haven for terrorists, is itself an imminent threat. Kay's statement in effect punctures their claim that the Iraq war had nothing to do with the war on terrorism.
EVEN AS THESE DEMOCRATS DENY any connection between Hussein's Iraq and Al Qaeda, the U.S. military is capturing Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq. Last week the White House announced the capture of Hassan Ghul. Ghul worked for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks.
The war has led to the capture of innumerable terrorists like Ghul. But the antiwar Democrats don't want Americans to know that Hussein's Iraq was a safe haven for Al Qaeda operatives, as this information causes their claim that the Iraq war undermined the war on terrorism to collapse.
After Vice President Dick Cheney recently endorsed the Weekly Standard's article, "Case Closed: The U.S. government's secret memo detailing cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden," Democratic presidential nominee Wesley Clark rebuked him.
The media, though curious about the WMDs claim, has also been generally incurious about connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and usually observes with sourness that a majority of Americans still believe Hussein was part of the Islamic terror network responsible for 9/11.
The Los Angeles Times basically scoffed at Cheney's remark that evidence of a relationship between Hussein's Iraq and Al Qaeda is "overwhelming." The Times reported dismissively that "U.S. intelligence officials agree that there was contact between Hussein's agents and Al Qaeda members as far back as a decade ago and that operatives with ties to Al Qaeda had at times found safe haven in Iraq. But no intelligence has surfaced to suggest a deeper relationship, and other information turned up recently has suggested that significant ties were unlikely…Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is in custody, has told American interrogators that Al Qaeda rejected the idea of any working relationship with Iraq, which was seen by the terrorist network as a corrupt, secular regime."
Notice that the Times is relying here on the testimony of a terrorist whose deputy was just captured in Iraq. And why would the relationship have to be "deep" to invalidate Cheney's comment? Because an irregular, marriage-of-convenience relationship existed between Hussein's Iraq and the terrorist network behind the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration had no cause to worry about it?
Senator Jay Rockefeller called Cheney's remarks "perplexing." What's perplexing is that senators can yawn at intelligence (leaked to the Weekly Standard) showing among other things that Osama bin Laden received bomb training from the Iraqi Intelligence Service's principal technical expert, that Al Qaeda agents met with Hussein's officials to set up terrorist camps, received money and weapons from them, and continued meeting with them after 9/11. The Standard also drew attention to intelligence about Al Qaeda terrorist planner Abu Musab al Zarqawi that helps to explain the post-war insurgency: "According to sensitive reporting, al Zarqawi was setting up sleeper cells in Baghdad to be activated in case of a U.S. occupation of the city."
If the Democrats consider this intelligence bogus, they should say so and call for more probes, not browbeat Cheney into silence. But this time they may not want a new investigation lest too much evidence turn up.