March 14, 2008

The Meaning of 'Connection'

Media reaction to the The Pentagon report (pdf) on the links between al Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq released yesterday has been predictably triumphant, as once again the absence of photos of Saddam and Osama bin Laden having tea is sufficient to convince them they need not read what the report actually says before pronouncing that a connection doesn't exist.

Here's Scott Johnson at Powerline

The Bush administration long ago gave up trying to tell the truth about the issue, as it has on so many others where it has been beaten into submission by the elite media. And so when the Pentagon recently released its 59-page report confirming (Stephen) Hayes's reportage, the media have been left free to misrepresent it with impunity...

And misrepresent it they have, which is reported by Power Line and Gateway Pundit among others.

Stephen Hayes previews his upcoming Weekly Standard article at the blog with some questions about just what the Times and other media people might consider a "link".

A new Pentagon report on Iraq and Terrorism has the news media buzzing. An item on the New York Times blog snarks, "Oh, By the Way, There Was No Al Qaeda Link." The ABC News story that previews the full report concludes, "Report Shows No Link Between Saddam and al Qaeda."

How, then, to explain this sentence about Iraq and al Qaeda from the report's abstract: "At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust"? And how to explain the "considerable overlap" between their activities which led not only to the appearances of ties but to a "de facto link between the organizations"? (See the entire abstract below.)

And what about this revelation from page 34? "Captured documents reveal that the regime was willing to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda -- as long as that organization's near-term goals supported Saddam's long-term vision." (The example given in the report is the Army of Muhammad in Bahrain, a group the Iraqi Intelligence Service describes as "under the wings of bin Laden.")

And there is this line from page 42: "Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives."

Really? Saddam Hussein "supported" a group that merged with al Qaeda in the late 1990s, run by al Qaeda's #2, and the New York Times thinks this is not a link between Iraq and al Qaeda? How does that work?

Anyone interested in the "strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism" -- that language comes from this report, too -- should read the entire thing for themselves....

Before we allow the self-appointed 'deciders' to revise and distort the history of Saddam's activity, not only with al Qaeda, but with WMD, that history should be revisited a bit. When the topic of "the connection" comes up periodically, I recommend a couple of older things by Andy McCarthy at NRO; in June, 2004 ,"Iraq and Militant Islam", and in 2006, "Iraq is the War on Terror".

And the heavy lifting has of course been undertaken by Hayes. Here's my handy archive of Hayes stuff and lots of related Saddam-al Qaeda material.

Maybe it will be eye-opening to some people to read samples of Iraq-related op-eds from the New York Times and the Washington Post from 1998-2000, when a decidedly alarmist tone prevailed, and it was received wisdom in the major media that Saddam was a dire threat with dangerous weapons systems. What these editors and journalists and elected officials said five or ten years ago impacts their credibility today, and puts their 2008 rhetoric in some useful context.

Back in 2003 Robert Kagan collaborated with Bill Kristol on a detailed explanation of "Why We Went to War", which is also worth revisiting and recommending when the din of the 'Bush Lied' chant gets overbearing.

This Journal article contains a pretty good summary of the findings of the numerous investigations into pre-war intelligence, which serve to repeatedly clear the Bush administration of 'cooking' the pre-war intelligence. But then you don't hear much about the Kay/ISG Report, the Duelfer Report, the Silberman-Robb Report, the Butler Report, or the SSCI Report from today's Bush critics. Too many inconvenient details about dual-use manufacturing facilities, concealed strains of biological agents and evidence of systematic pre-invasion looting of WMD documentation and facilities, and of pre-invasion border crossings of Iraqi WMD personnel and material.

One wonders if the critics have even read any of these reports, beyond the two-sentence sanitized selections they saw in the Times. You don't have to read too far in any of the numerous WMD investigative reports to see that even though our intelligence (and that of every other intelligence service on the planet) was wrong about the exact state of the Iraqi weapons programs, we still were prudent to put a stop to the Saddam regime when we did.

Related:

Bill Kristol - Gunsmoke

Wizblog - November, 2005

UPDATE 3/15: Here's the Stephen Hayes article at the Standard. He begins...

This ought to be big news. Throughout the early and mid-1990s, Saddam Hussein actively supported an influential terrorist group headed by the man who is now al Qaeda's second-in-command, according to an exhaustive study issued last week by the Pentagon. "Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives." According to the Pentagon study, Egyptian Islamic Jihad was one of many jihadist groups that Iraq's former dictator funded, trained, equipped, and armed.

Much, much more. Go do it. The misreporting of the findings, beyond the "no direct operational" connection buzzwords is, sadly, what we've come to expect, but Hayes explains how the report's release could have been handled so much better by the administration, who should be trumpeting the report's findings to the American people. As he says, "What good is the truth if nobody knows it?"

UPDATE: Just stumbled on an older collection of quotes assembled by John Hawkins, including this gem:

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members... - Hillary Clinton, October 10, 2002.

And thanks to Scott at PowerLine for the link. Welcome PowerLine readers!

UPDATE 3/15: From the Hayes article:

How can a study offering an unprecedented look into the closed regime of a brutal dictator, with over 1,600 pages of “strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism,” in the words of its authors, receive a wave-of-the-hand dismissal from America’s most prestigious news outlets? All it took was a leak to a gullible reporter, one misleading line in the study’s executive summary, a boneheaded Pentagon press office, an incompetent White House, and widespread journalistic negligence.

Ed at Hot Air:

It’s hard to believe that the Pentagon and the White House have still not figured out the dynamics of war reporting in this age. Any report with this kind of impact will be the target of leaks, and probably by those least inclined to support the war. The leaks will go to others who don’t support the war, and they will get the first opportunity to define reality in the media. This is exactly what happened to this report on the Harmony documents; it’s a textbook case of media spin.

UPDATE 3/15: More Ed Morrissey

Posted by dan at March 14, 2008 7:23 PM