June 29, 2005,
President George W. Bush forcefully explained last night some of us would say finally forcefully explained last night after too long a lull why our military operations in Iraq are crucial to success in the war on terror.
It was good to hear the commander-in-chief remind people that this is still the war against terror. Specifically, against Islamo-fascists who slaughtered 3000 Americans on September 11, 2001. Who spent the eight years before those atrocities murdering and promising to murder Americans as their leader put it in 1998, all Americans, including civilians, anywhere in the world where they could be found.
It is not the war for democratization. It is not the war for stability. Democratization and stability are not unimportant. They are among a host of developments that could help defeat the enemy.
But they are not the primary goal of this war, which is to destroy the network of Islamic militants who declared war against the United States when they bombed the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993, and finally jarred us into an appropriate response when they demolished that complex, struck the Pentagon, and killed 3000 of us on September 11, 2001.
That is why we are in Iraq.
On September 12, 2001, no one in America cared about whether there would be enough Sunni participation in a fledgling Iraqi democracy if Saddam were ever toppled. No one in lower Manhattan cared whether the electricity would work in Baghdad, or whether Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia could be coaxed into a political process. They cared about smashing terrorists and the states that supported them for the purpose of promoting American national security.
Saddam Hussein’s regime was a crucial part of that response because it was a safety net for al Qaeda. A place where terror attacks against the United States and the West were planned. A place where Saddam’s intelligence service aided and abetted al Qaeda terrorists planning operations. A place where terrorists could hide safely between attacks. A place where terrorists could lick their wounds. A place where committed terrorists could receive vital training in weapons construction and paramilitary tactics. In short, a platform of precisely the type without which an international terror network cannot succeed.
The president should know he hit the sweet spot during his Fort Bragg speech because all the right people are angry. The New York Times, with predictable disingenuousness, is railing this morning that the 9/11 references in the speech are out of bounds because Iraq had “nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and the tedious David Gergen, among others, are in Gergen’s words “offended” about use of the 9/11 “trump card.”
If the president is guilty of anything, it's not that he's dwelling on 9/11 enough. It's that the administration has not done a good enough job of probing and underscoring the nexus between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda. It is absolutely appropriate, it is vital, for him to stress that connection. This is still the war on terror, and Iraq, where the terrorists are still arrayed against us, remains a big part of that equation.
And not just because every jihadist with an AK-47 and a prayer rug has made his way there since we invaded. No, it’s because Saddam made Iraq their cozy place to land long before that. They are fighting effectively there because they’ve been invited to dig in for years.
The president needs to be talking about Saddam and terror because that’s what will get their attention in Damascus and Teheran. It’s not about the great experiment in democratization as helpful as it would be to establish a healthy political culture in that part of the world. It’s about making our enemies know we are coming for them if they abet and harbor and promote and plan with the people who are trying to kill us.
On that score, nobody should worry about anything the Times or David Gergen or Senator Reid has to say about all this until they have some straight answers on questions like these. What does the “nothing whatsoever” crowd have to say about:
Ahmed Hikmat Shakir the Iraqi Intelligence operative who facilitated a 9/11 hijacker into Malaysia and was in attendance at the Kuala Lampur meeting with two of the hijackers, and other conspirators, at what is roundly acknowledged to be the initial 9/11 planning session in January 2000? Who was arrested after the 9/11 attacks in possession of contact information for several known terrorists? Who managed to make his way out of Jordanian custody over our objections after the 9/11 attacks because of special pleading by Saddam’s regime?
Saddam's intelligence agency's efforts to recruit jihadists to bomb Radio Free Europe in Prague in the late 1990's?
Mohammed Atta's unexplained visits to Prague in 2000, and his alleged visit there in April 2001 which notwithstanding the 9/11 Commission's dismissal of it (based on interviewing exactly zero relevant witnesses) the Czechs have not retracted?
The Clinton Justice Department's allegation in a 1998 indictment (two months before the embassy bombings) against bin Laden, to wit: In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq.
Seized Iraq Intelligence Service records indicating that Saddam's henchmen regarded bin Laden as an asset as early as 1992?
Saddam's hosting of al Qaeda No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri beginning in the early 1990’s, and reports of a large payment of money to Zawahiri in 1998?
Saddam’s ten years of harboring of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Abdul Rahman Yasin?
Iraqi Intelligence Service operatives being dispatched to meet with bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998 (the year of bin Laden’s fatwa demanding the killing of all Americans, as well as the embassy bombings)?
Saddam’s official press lionizing bin Laden as “an Arab and Islamic hero” following the 1998 embassy bombing attacks?
The continued insistence of high-ranking Clinton administration officials to the 9/11 Commission that the 1998 retaliatory strikes (after the embassy bombings) against a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory were justified because the factory was a chemical weapons hub tied to Iraq and bin Laden?
Terror master Abu Musab Zarqawi's choice to boogie to Baghdad of all places when he needed surgery after fighting American forces in Afghanistan in 2001?
Saddam's Intelligence Service running a training camp at Salman Pak, were terrorists were instructed in tactics for assassination, kidnapping and hijacking?
Former CIA Director George Tenet’s October 7, 2002 letter to Congress, which asserted: Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.
We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.
Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.
Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.
We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.
Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of relationship with Al Qaeda suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action.
There's more. Stephen Hayes’s book, The Connection, remains required reading. But these are just the questions; the answers if someone will just investigate the questions rather than pretending there’s “nothing whatsoever” there will provide more still.
So Gergen, Reid, the Times, and the rest are “offended” at the president's reminding us of 9/11? The rest of us should be offended, too. Offended at the “nothing whatsoever” crowd’s inexplicable lack of curiosity about these ties, and about the answers to these questions.
Just tell us one thing: Do you have any good answer to what Ahmed Hikmat Shakir was doing with the 9/11 hijackers in Kuala Lampur? Can you explain it?
If not, why aren't you moving heaven and earth to find out the answer?
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.