Perhaps it’s me, but there seems to be something sloppy about the metaphorical turn of phrase the MSM has been repeating in describing the supposed lack of connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. There is indeed “no smoking gun” in the report recently released by the Institute for Defense Analyses.
And thank God for that. There is, however, a purchased gun, some bullets, a trained shooter, and a plan to kill. “No smoking gun” is what happens when the crime is prevented. “No smoking gun” is exactly the stated outcome the Bush administration was hoping for back in 2003 when making the case for going into Iraq.
Now, let’s pretend that officials and the media are saying something like, “close, but no cigar” in reference to the Saddam-al Qaeda link. That, at least, isn’t an automatic vindication of Bush’s Iraq position. However, it is ridiculous. Contrary to the anti-war crowd’s jubilation, the report confirms that Saddam’s regime served as partner, sponsor, and even mentor to jihadist organizations, and indeed can be “linked” to al Qaeda. From the report’s abstract (via Michael Goldfarb):
Because Saddam’s security organizations and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term), considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some way, a “de facto” link between the organizations. 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.
So: not only was there a link, but the link was “inevitable.” Which was precisely the concern of those in favor of the 2003 invasion. The report eloquently dispenses with the myth that Saddam’s was a secular regime and therefore at odds with Islamist terror groups, noting that the increased popularity of Islamic extremism enabled the Iraqi regime to exploit terrorism as “one of the few tools remaining in Saddam’s ‘coercion’ tool box.” It never mattered whether or not Saddam shared the Islamist fervor of al Qaeda, so long as he could bend the fervor of its followers to his purpose. The fact there is no smoking gun is conclusive evidence that we didn’t let him do that.