Regarding Iraq, I think a military confrontation with Saddam Hussein was inevitable, and that the longer we put it off, the worse it would be. While most debate about Iraq focuses on the WMDs, another frequent challenge is that Saddam Hussein had no operational ties to al-Qaeda. In response I make the following points:
1. The war on terrorism is not merely against al-Qaeda; it is against all terrorist organizations.
2. All sides agree that Saddam Hussein had ties to nearly every terrorist organization in the region. This is not in question.
3. "Nearly every terrorist organization in the region" includes al-Qaeda. Saddam Hussein had diplomatic ties (not operational ties) to al-Qaeda. He offered Osama bin Laden sanctuary in 1999. You can't offer someone sanctuary if you don't have any diplomatic ties to them. This is why Richard Clarke said that a big concern in 2001 was that bin Laden was going to "boogie to Bagdad" once his bases in Afghanistan were destroyed.
4. Diplomatic ties, however, are not the same thing as operational ties or support. There was no evidence that Saddam supported or worked together with al-Qaeda.
5. The Bush administration never claimed that Saddam supported or worked together with al-Qaeda. They only claimed that he had diplomatic ties to al-Qaeda, and that he supported many other terrorist groups. Again, neither of these claims is in question.
Last week, the State Department released a study which the mainstream media trumpeted as saying that, after going through reams of documents captured in the Iraq War, there is no evidence of an operational tie between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. I wasn't moved by this, because I thought we already knew it. The report just solidified what had already been said. It doesn't affect the points I made above.
Well, after a few days, some people actually read the report, and it turns out it says the exact opposite of what the media claims: the report details that Saddam Hussein did have operational ties to al-Qaeda. Specifically, he provided financial support to the Army of Muhammad and Egypt's Islamic Jihad, two al-Qaeda organizations, the latter headed up by al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's right hand man.
This information does move me. For the last five years, I've been assuming that the only connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda was a diplomatic one. That assumption has now been refuted. Ed Morrissey has suggested it only proves financial support, not operational support, but I would argue that the former is a type of the latter. Saddam may not have helped al-Qaeda plan specific terrorist acts, but he provided them with the means necessary to engage in them. Financing someone's operations is an operational tie.
Here is the report's conclusion:
One question remains regarding Iraq's terrorism capability: Is there anything in the captured archives to indicate that Saddam had the will to use his terrorist capabilities directly against United States? Judging from examples of Saddam's statements (Extract 34) before the 1991 Gulf War with the United States, the answer is yes.This pretty much confirms the reason why I think the Iraq War was inevitable: if we were going to take the fight to the terrorists, it was necessary to remove Saddam from power. Now, in addition to this, I can also say that he had operational ties to al-Qaeda. It seems to me that the case for the Iraq War is very strong. I think the only way around this is to deny the case for the war on terrorism in general. But then you have den Beste to deal with.[19 April 1990]In the years between the two Gulf Wars, UN sanctions reduced Saddam's ability to shape regional and world events, steadily draining his military, economic, and military powers. The rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam's "coercion" toolbox, not only cost effective but a formal instrument of state power. Saddam nurtured this capability with an infrastructure supporting (1) his own particular brand of state terrorism against internal and external threats, (2) the state sponsorship of suicide operations, and (3) organizational relationships and "outreach programs" for terrorist groups. Evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces.
"If America interferes we will strike. You know us, we are not the talkative type who holds the microphone and says things only, we do what we say. Maybe we cannot reach Washington but we can send someone with an explosive belt to reach Washington."
"We can send people to Washington... a person with explosive belt around him could throw himself on Bush's car.
However, the evidence is less clear in terms of Saddam's declared will at the time of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM in 2003. Even with access to significant parts of the regime's most secretive archive, the answer to the question of Saddam's will in the final months in power remains elusive. Potentially, more significant documents and media files are awaiting analysis or are even yet to be discovered.
As noted in the foreword of this paper, access to the captured archives of this regime provides researchers with the ability to document a part of the context in which this regime operated. While this context is far from complete, it provides at least one glimpse into the complex nexus between state and non-state terror.