August 09, 2005

Unknowable Idiocy

Tod Lindberg writing in the Washington Times has determined that there's no way to know the answer to questions about Iraq:

... The leading Rorschach tests on the subject of Iraq are two. First, was there a connection between the Saddam Hussein regime and al Qaeda prior to September 11? And second, has U.S. policy toward Iraq, including the invasion and the aftermath, perversely served to recruit more young Muslim men to the ranks of al Qaeda and like-minded terror organizations? Did I mention that one of the characteristics of a political Rorschach test is that so many people adamantly deny that there is no true and knowable answer to the question?

... Now, I'm already on the hook in today's column for the proposition that the answers to the questions are unknowable -- which is to say, wildly speculative because based on very limited public access to vanishingly few known facts. So we must tread carefully here. But may I point out that the speculative logic of the questions themselves suggests that either the yes-yes combination or the no-no combination is more plausible than either the yes-no or no-yes? If there was a non-trivial connection between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda -- a sort of meeting of the minds, at the tactical level at least, of different strains of radically anti-American thought in the Arab Muslim world -- then it might be reasonable to suppose that the U.S. invasion to throw out the Saddam regime did indeed serve as an al Qaeda (or similar jihadist) rallying cry.

... Similarly, if Saddam meant nothing to the Islamists beforehand and vice versa -- if indeed his secular regime was, in the Islamist view, exactly the sort of Arab government that needed to fall -- then what, precisely, in Sunni Iraq greased the skids for the arrival of "foreign fighters" in Iraq in the thousands?

... As for me, I am of the yes-yes view. The Saddam-al Qaeda connection (which is not the same as a Saddam-September 11 connection) was there, at least as a matter of affinity of the sort that continues to recruit foreign fighters to jihad against the Americans in Iraq, where they find (some, limited, but serious) local support. ...

On the Saddam-al Qaida connection, the 9/11 commission has already weighed in, emphasis mine:

... Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime. Bin Ladin had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded Bin Ladin to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.

A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Ladin in 1994. Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded.

There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.

Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States. ...

Next, let's see, what exactly is 'greasing the skids' for foreign terrorists to came add to the mayhem? An interviewer for an Australian radio show talks here about what members of Iraq's Governing Council said while Bremer was in charge, emphasis mine:

... But two Council members interviewed by the ABC also believe that the presence of US forces here is attracting foreign terrorists, easily able to cross Iraq's poorest borders from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.

Council member, Younadem Kana says the US presence is a magnet for terrorists.

YOUNADEM KANA: Yeah, for sure it's a magnet for terrorists, yeah. For sure it's a magnet for terrorists and especially the most fanatic extremists, let's say, bin Laden's group al-Qaeda, for example – yes, it's a magnet.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Because they see Iraq as a place where they can attack America?

YOUNADEM KANA: Yeah, for sure. It's more easy for them to reach. For Americans, not only for Americans, for all Coalition forces, even allies.

GEOFF THOMPSON: It's an opinion also held by the Council's Secretary-General, Muhyi al-Kateeb, aformer Iraqi Ambassador to the United States who has spent the last 24 years running a petrol station in the US.

MUHYI AL-KATEEB: Because we have no control of our borders yet, so it is heaven for terrorism.

GEOFF THOMPSON: As long as there is an American presence here it's going to be an attractive place for terrorists looking to target Americans?

MUHYI AL-KATEEB: I agree. ...

The 9/11 commission didn't believe there was any credible evidence of any type of collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Hussein. They didn't just say that Hussein wasn't involved in 9/11, but that the farthest they got towards working together was that bin Laden stopped funding Hussein's opposition and the Iraqi regime didn't return their phone calls after a couple meetings. If that's a 'relationship', then anyone who's been on an awkward date with someone they didn't call back is a polygamist.

Handpicked members of Iraq's Governing Council believed that the reason terrorists were in Iraq was because America was there and there were no border controls. America is still there, and there are still no effective border controls. Furthermore, the administration believed beforehand that terrorists would come to Iraq to fight Americans just because we were there. Here's the justification of the hour from war cheerleader Andrew Sullivan, emphasis mine:

... Some time before the Iraq war, I found myself musing out loud to someone close to the inner circles of the Bush administration. We were talking about the post-war scenario, something that even then was a source of some worry even to gung-ho hawks like myself. I don't recall the precise conversation but I voiced some worries about what might happen if an occupied Iraq became a target for international terrorism. Wouldn't U.S. soldiers become sitting ducks? What was to stop al Qaeda using Iraq as a battleground in the war against the West? Or Hizbollah? Or even Hamas? Not to mention the Syrians and Iranians, who would persumably be terrified at the thought of an actual living, breathing democracy emerging in the monolithically repressive Arab world.

And what he said surprised me. If the terrorists leave us alone in Iraq, fine, he said. But if they come and get us, even better. Far more advantageous to fight terror using trained soldiers in Iraq than trying to defend civilians in New York or London. "Think of it as a flytrap," he ventured. Iraq would not simply be a test-case for Muslim democracy; it would be the first stage in a real and aggressive war against the terrorists and their sponsors in Ryadh and Damascus and Tehran. Operation Flytrap had been born.

... What else did president Bush mean when he challenged the terror-masters to "bring 'em on," in Iraq? Those are not the words of a man seeking merely to pacify a country, but to continue waging war against terrorism. On August 25, Donald Rumsfeld said to a group called the veterans of Foreign Wars: "In Iraq moreover wešre dealing not just with regime remnants but also with tens of thousands of criminals that were released from the jails by the regime before it fell, as well as terrorists and foreign fighters who have entered the country over the borders to try to oppose the Coalition. They pose a challenge to be sure but they also pose an opportunity because Coalition forces can deal with the terrorists now in Iraq instead of having to deal with those terrorists elsewhere, including the United States." ...

Well, whadd'ya know? Donald Rumsfeld also thought the foreign terrorists were there to oppose the US. They believe that their entire region and way of life is under seige and maybe that's because the world's only remaining superpower picked off one of the weakest governments in the region, then started waving big, swinging threats against neighboring Iran and Syria.

In fact, Hussein's Iraq could hardly have had any relationship with most of today's terrorists, for whom Iraq has become a primary training ground. Once again, emphasis mine:

Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

... President Bush has frequently described the Iraq war as an integral part of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. But the council's report suggests the conflict has also helped terrorists by creating a haven for them in the chaos of war. ...

So far, the limited amount of information available to anyone with internet access indicates that Lindberg's basic premise, particularly that the answer to these questions is unknowable, has been contradicted by the 9/11 commission report and the CIA. Both the Bush administration and members of Iraq's former Governing Council believe that the terrorists are there to opportunistically fight the US.

I heard an acquaintance argue the other day that the Iraq war was justified based on some kind of relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, though they too clarified that they didn't think it was anything to do with 9/11. The argument is as nebulous as it is ridiculous. There are any number of countries about which, through no active participation of any government or government sponsored organization, a similar case for invasion could be made.

It would probably be harder to come up with the name of a middle eastern country that wouldn't be overrun by opportunistic terrorists if it were invaded by the United States. Or what about a Muslim country that, given an invasion, wouldn't be inundated with fresh recruits from nearby, newly convinced that bin Laden was telling the truth when he said that America wanted any excuse to dominate Muslim countries. Do such countries exist in the region, even among those whose governments are now US allies?

It might seem that the only real unknowable quantity here is why the Bush administration decided to do something that had every likelihood of supporting al Qaida's recruiting goals. Or maybe, given a working relationship for which there's very solid evidence, the important unknown is why American troops aren't all over Sudan right now to punish their government for cooperating with al Qaida and putting an end to their humanitarian outrages.

Finally, there's the annoying claim that Iraq is Sunni. When Iraq was ruled by the Sunni Hussein, it was secular and members of other faiths (even Christianity) were able to rise to high positions. Now that Iraq is out from under Hussein, the nominal government is dominated by the majority Shi'ites in a tense alliance with the Kurds. To simplify the situation that way in a clumsy attempt to bolster your argument (Hey, they're Sunnis, just like bin Laden!) is pretty pathetic.

If people don't want to believe the truth and don't want to look at the facts, that doesn't mean they aren't out there.

Posted by natasha at August 9, 2005 04:51 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |