Bush, Iraq and the War on Terror
Q: Some commentators, both here in the United States and in Europe, were hoping that the President would present a more detailed position for action against Iraq. Some of the post-speech reaction is that the President said "nothing new" in Cincinnati. Do you think that President Bush strengthened the case that action needs to be taken against Iraq?
A: Well, I think that there were a couple of new elements in the speech, but I don't think that anything in it was strikingly new nor do I think anything was intended to be. I must also say that I don't think the President's remarks were directed at the Europeans, but rather at a domestic audience--the American people and the Congress. I believe he certainly began to lay out a stronger case in support of taking action against Iraq. Judging by the reaction of American politicians, what they are saying, it seems to me that he achieved that goal. The White House quite properly cautioned that this speech would not present a great deal of new material, and there was not much new in it--but it was a well laid-out case. What was new, however, was that President Bush essentially went through each of the arguments that has been presented as a reason for not taking action against Iraq, and addressed each one.
Q: In the last issue of In the National Interest, Michael O'Hanlon argued that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been "deliberately misleading the country about the presence of a 'smoking gun' link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda." (LINK: http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/vol1issue4OHanlon.html) Should the administration continue to draw the connections between the Iraqi regime and terrorism, or is it more productive to focus on Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction?
A: In my view, it is incontestable that Iraq has supported terrorism. Iraq has been on the State Department list of states that support terrorism for more than twenty years. At least two major terrorist groups have had their headquarters openly in Baghdad for most of that time--the Palestine Liberation Front and the Mujahedin-e Khalq. Moreover, as the President said last night, known international terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal have lived openly in Baghdad--in the case of Abu Abbas, more than twenty years, and Abu Nidal, for more than a decade. So it is incontestable that Iraq is a supporter of terrorism, and on that there is no disagreement. [NOTE: Public denunciation of Iraq's sponsorship of terrorism predates 9/11. The cases cited by the President were covered, for example, in the Patterns of Global Terrorism report for 2000, especially in the report's Overview, which can be accessed at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2000/2441.htm.]
It is also clear that there are reports --reports that are credible and that date back for the past decade--of meetings between Al-Qaeda and members of the Iraqi government. We know that Iraqi officials have helped to train members of Al-Qaeda in the use of biological and chemical weapons. So then you have the question of September 11.
I read Michael O'Hanlon's article, which I felt was very narrowly focused on the question of whether Iraq is, in some fashion, culpable for the September 11 attacks. That is a narrow question. Certainly, if you indeed had conclusive evidence of Iraqi sponsorship of that specific attack, you would certainly have a causus belli. However, in my view, it does not really have much bearing on the larger issue--there is more than sufficient evidence to establish Iraq's support of terrorism.
Indeed, I think O'Hanlon misses the point about the meeting in Prague [between the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, in April 2001], that he seems to dismiss offhand. For the last six months, people have gone back to the Czech Intelligence Service, over and over, and every time, the Czechs reply that they are positive that this meeting took place. To then implicitly call the Secretary of Defense a liar in the face of that seems a bit over the top. However, I must again reiterate that I think the whole article is a bit of a red herring. Its implication--that we should not pursue action against Iraq because we do not have proof that Saddam Hussein masterminded September 11--is incorrect. Saddam's support for terrorism is clear, it is documented, and it has been there for years. In fact, Saddam's support for terrorism has been going on for years, long before the whole issue of his weapons of mass destruction rose to the fore, which is, after all, a separate issue.
Q: Based on your assessment of the reactions to the speech, what happens now? Where do we go from here?
A: For more than three months, I have been saying that once the President made up his mind on Iraq, three things would happen. First, the President would have the complete support of his Cabinet. Second, he would have overwhelming support in the Congress to take action. Third, our allies would join us. I believe that even the Germans will find a way to participate, whether by sending military police or hospital units. The Europeans will be there.