TOUGH ON TERROR?….A year ago Dan Drezner asked a question: since we knew at the time that (a) Abu Musab Zarqawi and the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was connected to al-Qaeda, (b) they had camps in the Halabja Valley in northern Iraq, and (c) the area in question was in the American-patrolled no-fly zone and not under Saddam Hussein’s control, why not mount an attack on it?

Given the obvious link between achieving this objective and the war on terror, and given the assertions by France and others that credible evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda would justify use of force, would the Security Council be willing to approve U.S. military action in this area?….This would be an excellent test of where exactly the French and Germans stand. Is their opposition to Iraq based on a blind determination to counter U.S. power, or is there some nuance to their stance?

Unfortunately, it turns out it wasn’t France and Germany we had to worry about. It was George Bush:

In June 2002…the Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp [but]….the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council….The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it….The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi?s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

Unlike Saddam, Zarqawi really was developing poisons such as ricin and cyanide for use in terrorist attacks in the West and elsewhere. But we hesitated to take action because destroying the Ansar al-Islam camps might have been inconvenient for George Bush’s speechwriters.

Zarqawi has reportedly killed at least 700 people since then. But it might be many more. We will probably never know for sure how many people died at his hands because of George Bush’s uncertainty in the face of danger.

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