OSAMA AND SADDAM….The continuing FUD campaign over Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda is endlessly frustrating ? and, frankly, probably not an argument that’s winnable for liberals. There’s just enough uncertainty about the whole thing that war opponents will never be able to produce a firm smoking gun showing that the administration is lying.

But let’s review the primary evidence anyway. First, the good news for the administration:

  • It’s true that the 9/11 commission didn’t say there was no relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda. They merely said there was no collaboration on attacks against the United States.

That’s a pretty thin, reed, though. After all, it’s attacks against America that the American public cares about.

What’s more, that’s the high point for Bush. The actual evidence even of “ties” ? a rather carefully chosen word ? is almost laughably thin. After intense scrutiny from every intelligence agency in the country, after a year of intensive high-level interrogations, and after a year of access to all of Saddam’s files, here are the primary pieces of evidence:

  • Bush himself says the “best evidence” is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but if this is the best they can do, they’re in big trouble. For starters, Zarqawi’s ties to al-Qaeda are questionable. Second, while it’s true that Zarqawi’s camp was in Iraq, it was in Kurdish territory, outside of Saddam’s control. And finally, although Zarqawi fled to Baghdad in 2002, there’s no evidence that Saddam even knew he was there, let alone cooperated with him ? and if we haven’t found any evidence by now, it’s just not there. There’s simply no good reason to think that Saddam had any kind of working relationship with Zarqawi.

    As Tony Blair said, Saddam may very well have had a “permissive environment” for terrorists, but that’s a description that could be applied to every single country in the region. It’s just meaningless.

  • Iraq had contacts with al-Qaeda in Sudan in 1994 and in Afghanistan in 1998. But if anything, this is evidence in Saddam’s favor, not against him. After all, the evidence indicates that al-Qaeda approached Iraq but Iraq turned them away. Second, even taken at face value, the most recent contact was six years ago. You don’t go to war over brief contacts half a decade in the past.

  • The latest news is that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a man implicated in the 9/11 plot, was a lieutenant colonel in the Fedayeen Saddam. But U.S. intelligence says it’s a case of two guys with the same name: “It’s very confusing, but it’s not the same guy.”

There are more bits and pieces, of course, but this is the guts of the case for cooperation. And remember: this is the best evidence, even after a year of free access to Saddam’s files and the interrogation of hundreds of high-ranking prisoners. The fact is that there’s just no case to be made.

Which explains why war supporters have been generally reduced to absurd arguments that the lack of good evidence is actually a reason to go to war ? an argument so Strangelovian that it demonstrates little except abject desperation.

And that’s pretty much where the administration is. After all, as one Bush advisor put it, “If you discount the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then you discount the proposition that it’s part of the war on terror. If it’s not part of the war on terror, then what is it ? some cockeyed adventure on the part of George W. Bush?”


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