I was asked my opinion on The Pentagon Report on Saddam’s connections (or not) with Al Quaeda. I can’t remember a document in recent history concerning the war which has been spun so severely in two separate directions. Part of the problem was someone leaked the document to the press before it was finished, and the leaked version is a draft and incomplete. It’s about a year too new. ABC News and Washington Post had “the scoop“, for whatever it was worth, and host the leaked (draft) copy. Their conclusion was a fairly predictable “Bush was wrong, this whole thing was a lie”.
Going the other direction, The Weekly Standard actually quoted significant portions of the final copy (and irked me by not linking to it) and came to the basic conclusion that there was a de facto link between Saddam and Al Quaeda by the Egyption Islamic Jihad. This, in my mind, is closest to the truth since the Egyption Islamic Jihad became part of Al Quaeda. Saddam also funded several other groups including Hamas.
The basic thorny problem remains that terrorism groups aren’t sovereign nations. Even in the case of Hamas where they took over a government, theres a lot of yahoos out there who claim to be Hamas and simply don’t answer the Command and Control structure of Hamas (if there is a thing). You run into the same problem with Al Quaeda and the EIJ and whoever else you’re dealing with. Bin Laden isn’t their king, and they don’t answer to the UN or basically anyone. It’s a bunch of angry adults acting like kids and if they weren’t firing rockets randomly into Israel (and accidentally hitting Syria in the process) they would be on par with PETA. Part of the problem is our own design – the government has always fought wars against nations and the idea of having this faceless, diffuse insurgency doesn’t neatly match the model of 1945 Germany. But it also doesn’t match the model of Vietnam, where the civilians themselves were communists and working entirely against us. Sparta comes to mind for this model – there was no standing army, there were just the North Vietnamese. Even then, the Vietnamese government had a figurehead. Sparta had their king. Al Quaeda has an endless supply of angry youths and a guy holed up in a cave with spotty cellphone reception.
Really we’re past the idea that this is a bad thing, and we all understand we need to deal with it. It took five guys in an airplane to wipe two Japanese cities off the map in an atomic fireball and it took five guys in an airplane to bring down the World Trade Center. We’re in it if we want to be or not, it’s just the march of technology. Going back to the question – Was Saddam linked to terrorism? – if you look at examples in history, I would say that he was and it was just as important to go after him as it would be to go after Ahminajad in Iran and Bin Laden. New rulers may step up but if you can disorganize things enough, you destroy the organization they have built. Could the crew of the Enola Gay have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan without a whole crew of mechanics and nuclear scientists working under them? No. Could the hijackers on September 11th have gotten where they did without an extensive network of passports and a pile of money? No. If we go after the big fish, Saddam, Bin Laden, Ahminajad and push them into hiding or at very least disrupt their channels, we can work to reduce the risk of big events like nuclear terrorism and such happening. Will there still be small stuff? Sure, but the small stuff is happening oceans away. We just need to work on keeping it oceans away rather than abandoning things wholesale.
If you’re interested in the Pentagon Report (the final version, not the ABC/WaPo draft), you can read it here.