Thursday, October 07, 2004

Newsweek lays and egg

Gosh, where to begin. I must admit that I felt tired immediately after reading the Newsweek article, Rewriting History, because the authors are bent primarily on dismantling the administration and not on trying to determine the real history of this war. I’m a self-admitted pro-Bush hack. The writers of the Newsweek article, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, are award-winning journalists and, therefore, assume an air of objectivity and authority. They’ve been on the terrorism beat professionally for years and they have access to resources I don’t. And yet, if I may be so bold, these two fellows wrote an article that from the very first sentence is anything but objective or authoritative.

“With virtually all of the administration’s original case for war in Iraq in tatters…” Tatters? Hardly. Even by the article’s own admission, several of the “original” arguments are true: Iraq was recognized as a state sponsor of terror, it harbored Abu Nidal in Baghdad & it paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers $25K. Those facts aren’t disputed. However, the authors seem to believe that these are insignificant because Syria was a sponsor of terror, Abu Nidal was killed before the war and several other Arab countries supported the families of suicide bombers. Granted, because Syria is a state sponsoring terror it would be foolish to press Iraq’s sponsorship of terror to them to get them to pass a resolution. But does that make it less of a concern for the U.S.? Or that Saudi Arabia assists the families of suicide bombers? As for Abu Nidal, the fact that we knew he was in Baghdad is significant because Saddam’s willingness to deal with such a character (regardless of whether he ultimately had him killed) strongly suggests that Saddam is very capable of associating and using terrorists.

I don’t understand the angle that because you put one argument for the war in front of the others that the others lose their value. God forbid that the administration craft its arguments in such a way as to actually win support in the U.N. or even among the American people! (Incidentally, there’s a reason why the WMD argument rose to the forefront, and it wasn’t entirely the doing of the Bush administration – but that can be discussed later).
The article states:

“But except for the allegation about Iraqi ties to al Qaeda – a claim that is now more in question than ever – the other examples cited by Cheney in Tuesday night’s debate never have been previously emphasized by Bush administrations officials, and for good reasons.”

The article then goes on to relate Powell’s case before the Security Council and what he didn’t mention. Big deal. Powell was relating his case to the resolutions, so it naturally focused on WMDs. And suggesting that allegations about Iraqi ties to al Qaeda are now questioned more than ever is not entirely true. For the most part, it has been the same people who have dismissed these ties all along, with a few stray quotes from some other officials thrown into the mix.

The article erroneously states that the September 11th Commission “concluded there was no ‘collaborative operational relationship’ between Iraq and al Qaeda.” The commission never said that. Here’s the full quote from the report from page 66:

“But to date we have seen no evidence that these or earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relation. Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any contacts against the United States.”

That is different than what the article says they said. First, the role of the 9/11 Commission was not to find ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, but to assess the pre 9/11 intelligence situation. As such, their job is not to validate or invalidate such a connection. Second, the Commission found no evidence regarding an operational connection, but they did not conclude there was not one. How could they?

The article then discusses Zarqawi. That Zarqawi received medical treatment in Baghdad is not really questioned. Personally, I consider that, in and of itself, harboring a terrorist. Somehow, the authors think that because Zarqawi went first to Iran, he must therefore not have a consequential relationship with Iraq. And because he supervised a poison facility in the Kurdish north, that it must not have had anything to do with Saddam. Absurd! The article doesn’t explain that the Kurdish group in that area was at odds with other Kurd factions and had some relations with Saddam. Also, Iranians don’t like Kurds either. Does that mean that Zarqawi’s visit to Iran was insignificant? To believe the way the authors believe, you would have to think it is impossible for two groups unfriendly with each other to ever form an alliance. But history proves time and again that this is not true.

The article is harsh on Cheney for saying that “I have not suggested there’s no connection between Iraq and 9/11.” The authors think he did make such a suggestion because he referred to the Mohammed Atta’s meeting in Prague with Iraqi intelligence officials in April 2001. The article again misrepresents the 9/11 Commission report when it says the commission debunked the allegation when the panel found “abundant evidence that Atta was actually in the United States at the time the rendezvous supposedly took place.” First, there was no debunking. The commission was unable to confirm or deny the allegation. The “abundant evidence” suggesting the allegation was false is not abundant at all. The report says that the Czech intelligence claim is from a single eye-witness source and that the Czech intelligence agency says that they are 70% certain of the claim.

The “abundant evidence” to the contrary is from the FBI:

1) On 4/4 there is a photo of Atta from a surveillance camera in Virginia Beach, FL.
2) On 4/6, 4/9, 4/10 & 4/11 there is cell phone activity from Coral Springs, FL on Atta cell phone account.

Neither the U.S. or the Czech Republic was able to find a paper trail of Atta leaving or arriving either country during that time. They do not know if he used an alias, but cite that he didn’t during previous trips. (Of course, if I was meeting with Iraqi intelligence, I would make an exception to my normal practices and try to go about the meeting in an inconspicuous way).

Regarding the cell phone activity, the report states:

“We cannot confirm that he [Atta] placed those calls.”

The report later says:

“…These findings cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Atta was in Prague on April 9, 2001.”

The report also says:

“The available evidence does not support the original Czeck report of an Atta-Ani meeting.”

Cheney was wrong when he said in 2001 that the Czech claim was “pretty well confirmed…” but he was correct when he later said “we’ve never been able to develop anymore of the yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.” Regardless, though, saying that Atta met with Iraqis does not mean that Iraqis were involved in the attacks. But it does raise questions of such involvement.

I’ve never claimed to put much stock, if any, in the 9/11 Report because I thought it was held too soon and was bound to be hip deep in politics, pro and anti Bush. However, alarm bells go off in my head every time that I hear it wrongly used to suggest Bush lied. Likewise, knowing that we have a mountain of Iraqi documents that have been un-translated, I find it hard to understand how Charles Duelfer, in his recent report, can conclude, according to the article, “once and for all that Iraq had no chemical weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion.” Is the weapon inspector so certain that the stockpiles were destroyed after the first war?

The article also suggests that the recent report from Duelfer claims that Saddam’s nuke program was not being reconstituted but was actually decaying. A previous story on the same subject said the report indicated it was dormant. Which is it?

Quite frankly, I take what comes out of these reports with a grain of salt. Again, I’ll say that I don’t think our intelligence failed in Iraq. What strikes me, though, is how little they know for sure, before the war and after. That’s part and parcel of the intelligence game. There are always questions and misconceptions and false information, etc. when dealing with intelligence. Playing the hindsight game with our intelligence in order to dismantle the reasons for the war is a fool’s game and is counter-productive for the success of the war. An objective analysis is one thing, but that is not was the authors of this article are striving for. It doesn’t matter that they try to balance their story with chaff in the form of Edward’s false claims. Their main goal is to paint Cheney as a liar and it doesn’t seem to matter to them that they have to be deceptive in order to do it.

Unfortunately, the way the world works, the administration cannot adequately defend the nation using only foolproof evidence from our intelligence agencies that will stand up in court. Bush had to base his decision on what was known, what was thought to be known and what was not known. He had to consider Saddam’s and al Qaeda’s hatred of the U.S., their past behavior, etc. That several states in the Middle East support terror doesn’t mean you can’t go after one in particular. It’s also not necessarily wise to go after one state over another because you believe their ties to terror are closer. At least Bush has his eye on the whole region when dealing with Iraq. His critics don’t. He recognizes that taking out Saddam is vital in reforming the region. It puts us in a better position to deal with Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the rest of region. That’s why we went to war before Iraq was an imminent threat.

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