November 23, 2005

True Believers

In the latest New Republic, Jason Zengerle has a lot of fun with Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard writer who's made a career out of insisting that Saddam Hussein really did have links with al-Qaeda. It's worth being clear about the various distinctions here, though. Hayes has tried to refute the idea that Saddam had "no" connection with al-Qaeda. He's probably right. It's hard to believe there weren't a few winks and nudges here and there. I certainly don't know. But what Hayes definitely hasn't shown was that there was a connection worth invading over, which, when you get down to it, is sort of the heart of the issue.

And it's a pretty high bar. Say al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein did have a "collaborative relationship," as Hayes alleges, and bin Laden was asking Iraq to hook him up with some Chinese mines, or whatever. Is this a "threat"? Sure, it could be. Are there ways of dealing with it short of invading Iraq? Of course. Disrupting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan would have, presumably, helped put a damper on any possible relationship. Catching bin Laden would have helped. Clamping down on terrorist finances, focusing intelligence on monitoring the relationship, tightening sanctions on Iraq, heck, making Saddam paranoid with messages that bin Laden is screwing his daughter. What do we spend $44 billion a year on if not for this?

I certainly don't know if those things would all work, we'd have to ask the experts, but surely invading Iraq isn't the only way to disrupt a "collaborative relationship." Not to mention the fact that the actual invasion appears to have strengthened al-Qaeda, so relationship or no, this wasn't really the optimal response. The case for war, meanwhile, was built around the suggestion that Saddam was going to hand bin Laden a nuclear bomb any day now. That would have raised harder questions about war, but it was always ridiculous, and as it turns out—even in Hayes' universe—wildly untrue.
-- Brad Plumer 6:20 PM || ||