On March 13, the Pentagon released a detailed study (pdf) confirming “no direct link between late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda network.” The report, which involved the examination of some 600,000 Iraqi government documents and thousands of hours of interrogations of former Hussein regime employees, concluded:
In the period after the 1991 Gulf War, the regime of Saddam Hussein supported a complex and increasingly disparate mix of pan-Arab revolutionary causes and emerging pan-Islamic radical movements. The relationship between Iraq and the forces of pan-Arab socialism was well known and was in fact one of the defining qualities of the Ba’ath movement.
But the relationships between Iraq and the groups advocating radical pan-Islamic doctrines are much more complex. This study found no “smoking gun” (i.e. direct connection) between Saddam’s Iraq and Al-Qaeda.
Nevertheless, some conservatives have, bizarrely, tried to cast the report as a vindication of their wild theories about a Saddam-Al Qaeda alliance. Stephen Hayes, who has built a career on promoting the theory of a Saddam-Al Qaeda “connection” accused the Washington Post of “sowing confusion” for noting that the report indicated no ‘operational relationship’ between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Hayes insists that “the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda need not have been ‘operational’ to have warranted military action to eliminate it.”
Hayes’s Weekly Standard colleague Thomas Joscelyn argued that “it is clear that Saddam saw his support for [terror] organizations in the context of striking his enemies, especially Americans,” and thus that the stated goals of both Saddam and Al Qaeda to “hunt Americans” amounted to a relationship.
On Thursday, Richard Perle attempted a similar sleight-of-hand on the Charlie Rose program. He argued that Saddam’s intelligence officers had “relationships with organization affiliated with Al Qaeda.” Watch it:
Today, the Wall Street Journal placed itself firmly among the conspiracy theorists with an editorial claiming that the new report “buttress[es] the case that the decision to oust Saddam was the right one“:
Five years on, few Iraq myths are as persistent as the notion that the Bush Administration invented a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Yet a new Pentagon report suggests that Iraq’s links to world-wide terror networks, including al Qaeda, were far more extensive than previously understood.
Naturally, it’s getting little or no attention. Press accounts have been misleading or outright distortions, while the Bush Administration seems indifferent. Even John McCain has let the study’s revelations float by. But that doesn’t make the facts any less notable or true.
The editorial goes on to claim that the new report is “inconvenient…for those who want to assert that somehow Saddam could have been easily contained and presented no threat to the U.S.” Leaving aside whether anyone has claimed that Saddam presented “no threat,” the point is that we now know that Saddam didn’t represent nearly the threat that the Bush administration claimed, and that Saddam’s “relationship” with Al Qaeda amounted to little more than a shared hatred of the United States.
More to the point: Does anybody seriously believe that if the report had demonstrated a significant Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, as the Wall Street Journal claims, that Bush administration officials would not trumpet that fact from the rooftops? Of course they would. But, as even the Bush administration now knows, there was no significant connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda; those who argued that there was are now exposed as dissemblers and frauds, and they are very upset about it.
PERLE: When you look at the actual report, what it concludes is that Saddam’s intelligence had connections with terrorists all over the place.
ROSE: But that’s not Al Qaeda. I understand the differences but it’s not Al Qaeda. The issue here is Al Qaeda, was it not?
PERLE: It included relationships with organization affiliated with Al Qaeda. Any number of such organizations.
ROSE: Affiliated In what way?
PERLE: In the way that they were supporting individuals who were part of organizations that were linked to Al Qaeda.