The United States is ill prepared for what Saddam might do, as we take him down. The problem is circular, and the greatest danger is biological terrorism. The government cannot propose civil-defense measures without alarming the public — and that creates difficulties, including a loss of support for war with Iraq.
Pretty much the only way the administration can explain the dangers in the war coming, prepare the population to deal with them, and retain support is to explain clearly the reasons for this war. It certainly includes Iraq’s proscribed weapons — but it also includes strong suspicions of Iraq’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
People generally believe that the U.S. bureaucracies have been scouring their data bases for evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda, but that is not so. Those who made the mistakes that led to 9/11, including individuals within the CIA, remain hostile to acknowledging that link. One example: Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al Qaeda prisoner, has said there was no formal cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda, but the two worked together on numerous occasions. Those who do not want to see a link focus on the first part of the statement — no formal cooperation — and ignore the rest. The result endangers us all.
George Bush inherited a difficult situation. He understands Iraq was probably involved in 9/11. Already on September 17, Bush affirmed, “I believe Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now,” as Bob Woodward’s Bush at War reveals (this is not a criminal trial; there is no presumption of innocence; and the requisite standard is much lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”)
That is why Bush is so fixed on removing Saddam. The war, however, was split in two: al Qaeda and then Iraq. But the administration is inhibited from fully explaining the reasons for the war’s second phase. Under Bill Clinton, the notion was developed that a new form of highly lethal terrorism had come into existence that did not involve states. The bureaucrats who formulated that concept remain committed to it.
Indeed, that concept — which contravenes previous assumptions about major terrorist attacks directed at U.S. targets — was challenged even during the Clinton years. According to former White House staffers, Steve Simon and David Benjamin, their boss, Richard Clarke, ordered an inquiry then into whether any state was involved with al Qaeda. “No evidence” was found.
“No evidence” is an easy evasion. If you don’t look vigorously for such information, you may not find it. Writing about the debate within the CIA, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland explains that information does indeed exist linking Iraq and al Qaeda, but it was “quietly buried during the Clinton years, when the need not to know very much about Iraq and terrorism was very strong.”
Whenever a senior U.S. official affirms there is an Iraqi-al Qaeda link, an avalanche of leaks to the contrary follows, like “Alleged Al-Qaida Ties Questioned,” a Washington Post report that appeared after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the Security Council (there is not one named source in the article). CIA Director George Tenet’s recent Senate testimony, which also cited Iraqi-al Qaeda ties, prompted similar leaks. As a Pentagon official remarked, “These guys have no loyalty.”
Or their loyalty is to themselves. Our Founding Fathers held a pessimistic view of human beings and that pessimism infuses our constitutional and legal systems. We don’t expect anyone to be a judge in his own case. So why expect this situation to be any different? New York Times columnist William Safire says it is only an “angry minority,” which is responsible for the leaks, bent on justifying “years of mistaken estimates.”
This situation is intolerable, because the consequences could be so awful. Iraq has a dangerous biological-weapons program, as Powell’s presentation made clear. We need to protect ourselves.
If the administration were to lay out all the evidence it has linking Iraq to al Qaeda, including the 9/11 attacks, it could also explain that the U.S. has no choice but to finish off Saddam — he is already at war with us. Saddam is likely to use biological agents against us, whether we attack him now or not. If we take the initiative, the casualties, if they occur, will be much less, than if we had left the initiative to him.
On many radio talk shows, I have explained this situation and the dangers it creates. Sometimes the hosts are unable to understand, as it is so contrary to their view of how Washington works. But when they can, they are stunned. Indeed, one interviewer remarked that it is so mindless, as to be almost unbelievable.
If the public were properly informed, we could take the necessary civil-defense measures. They would include quickly vaccinating health workers against smallpox, so if the worst happens, they are ready (the vaccine might even be made available to the public, as Vice President Dick Cheney urged).
Bush’s commitment to the defense of the American people is beyond question. He has made a courageous and necessary decision to take out Saddam, but his strategic boldness is compromised by the “posterior-covering” of defensive bureaucrats. No one would be more grief stricken than Bush himself, if at the end of the war coming, he were to look back at the terrible attacks that had occurred on U.S. soil, and wonder whether, if he had done more to protect them, those American lives would not have been lost. To be able to do all he can to defend this country, Bush must first discipline those in the bureaucracies that stand in his way, so the administration can properly explain the reasons for this war to the American people.
— Laurie Mylroie is the author of The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks; A Study of Revenge. Mylroie is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.