I have always been agnostic about the Saddam – al Qaeda connection stuff. I never thought it was particularly central to the case for invasion. I still feel that way. But it’s at least worth noting that if the press is going to launch into a riot of fingerwagging at the administration on this score, we might as well remember their own not insignifcant role in all this. Here’s an except from ABC News from January 14, 1999 (when someone else was President, by the way):
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) It is a sensitive time for the Taliban. They are looking for international recognition, but bin Laden is getting in the way. There is other pressure. The Saudis, long-time allies of the Taliban, cut off diplomatic relations and, more important, the flow of funds.
The Taliban begins suggesting they might put him on trial as a solution to their problem. The pressure is affecting his whole network. By September 23, this man, sent to London to spread bin Laden’s message, has been arrested and alleged to be part of bin Laden’s conspiracies.
In Germany, Mamdouh Salim, alleged to be a key military advisor and believed to be privy to bin Laden’s most secret projects, is also apprehended. The U.S. government alleges he was under secret orders to procure enriched uranium for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons. These are allegations bin Laden does not now deny.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims. But how we could use these weapons if we possess them is up to us.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) With an American price on his head, there weren’t many places bin Laden could go, unless he teamed up with another international pariah, one also with an interest in weapons of mass destruction.
VINCE CANNISTRARO: Osama believes in “the enemy of my enemy is my friend and is someone I should cooperate with.” That’s certainly the current case with Iraq.
SHEILA MACVICAR: (voice-over) Saddam Hussein has a long history of harboring terrorists. Carlos the Jackal, Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, the most notorious terrorists of their era, all found shelter and support at one time in Baghdad. Intelligence sources say bin Laden’s long relationship with the Iraqis began as he helped Sudan’s fundamentalist government in their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Three weeks after the bombing, on August 31, bin Laden reaches out to his friends in Iraq and Sudan. Iraq’s vice president arrives in Khartoum to show his support for the Sudanese after the U.S. attack. ABC News has learned that during these meetings, senior Sudanese officials acting on behalf of bin Laden ask if Saddam Hussein would grant him asylum.
(on camera) Iraq was, indeed, interested. ABC News has learned that in December, an Iraqi intelligence chief, named Farouk Hijazi, how Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey, made a secret trip to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden. Three intelligence agencies tell ABC News they cannot be certain what was discussed, but almost certainly, they say, bin Laden has been told he would be welcome in Baghdad.
(voice-over) And intelligence sources say they can only speculate on the purpose of an alliance. What could bin Laden offer Saddam Hussein? Only days after he meets Iraqi officials, bin Laden tells ABC News that his network is wide, and there are people prepared to commit terror in his name who he does not even control.
OSAMA BIN LADEN: (through translator) It is our job to incite and to instigate. By the grace of God, we did that, and certain people responded to this instigation.