When the U.S. Congress first authorized the use of force against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist army in a joint resolution adopted September 14, 2001, the bottom-line-money paragraph stated: “The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons . . . ” The italics are mine.
Official language is important. In particular, the word “harbored” is essential as the political debate heats up over President Bush’s coming request that we take military action against Iraq. In his great speech of Sept. 20, 2001, Bush coined the phrase, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Recent developments in Iraq and Iran suggest that al Qaeda — the perpetrators of the terror of Sept. 11 — is alive and significantly well. Even worse, al Qaeda is regrouping and recovering in new bases and safe harbors granted by Iraq and Iran. This means those countries stand in violation of U.S. wartime policy.
This is a scary and disturbing scenario but one that has been reported by a number of reliable sources. And because of these new reports it will be essential that the Bush administration, in its discussions of Saddam Hussein’s growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, not take its eye off the al Qaeda ball. In fact, the most politically potent argument for action against Iraq is quite simply that al Qaeda operatives are being backed and harbored by that country and its geographical neighbor Iran.
It is this thought that must not be lost in the increasingly technical and esoteric arguments over Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of weapons. The clearest and most present danger is that terrorists within the borders of Iraq and Iran are in all likelihood planning and plotting additional attacks against the families, businesses, buildings, ports, public utilities, hotels, restaurants, and freedoms of the United States. These are al Qaeda terrorists, the ones responsible for 3,000 deaths a year ago.
A recent article in the International Herald Tribune reports that Kurdish leaders in Iraq have failed in an attempt to drive al Qaeda out of a mountain stronghold in a northeastern part of the country. Bill Gertz of the Washington Times writes that Arab terrorists linked to the al Qaeda network have tested chemical or biological weapons at a facility in northern Iraq. Bush administration intelligence officials corroborate this, pointing to a group known as Ansar al-Islam.
The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported brilliantly on Ansar al-Islam last winter. This is a group of several hundred terrorists who were initially trained and organized by bin Laden troops and co-financed by al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Today their chests swell in the north of Iraq. Defense officials, meanwhile, say they were initially surprised at the large number and senior rank of the al Qaeda operatives moving into Iraq.
The Washington Post’s Peter Finn has reported that al Qaeda members are being sheltered in guest houses in the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Zabol. It is also reported that Iran has moved large quantities of al Qaeda gold from Afghanistan to the Sudan.
This new evidence supports Michael Ledeen’s view in his excellent new book, The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen argues convincingly that major terror groups are coming together as an integrated network. This puts al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and other PLO-groups all in the same dangerous pot.
And Ledeen points out that these groups are being aided and abetted by the “terror masters” — namely Iran, Iraq, and Syria who foster, arm, and train these terrorists, and Saudi Arabia, the financier. These are the safe-harboring states who shield enemies of the United States. And violate American war policy.
A year ago this was the logic as stated by President George W. Bush and agreed to by Congress, the majority of Americans, and people all over the world. There must be no safe-harboring of terrorists. Given new evidence of the regrouping, rebasing, rearming, and refinancing of al Qaeda and its terrorist cousins, there can be no question that the president should frame the Iraq argument with this exact same logic.
More, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had it exactly right when he told reporters in late August that “in a vicious, repressive dictatorship that exercises near total control over its population, it’s very hard to imagine that the government is not aware of what’s taking place in the country.” Iraq is certainly aware of the harbor it gives.
Yes, the reason Iraq is the first target under discussion rather than Iran or Syria is that its leader has developed weapons of mass destruction and we cannot afford to let him get us before we get him. But the loss of thousands of lives at the hand of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda remains the emotional rallying point for America, so long as President Bush taps into this vein.
We first hit al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the job is unfinished. They must be wiped out wherever they may be found. If the war against this evil takes us to Iraq, Iran, or other states, then so be it. The defense of American freedom and democracy can know no geographic boundaries.