'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Dick's Conspiracy Theory 

Over the past couple of months as it became increasingly clear that the neconservatives' big adventure had failed and that Iraq was becoming a dangerous bloody mess, Dick Cheney has made a habit of claiming there was a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network despite the lack of credible evidence supporting this conclusion.

Months ago he would justify his pet claim by referring to the so-called "Feith memo", a leaked classified message from Douglas Feith to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The memo was hyped by The Weekly Standard as the last word on the Hussein-Laden connection but it never achieved the Standard's intended goal of rendering Dick's pet conspiracy theory a tenable position -- the memo was quickly and accurately characterized as another example of the sort propaganda that's been flowing out of Feith's office since the run-up to Bush's War, propaganda of the cherry-picked and exaggerated intelligence variety, as Daniel Benjamin wrote in Slate

At best, [the Feith memo] records expressions of various individuals' wish for a better relationship between the two sides--a desire that does not appear to have been consummated. ... There was a lot of seeking and wanting going on, and perhaps there were even meetings. But the fact that meetings occurred has never been the issue--at least not among serious critics--nor has it been disputed that some jihadists lived in or traveled through Iraq. ... What is disputed is that the meetings went anywhere. It would not be surprising to find out that the two sides had a de facto cease-fire, as has been alleged. But we're still waiting to see real cooperation in the form of transfers of weapons and other materiel, know-how, or funds

Even the Pentagon wouldn't stand by the Standard's spin and it released the following statement on the subject:

News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq ... are inaccurate. [The Feith memo] was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and drew no conclusions.

But this didn't stop Cheney from standing by his favorite story; he just stopped trying to defend it by citing the discredited memo. After the 9/11 commission report concluded that "to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts [between Hussein and al Qaeda] ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship", Cheney began spinning furiously and really started making a fool out of himself. His reply to the above definitive statement made by the group that his own administration had authorized to investigate the matter was to simply ignore it, saying

[The 9/11 commission] did not spend a lot of time on these other issues. They've got one paragraph in the report that talks about that. And so the notion that you can take one paragraph from the 9/11 Commission and say, `Ah, therefore that says there was never a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.' It's just wrong. It's not true. I'd love to go on on all of this stuff, but the fact of the matter is there clearly was a relationship there.

and Cheney is right, there was a relationship there: the two adversarial entities, Iraq and al Qaeda, had a few tentative meetings to decide whether to pursue a collaborative relationship and decided not to. Nothing more substantive is supported by the available intelligence -- of course, it is impossible to prove a negative assertion so Cheney's continued insistence that an operative connection existed is similar to insisting that elves exist because no one can prove that they don't.

But this whole little political circus took another turn today ... apparently back when Cheney first started telling his tall tale months ago, he asked the CIA to review the intelligence on the subject and produce a report, well the CIA has completed the requested investigation and, you guessed it,

The new assessment follow[ed] the independent Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between the former Iraqi regime and bin Laden's terrorist network.

according to Knight-Ridder today. I haven't yet seen Cheney's response to the report, but based on his past behavior, his lack of shame in publicly maintaining a belief that simply is not corroborated by the available facts, I have no doubt that Cheney will continue to endorse his conspiracy theory.

Yesterday, however, as reported by the AFP, Rumsfeld jumped ship, stating

To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.

contradicting previous statements of his which situated him squarely as a drinker of the neoconservative Kool-Aid; for example, on 9/27/2002 Rumsfeld said

We have what we consider to be credible evidence that al Qaeda leaders have sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction capabilities

But Rummy's political conversion didn't last long. After the above statement hit the press he attempted to back pedal issuing the following on the Pentagon's website claiming that his previous statement was "misunderstood":

I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq ... Today at the Council, I even noted that 'when I'm in Washington, I pull out a piece of paper and say ``I don't know, because I'm not in that business, but I'll tell you what the CIA thinks'' and I read it'.

So maybe Rummy and Cheney can still be friends...

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