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March 25, 2006

Iraq

Blind to Saddam: Past Disinterest in Terror Ties

By Steve Schippert | March 25, 2006

A disturbing portrait of American disinterest in Saddam Hussein's ties to international terrorism is beginning to take shape with the Joint Forces Command study, called the Iraqi Perspectives Project, and the current continuing release of Iraqi documents ferreted during the invasion and after the fall of Baghdad. Stephen Hayes continues to assume point in the effort to understand Saddam's ties and his latest in The Weekly Standard, Camp Saddam, illustrates what became, quite bluntly, a path to ignorance.

It is early, but the emerging picture suggests that the U.S. intelligence community underestimated Saddam Hussein's interest in terrorism. One U.S. intelligence official, identified only as an "IC analyst" in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on Iraq, summarized the intelligence community's view on Iraq and terrorism with disarming candor: "I don't think we were really focused on the CT [counterterrorism] side, because we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks. It wasn't until we realized that there was the possibility of going to war that we had to get a handle on that." [Emphasis Added]

(The Iraqi Perspectives Project [full report] can be downloaded here.)

That mindset was and is inexcusable. Recall also from the 9/11 Commission exchanges, among pundits and politicians alike, that it seemed as if there were a predisposed position that Saddam Hussein could not possibly have had any ties to terrorism, let alone 9/11. Every tie that was brought up, it seemed, was summarily dismissed or brushed aside.

Opponents of the Iraq invasion consistently cited (inaccurately) the 9/11 Commission report as saying there were no links between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. What the report actually said was that there were no known links. As Stephen Hayes’ column clearly demonstrates, can there be any question as to why?

This is not to declare that Hussein was (or was not) a principle actor behind the 9/11 attacks. Rather, it is to suggest that it is plainly obvious that not much was known period. To quote the 'IC analyst' in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, "we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks."

Brushed aside were clear indicators, such as Saddam’s open payment to the families of suicide bombers in the Palestinian Territories and satellite images of an airliner fuselage and passenger railway cars at the Salman Pak terror training camp.

Often cited as well is the assumption that, because Saddam was a secularist tyrant and bin Laden a puritanical religious fanatic, the two were enemies and therefore would never have collaborated. This shallow position fails to appreciate the bonding effect of a common enemy, Israel and the United States. For instance, the Sunnis, such as al-Qaeda, also view Shi’ites as apostates. Yet, Iran is harboring about 25 of al-Qaeda’s top leadership and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ child, Hezbollah, is coordinating operations with not only the Shi’ite Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but also the Sunni al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. Iran has vowed to fund Hamas in the absence of any international aid and also financed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to the tune of $1.8 million just this past February, illustrating that the pre-conceived Western assumptions of who is friend and who is foe are grounded in error.

At times with some, it appears as if there is a desire not to see certain connections, including any between Saddam and international terrorism, for the inconvenience it would present to strident positions such as opposition to the Iraq invasion or the refusal to consider it part of the War on Terror.

When politics enters the sphere of intelligence, objective analysis flies out the window. The 9/11 Commission was an open political exercise. What lies before us is an opportunity to avoid repeating that disservice to understanding. What is needed is independent and objective study, not bi-partisan review.

These documents being released deserve an independent, coordinated and objective study. No, they demand it. This can only be accomplished outside the Beltway, far removed from elected officials and their committees and far removed from agencies who may be predisposed to prove or disprove a given set(s) of data or past presentations and positions.

It should not be about who is right, but rather about what is right. Let the facts fall where they may.

Provided that these documents will eventually be released in full, that opportunity now lies before us. We should not allow it to be squandered.

March 19, 2006

Iran

In Defense of Iran: Eyes Wide Shut

By Steve Schippert | March 19, 2006

Let me ask you a question: Is terrorism a major threat?

Let me ask you another question: Is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism then, logically, also a threat?

Why is it then that, with regards to Iran’s largely clandestine nuclear program, some insist on justifying the Iranian program as a matter of fair and just self-defense? Why is it that the decades of global carnage generated by the regime behind the sprint toward nuclear weapons is forgotten - nay seemingly forgiven – in misguided and persistent nihilistic attempts at laying the horrors and misgivings of Iran’s reign of terror squarely upon America’s doorstep?

In Why Iran Wants a Bomb, Richard Reeves does precisely that. He opens with a simple question, offers a simple answer, and then attempts to justify it with clouded and illogically nuanced moral equivalence.

Let me ask you a question: If you were running Iran, would you try to develop nuclear weapons? I would. Apparently the editors of the Los Angeles Times would also answer "Yes."

The lead editorial in Friday’s Times was comment on the release of the U.S. government’s latest "National Security Strategy." That’s the one in which President Bush’s introduction begins, "America is at war," and then goes on to specifically name Iran as an enemy of the United States. The document also reiterates the U.S. commitment to pre-emptive or preventive war.

Mr. Reeves is referring to an editorial titled Strategic Error in The Los Angeles Times, which was highly critical of the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy - 2006.

Of course Mr. Reeves and those who think like him would build a bomb. He views the Iranian regime as benign…or at least they would be if it weren’t for such aggressive and provocative words from the American President.

One wonders where Mr. Reeves has been spending his time for the past 27 years since the 1979 Iranian revolution that swept a brutal theocratic dictatorship into rule. Perhaps he missed the torture, imprisonment and slaughter of thousands of Iranians who dared (and dare) to merely speak in opposition to their leadership, just as he does comfortably and without fear.

Perhaps he missed the Iranian creation of Hezbollah. Quite possibly, then, he also missed the bombing of the American embassy and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, with a combined 341 killed, not all bodies fully recoverable. Escaping him also must have been the kidnap and often torture and murder of 18 Americans between 1982 and 1991, the hijacking of a TWA Flight 847 and the murder of an American Navy diver on that flight for the crime of being an American Navy diver.

He must have also missed the bombing of the American embassy annex in Kuwait City in 1983. Four more bodies to avert his eyes from.

Buenos Aries? Surely he caught those bombings. An Israeli embassy and a Jewish-Muslim Mutual Association building. Both blown to bits through the long arm of Iran’s Hezbollah.

The 1997 Khobar Towers bombing had Iranian fingerprints all over it, and its investigation revealed Iranian fingerprints back to the 1995 Riyadh bombing of an American military complex. All told, 26 more shattered corpses to overlook.

Curiously missed must have been the September 1997 Tehran conference of ‘Liberation Movements’. The purpose: Cooperation and coordination of the various disparate Islamic terror groups for a concerted jihad effort worldwide. Iran brought around one big table the leadership of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, their child Hezbollah, as well as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, and a certain Egyptian by the name of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Just five months later, in February of 1998, that same Egyptian and Osama bin Laden created the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews, with al-Qaeda serving as its backbone - following the cooperative vision inspired at least in part by the Tehran conference.

Perhaps he missed that and all that followed.

The world’s 4th leading oil exporter is undeniably the world’s 1st leading exporter of international terrorism. This point cannot be argued, it can only be missed. Somehow.

It is, after all, America’s fault. If we would simply not fly in planes, not work in embassies, house our military in barracks, go to work in skyscrapers or write National Security Policies that dare to stand tall and resolute in defense of such daring ventures as these.

So, Mr. Reeves would build a nuclear bomb if he were running Iran. The aggressive words of President Bush would compel him to do so and, of course, clearly notwithstanding are the murderous actions of the state he would be running.

March 5, 2006

India

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

By Steve Schippert | March 5, 2006

President Bush's decision to agree to nuclear cooperation with India has drawn fire from more than a few. Most notable, however, is the fire drawn from the New York Times' editorial board, who declares that Bush is Iran's Best Friend. The editors assert that agreeing to nuclear cooperation with India is an inconsistent and wrong message to send. Predictably, The Times stops for a lengthy layover in Iraq enroute to India.

At the rate that President Bush is going, Iran will be a global superpower before too long. For all of the axis-of-evil rhetoric that has come out of the White House, the reality is that the Bush administration has done more to empower Iran than its most ambitious ayatollah could have dared to imagine. Tehran will be able to look back at the Bush years as a golden era full of boosts from America, its unlikely ally.

During the period before the Iraq invasion, the president gave lip service to the idea that Iran and Iraq were both threats to American security. But his advisers, intent on carrying out their long-deferred dream of toppling Saddam Hussein, gave scant thought to what might happen if their plans did not lead to the unified, peaceful, pro-Western democracy of their imaginings. The answer, though, is now rather apparent: a squabbling, divided country in which the Shiite majority in the oil-rich south finds much more in common with its fellow Shiites in Iran than with the Sunni Muslims with whom it needs to form an Iraqi government.

For two more paragraphs (4 of 7), The Times laments Bush's decision to remove Saddam Hussein before mentioning the US-Indian nuclear cooperation.

The point eventually made by The Times is not invalid. To be sure, agreeing to nuclear cooperation with a country that has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is without question inconsistent, especially considering the current Iranian nuclear crisis before us.

However, to assert that this amounts to making Bush the best friend Iran could have is so loaded with partisan rhetoric as to render it mute.

This is not an example of 'diplomatic nuance'. Rather, it is diplomatic simplicity. Call it a 'market correction' in the economy of US Foreign Relations. India has always been a natural ally of the United States. Many have observed with no small amount of frustration the long history of friction between the two states, stemming from an Indian alliance of necessity with the Soviet Union. India has long been a strategic competitor of China. A regional alliance with the Soviet Union in the interests of self-preservation of a developing nation put India at odds with the United States during the Cold War. India could have aligned itself with America, thousands of miles away. But that would have put her alone in a region with two powerful competitors. Better for her to have allied with one, and it was never going to be China.

Today, much has obviously changed and the long awaited reconciliation between two natural allies can commence in earnest, both fiercely democratic with free and open systems. President Bush has made a significant investment in that process with his recent trip.

What’s more, is it not at least noteworthy that, after meeting with the Indians and agreeing to nuclear cooperation, President Bush was warmly received by the president of India’s current primary foe, Pakistan? (Car-bombing terrorists and flag burning radical Islamists notwithstanding. They do not control Pakistan’s military or nuclear weapons.) Consider that the two countries have been to the brink of war and back more than a few times in recent years, and this must be recognized for the significance it holds.

It is no more complicated than the fact that, while India and America should be a strong natural allies, the reason sharing nuclear information with them is not overburdened by the inconsistency The New York Times implores is this: We do not fear a radical Hindu governmental regime adopting an ideology bent on creating a Hindu world domination, arming radical Hindu terrorist organizations who practice their craft upon civilian populations, usually in restaurants, public transportation and crowded governmental buildings. We do not fear India, already a nuclear power, letting loose a nuke into the hands of terrorists or indiscriminately initiating a nuclear exchange to ‘wipe’ an entire country ‘off the map’.

So let Iran (and the New York Times ) cry foul over claims of inconsistency and fairness. Our opposition to an Iranian nuclear program has little to do with a powerless UN-sanctioned piece of paper called the NPT. It has everything to do with their Islamist aims and their status as the world’s premiere State Sponsor of Terrorism. The contrast between the actions of India and the actions of Iran speaks louder than the words on an NPT document, signed or unsigned.

Sure, it may be nuclear physics. But ‘it ain’t exactly rocket science’.

March 3, 2006

West Bank

Abbas: al-Qaeda in Palestinian Territories

By Steve Schippert | March 3, 2006

As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warns that there is an al-Qaeda presence in the Palestinian Territories, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to stop Palestinian terrorist attacks with an ‘iron fist’. Said Olmert, "There are no longer any restrictions on the security establishment regarding counterterrorism actions anywhere."

While the New York Times article suggests that this ‘iron fist’ is a political reaction to shrinking enthusiasm in Israel for Olmert’s stewardship of the Kadima Party, created by Ariel Sharon, the political intent of Olmert’s public statements should not be confused with the concrete purpose of the counterterrorism actions themselves. To this end, Olmert is certainly attempting to reassure the Israeli electorate that he will be a staunch defender of Israel with such terms as ‘iron fist’. But the actual series of operations this entails would exist regardless of such public, political displays, whether they would have hypothetically been at the hand of an Ariel Sharon, a Benyamin Netanyahu or from an Ehud Olmert. Solid Israeli operations to thwart attacks on Israeli civilians in the immediate will always be first priority, regardless of leadership or long-term strategy differences. Consider Olmert’s words, "Not a few times terrorists who were about to fire rockets were liquidated before they could fire them and it was based on my orders, sometimes my personal orders." This is simply no different from previous Israeli leaders, be they Labour, Lahoud or otherwise.

Mahmoud Abbas stated, "We have indications about the presence of al-Qa'eda in Gaza and the West Bank. This is intelligence information. […] We have unconfirmed reports that Al Qaeda, which sent members to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, may also send its members to us for purposes of sabotage." This has been long suspected since the unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza. Courtesy of Evan Kohlmann, the existence of al-Qaeda's Palestine Frontier Jihad Brigades is proven by their own communiqué from 15AUG05. Further, the AP reports that Jordan's King Abdullah also has said al-Qaida has set up terror cells inside Israel itself. The presence of al-Qaeda in the Palestinian Territories is not a new development, though no less troubling regardless of the timing. Abbas’ public statements are put forth for international political considerations even more so than Olmert’s are for internal political considerations. This, however, is not how the situation is presented by some.

While Hamas' Ambassador Bakir Abdel-Munem said that "Hamas may revise its stance in the interests of the entire Palestinian people," in reference to the potential recognition of the State of Israel, Abbas was laying down the Fatah strategy for undermining Hamas’ governance over Palestinians. "We are all required to continue activating and strengthening the Palestinian Liberation Organization's role as the sole legitimate representative of our people."

With these words, Abbas laid out a new strategy: the PLO would be the key to destabilizing Hamas' rule and would help restore Fatah's leadership. It is remarkable that Abbas gave such a speech. After the Oslo Accords, the Fatah leadership in Ramallah sought to weaken the PLO - a Fatah-dominated umbrella group, but that also includes most major Palestinian factions. This strategy was adopted because, at the time, the PLO represented the old guard - those who had decided to remain in Tunis, thereby signaling their opposition to Oslo and their refusal to recognize the PA as representative of the Palestinian people.

Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fired their weapons near the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah, indicative of the nature of the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas. At some point, the AK-47’s will likely not be pointed toward the blue sky, especially considering Abbas’ openly stated desire to undermine Hamas.

But the struggle between the Palestinian factions has not stopped their united struggle with Israel. One of the senior West Bank commanders of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Abu Nasser, has said that the Third Intifada is coming, and will be bloodier than either of the previous intifadas. As part of Olmert’s professed Iron Fist, Israeli operations near the Nablus refugee camp of Balata continue.

Meanwhile, as the Bush Administration inexplicably has already begun to ease its stance against Hamas, the American Congress remains in relentless opposition to any moderation towards the elected terrorist organization and the government which it heads.

It is acknowledged that complexities abound exist regarding the path to Middle East transformation, as the current debate regarding the participation of a UAE-owned firm in US port operations exhibits. However, these complexities should not be allowed to cloud the clarity of basic principle, exhibited so undeniably understandable when President Bush declared to the nations of the world, “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Well, Mr. President? Quite simply, Hamas are the terrorists, regardless of their fairly and freely elected station. To cloud this distinction is to embark on a path guided in critical error.

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