As it becomes increasingly clear that al-Qaida was responsible for the horrific attacks in Madrid, one question keeps popping up: If there's no link between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, why did al-Qaida blow up those trains?
Critics of the Iraq war have been saying for more than two years that there was never any al-Qaida-Saddam link. After all, they'd say, Saddam is secular and bin Laden is a religious fanatic. When Howard Dean was trotted out for last Sunday's "Meet the Press" to square off against Condoleezza Rice, the former Vermont governor rehashed the familiar complaint.
"It turned out that there was no relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida .even though the administration tried to lead us in an opposite direction," Dean asserted. "The administration simply did not tell the truth about Iraq. The debate is not about whether we should fight terrorism. I supported the war in Afghanistan. . But fighting Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism."
Now, I should help Dean here. He surely means Iraq had "nothing to do with terrorism" aimed at us by al-Qaida in recent years. After all, nobody disputes that Iraq has been a huge sponsor of terrorism.
A new study from the Hudson Institute details how Saddam provided money, support and shelter to a league of extraordinary terrorists. Abdul Rahman Yasin, the chemist for the first World Trade Center bombing, was given sanctuary in Baghdad after his U.S. indictment. Abu Nidal, the terrorist mastermind who killed hundreds including 10 Americans, lived in Baghdad from 1999 until he was murdered in 2002. Abu Abbas, the architect of the Achille Lauro hijacking that resulted in the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, was captured in Baghdad by U.S. forces.
The list goes on and on. Never mind the fact that Saddam funded suicide bombings in Israel, the gassing of Kurds, the attempted murder of George H.W. Bush and other acts that at least some of us consider "terrorism."
Regardless, let's interpret Dean as charitably as possible. If Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaida, why did al-Qaida feel the need to attack Spain, one of America's coalition partners? I mean why not blow up 200 people in Minsk? Or Bogata?
Supporters of the war say the reason al-Qaida is trying - and, alas, succeeding - to tear apart the coalition is that they cannot afford to see democracy win in Iraq. A stable and prospering Iraq will transform the Middle East, over time, into a region where the bloody fanaticism of bin Laden has no appeal.