As the interim Iraqi government takes office, it is worth looking back, with the help of two recently published books, at the arguments on whether the United States should have taken military action to remove Saddam Hussein.
The "BUSH LIED" crowd keeps trumpeting that we have found no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (We did find sarin in one shell lobbed at occupation forces.) But Bob Woodward in "Plan of Attack" informs us that George Tenet, who announced his resignation as CIA director on June 3, told George W. Bush that the case for Iraqi possession of WMDs was a "slam dunk." That was the conclusion as well of every other competent intelligence agency in the world.
Tenet was right. Given that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction, indeed was developing nuclear weapons before the 1991 Gulf War, and given that Saddam's regime had not accounted for WMDs he had possessed, any prudent intelligence agency would have to have concluded that he still had them. Moreover, there was no evidence that could have been obtained which would have convinced a prudent intelligence agency that Saddam did not possess them. This argument wasn't made in the run-up to the war because Colin Powell and Tony Blair convinced George W. Bush to agree to a round of United Nations inspections. But the U.N. inspectors couldn't prove that Saddam didn't have WMDs. Given his past behavior, we had no basis for concluding he didn't.
And we had no way of being sure that he would not arm Al Qaeda with them. That is the conclusion of Stephen Hayes's "The Connection: How Al Qaeda's Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America." It is conventional wisdom around Washington, retailed by Richard Clarke, Sen. Carl Levin and Newsweek. But, as Hayes demonstrates, this conventional wisdom is wrong.
As George Tenet testified in October 2002, there were contacts going back to the early 1990s between agents of Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Clarke, when he served in the Clinton administration, said the same thing, as did many others in the Clinton administration. Czech officials believe that Sept. 11 hijacker Muhammad Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in August 2001. Hayes also reveals that in January 2000 Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, acting under orders from Iraqi intelligence, accompanied two of the Sept. 11 hijackers to a meeting in Malaysia that the CIA has concluded was a planning session for the assault on the U.S.S. Cole and the Sept. 11 attacks.