The issue is historical now, but still worth exploring. Why, for two distinct groups of Americans, has it become a matter of conviction held with religious intensity that there cannot have been any relationship between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq?
One group consists of Democratic politicians who oppose the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. The Minnesota Democratic Party recently protested as "un-American" an ad showing military veterans and their families supporting the president's policies for saying, "Our enemy in Iraq is al-Qaida -- the same terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans on 9-11, the same terrorists from the first World Trade Center bombing, the USS Cole, Madrid, London and many more."
The Democrats, unfactually, say that these words "make a connection between Iraq and the 9-11 terrorists attacks and suggest that the war in Iraq will prevent an attack by al-Qaida in America." But of course, the ad is factually correct -- al-Qaida is attacking Americans in Iraq -- and the Minnesota Democratic Party is in no position to guarantee that al-Qaida will not attack America.
The other group consists of intelligence and other career government professionals, many of them Arabists. Case in point: Paul Pillar, CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, now retired, writing in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine. The "greatest discrepancy between the administration's public statements and the intelligence community's judgments concerned not WMD (there was indeed a broad consensus that such programs existed), but the relationship between Saddam and al-Qaida. The enormous attention devoted to this subject did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed." But the Senate Intelligence Committee report showed that the CIA did obtain evidence of an al-Qaida-Saddam relationship from foreign intelligence and open sources.
That's not surprising. CIA Director George Tenet in October 2002 told Congress of "growing indications of a relationship with al-Qaida." And of course evidence of contacts between al-Qaida and Saddam's regime went back to the 1990s and were cited, without murmur of dissent, by President Bill Clinton.