When the U.S. Congress first authorized the use of force against
Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist army in a joint resolution
adopted Sept. 14, 2001, the bottom-line-money paragraph stated, "The
president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against
those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized,
committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or
harbored such organizations or persons. ..." The
italics are mine.
Official language is important. In particular, the word
"harbored" is essential as the political debate heats up over President
Bush's coming request that we take military action against Iraq.
In his great speech of Sept. 20, 2001, Bush coined the phrase,
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Recent
developments in Iraq and Iran suggest that al Qaeda -- the perpetrators of
the terror of Sept. 11 -- is alive and significantly well. Even worse, al
Qaeda is regrouping and recovering in new bases and safe harbors granted by
Iraq and Iran. This means those countries stand in violation of U.S. wartime
This is a scary and disturbing scenario but one that has been
reported by a number of reliable sources. And because of these new reports,
it will be essential that the Bush administration, in its discussions of
Saddam Hussein's growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, not take
its eye off the al Qaeda ball. In fact, the most politically potent argument
for action against Iraq is quite simply that al Qaeda operatives are being
backed and harbored by that country and its geographical neighbor, Iran.
It is this thought that must not be lost in the increasingly
technical and esoteric arguments over Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons.
The clearest and most present danger is that terrorists within the borders
of Iraq and Iran are in all likelihood planning and plotting additional
attacks against the families, businesses, buildings, ports, public
utilities, hotels, restaurants and freedoms of the United States. These are
al Qaeda terrorists, the ones responsible for 3,000 deaths a year ago.
A recent article in the International Herald Tribune reports
that Kurdish leaders in Iraq have failed in an attempt to drive al Qaeda out
of a mountain stronghold in a northeastern part of the country. Bill Gertz
of The Washington Times writes that Arab terrorists linked to the al Qaeda
network have tested chemical or biological weapons at a facility in northern
Iraq. Bush administration intelligence officials corroborate this, pointing
to a group known as Ansar al-Islam.
The New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg reported brilliantly on Ansar
al-Islam last winter. This is a group of several hundred terrorists who were
initially trained and organized by bin Laden troops and co-financed by al
Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's secret police. Today, their chests swell in the
north of Iraq. Defense officials, meanwhile, say they were initially
surprised at the large number and senior rank of the al Qaeda operatives
moving into Iraq.
The Washington Post's Peter Finn has reported that al Qaeda
members are being sheltered in guesthouses in the Iranian cities of Mashhad
and Zabol. It is also reported that Iran has moved large quantities of al
Qaeda gold from Afghanistan to the Sudan.
This new evidence supports Michael Ledeen's view in his
excellent new book, "The War Against the Terror Masters." Ledeen argues
convincingly that major terror groups are coming together as an integrated
network. This puts al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other
PLO-groups all in the same dangerous pot.
And Ledeen points out that these groups are being aided and
abetted by the "terror masters" -- namely Iran, Iraq and Syria, who foster,
arm and train these terrorists, and Saudi Arabia, the financier. These are
the safe-harboring states, who shield enemies of the United States -- and
violate American war policy.
A year ago, this was the logic as stated by President George W.
Bush and agreed to by Congress, the majority of Americans and people all
over the world. There must be no safe-harboring of terrorists. Given new
evidence of the regrouping, re-basing, rearming and refinancing of al Qaeda
and its terrorist cousins, there can be no question that the president
should frame the Iraq argument with this exact same logic.
Yes, the reason Iraq is the first target under discussion rather
than Iran or Syria is that its leader has developed weapons of mass
destruction and we cannot afford to let him get us before we get him. But
the loss of thousands of lives at the hand of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda
remains the emotional rallying point for America, so long as President Bush
taps into this vein.
We first hit al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the job is unfinished.
They must be wiped out wherever they may be found. If the war against this
evil takes us to Iraq, Iran or other states, then so be it. The defense of
American freedom and democracy can know no geographic boundaries.