Cue “I Got You Babe,” because it looks like the Iraq–Al Qaeda “connection” argument is getting a second act. Yglesias mentioned this weekend that it seemed as though some memo had gone out announcing it was time to revive the claim that Osama and Saddam were BFF, and sure enough, next time I check Instapundit, what do I find but a link to this post marshalling the “evidence” for a connection in the gossip columnist’s classic “Item! Item! Item!” style. Like a lot of the folks who make this argument, you see the strawman position attributed to war critics that nobody from Al Qaeda had ever been in the same room as anyone associated with the Baathist regime (which is, of course, ridiculous), so that evidence of any link is supposed to count as proof of cooperation. That in mind, let’s take a look at some of these specific “items.”
First, there’s a quote from interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi—who we effectively installed—toeing the White House line, though without providing any evidence, just his “very strong belief” and the observation that Hussein had links to other groups of thugs. Why that’s supposed to cut any water is unclear.
There’s a bunch of stuff from the Feith memo. The Feith memo that the Pentagon itself disavowed? The one whose allegations of extensive collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, or links extending past 1999 were contradicted by other more reliable evidence? Why yes, the very same.
Then there’s the incredibly convenient Con Coughlin memo that put Mohammed Atta in Baghdad getting his marching orders for the 9/11 attack. Is that the same memo that our own intelligence people say doesn’t jibe with what they know about Atta’s movements, the one that experts regard as totally bogus? Again, the very same.
There’s Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, and Al Qaeda operative who, though he almost certainily isn’t the Iraqi military officer he’d originally been confused with does appear to have some sort of link to Iraqi intelligence. What that one means is unclear, but let’s count that one as a piece of circumstantial evidence in favor of the “connection” thesis.
Finally, there’s the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi link. The problem is that, at least prior to our invasion of Iraq, it’s not clear that Zarqawi was actually working with Al Qaeda, and his prior operations in Iraq appear to have been in the Kurdish north of the country, outside Hussein’s control (remember our “no-fly” zone?). That’d be an odd choice of locations if he was actually in cahoots with the Baath regime.
So that’s the case for the connection. A bunch of patently bogus stuff, and a few shreds of suggestive but inconclusive actual evidence. It doesn’t take a whole lot of work, if you’re at all interested in getting at the truth, to sort out the demonstrably bogus parts… but it apparently takes enough that the same debunked claims can be recycled by ideologues after a short refractory period. I suppose a smoking gun might yet emerge. But I’ve got to join Josh Marshall in wondering: We’ve had effective control of Iraq for a good while now. If there were actually a connection, we’d likely have the people who knew about it in custody, maybe even some incriminating documents. So is it that hawks have to resort to making the case like schizophrenics hunched over the paper with a highlighter looking for coded messages from the aliens in the classified section?