The Magazine

Bill Clinton Was Right

From the July 5 / July 12, 2004 issue: There was a Saddam-Osama connection and we're learning more every day.

Jul 5, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 41 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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NEARLY TWO YEARS AGO, in the introduction to an hour-long PBS documentary called Saddam's Ultimate Solution, former Clinton State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said:

"Tonight, we examine the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Ten years after the Gulf War and Saddam is still there and still continues to stockpile weapons of mass destruction. Now there are suggestions he is working with al Qaeda, which means the very terrorists who attacked the United States last September may now have access to chemical and biological weapons."

The documentary, broadcast on July 11, 2002, laid out in exhaustive detail alleged Iraqi connections with al Qaeda. Rubin noted in his introduction that the report contained "disturbing allegations, some of which are hard to prove." But, he added, such allegations "are important enough to be fully explored and investigated."

Last week, appearing on a cable talk show as a senior adviser to the presidential campaign of John Kerry, Rubin sharply criticized the public official who has most forcefully asserted that these allegations need to be fully explored and investigated. Rubin went so far as to question Vice President Dick Cheney's "fitness for office." Rubin, asked about the documentary, then distanced himself from the film. "Was I the producer of the documentary?" he asked. "I was the host, producing--having a discussion about the documentary."

Fair enough. Rubin is right that as host he is not necessarily responsible for everything in the hour-long program. Among the claims made by investigative filmmaker Gwynne Roberts was this one: "My investigation reveals much more--namely evidence of terrorist training camps in Iraq and testimony that al Qaeda fighters have been trained to use poison gas." But on the PBS program, Rubin spoke in a manner that suggested he did, in fact, believe the evidence presented by Roberts, pressing one interview subject about the possibility of Saddam's passing weapons of mass destruction to "the al Qaeda people in the film he's already trained."

Meanwhile the men at the top of the administration Rubin worked for--Bill Clinton and Al Gore--have come down with an even more striking case of political amnesia.

On June 24, Katie Couric interviewed President Clinton on NBC's Today Show. She asked, "What do you think about this connection that Cheney, that Vice President Cheney continues to assert between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?" Clinton pleaded total ignorance. "All I can tell you is I never saw it, I never believed it based on the evidence I had."

The same day, former Vice President Al Gore went much further in a vitriolic speech at Georgetown University law school. "President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. If he is not lying, if he genuinely believes that, that makes them unfit in battle against al Qaeda. If they believe these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge? Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick."

Gore also distorted the significance of the recent 9/11 Commission Staff Statement. He called the statement an "extensive independent investigation by the bipartisan" 9/11 Commission that found "there was no meaningful relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda of any kind." In fact, three 9/11 Commission sources tell The Weekly Standard that the one paragraph of the staff statement about the relationship was not intended to be a definitive pronouncement on the issue. In any case, "no meaningful relationship" was never the view of the Clinton/Gore administration.

On February 17, 1998, President Clinton, speaking at the Pentagon, warned of the "reckless acts of outlaw nations and an unholy axis of terrorists, drug traffickers and organized international criminals." These "predators of the twenty-first century," he said, these enemies of America, "will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Later that spring, the Clinton Justice Department prepared an indictment of Osama bin Laden. The relevant passage, prominently placed in the fourth paragraph, reads:

Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.