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The Washington Post Sows More Confusion on Iraq-al Qaeda

7:35 PM, Mar 18, 2008 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Twice in recent days, articles in the Washington Post have suggested that Bush Administration officials claimed before the Iraq War that Iraq and al Qaeda had an "operational relationship."

Last week, Karen DeYoung made the accusation directly when she wrote: "An examination of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents, audio and video records collected by U.S. forces since the March 2003 invasion has concluded that there is ‘no smoking gun' supporting the Bush administration's prewar assertion of an ‘operational relationship' between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network, sources familiar with the study said."

And today, Peter Baker and Josh Paltrow wrote: "The vice president used the opportunity to reassert that there was 'a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda' before the U.S. invasion, despite reports that have found no operational ties between the two."

(When did the Bush Administration claim that Iraq had an "operational relationship" with al Qaeda before the war? It may have happened, but I missed it if it did. The closest I've seen to such an assertion came when a State Department official named Matthew Daley gave testimony to a congressional committee shortly after the war began in which he worried about an "operational relationship" between Iraq and Abu Sayyaf, the al Qaeda affiliate in the Philippines. My recollection is that Bush Administration officials pretty consistently made the argument that waiting for an "operational relationship" to develop would be imprudent, hence the need to preempt that threat.)

Let me make a more basic point. A relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda need not have been "operational" to have warranted military action to eliminate it. The Clinton Administration, for example, argued repeatedly that Iraq supplied assistance to al Qaeda on chemical weapons. Such as relationship, if that's as far as it went, would not have qualified as "operational," but certainly would have been -- and was -- cause for tremendous concern.

But "no operational relationship" seems to be the new media-invented standard. This is from the Post piece that ran today:

Former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), co-chairman of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and found "no operational relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaeda, said Cheney was parsing words to create a false impression.

"They just keep repeating it -- the vice president uses the word 'links," Hamilton said in an interview. 'Nobody really denies that. The question is 'Was there an operational relationship?,' and there's no evidence of that."

But Hamilton is wrong. Lots of news articles expressly denied a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. ABC News reported that the new Iraq/Terrorism study was "the first official acknowledgment from the U.S. military that there is no evidence Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda." The New York Times headlined its story: "Study Finds No Qaeda-Hussein Tie." NPR did the same: "Study Finds No Link Between Saddam, bin Laden." Even the Washington Post, the newspaper that quotes Hamilton, headlined its report: "Study Discounts Hussein, Al-Qaeda Link."

In any case, Hamilton once defended Cheney from precisely the charge he is now making, something that might have been helpful to Post readers trying to judge his credibility on the issue. In June 2004, Hamilton was asked specifically about Cheney. He replied:

I must say I have trouble understanding the flak over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is just what [Republican co-chairman Tom Kean] just said: We don't have any evidence of a cooperative or collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and al Qaeda with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me that sharp differences that the press has drawn, that the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me.

And what was it that 9/11 co-chairman Tom Kean had just said? "There was no question in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."

Really, where does that Dick Cheney get off saying that there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda?