June 19, 2004

Pootie Does Bush A Favor

Vladimir Putin making public that Saddam's Iraq was planning attacks against U.S. targets:

"After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services, the intelligence service, received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests.

Note the NYT does its best to pour cold water on the story via a State Department source expressing bafflement ("everyone's scratching their heads") at the revelation.

Obviously lots of people might speculate that Bush asked Putin to make this public now given the whole Iraq-al Q "connections" maelstrom and that the principal rationale for the war (Iraqi WMD) has not proven to be quite the slam dunk advertised.

It's a way of reminding people that there was a realist (a word quite in vogue these days) justification for going to war beyond WMD.

Put differently, Saddam might have been inspired and emboldened by al-Qaeda's success on 9/11. It's not a stretch to think a man who had tried to assassinate a U.S. President and started two regional wars might derive nefarious lessons from 9/11--including the pursuit of more ambitious anti-U.S. terror operations.

But why does Putin have such an ambiguous timeline (sometime between 9/12 and March '03)?

There are two main ways to interpret this ambiguity.

One, and like Gulf War I in '91, Saddam was trying to hit U.S. interests before the U.S. invaded. As the armada arrayed against him got bigger and bigger and closer and closer--it wouldn't be a stretch to see Saddam trying to attack U.S. targets--likely in the region but, perhaps, even in the U.S.

This would argue Saddam was planning an attack late '02 or early '03.

Also, it's worth noting, it's an interpretation that doesn't help Bush as much.

After all, if someone has a gun to your head--well, you might just take a shot first as, when and if able.

The other way to view this is that Russian intelligence had information about a potential Iraqi attack on U.S. interests closer to the 9/11 timeframe.

Here one would speculate more, per what I indicated above, that Saddam had been inspired by UBL and was looking to pull off a horrific 'spectacular' style attack.

I'd prefer (in the sense that we had another compelling justification to unseat Saddam) to think that the second interpretation is more likely--but, all told, I suspect it is likelier the former.

Otherwise the Russian leader would probably have provided greater details as to timing and location.

Bottom line: Pootie was just doing his buddy George a little favor coming out with this story at this time.

P.S.

For the record, I suppose I should say that a "realist" justification for the war continues to exist in my view--apart from this whole Putin story--and despite no WMD stockpiles turning up.

I supported the war and still do to this day--primarily on realist grounds (truth be told, with whispers of neo-Wilsonian/neo-con exuberance thrown in for good measure).

I never believed that Saddam was close to going nuclear.

But I was very concerned about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capability--whether potential stockpiles or programs (even semi-active or paused ones).

Post 9/11, whether Saddam was in bed with UBL or not, I simply felt the burden of proof was on regimes that had flouted international inspections regimes to say--loudly, transparently and without any obfusaction--look 'ma (or Kofi); all clean!

Saddam didn't do that per 1441. And so I believe he was in material violation of that resolution.

And, even if links with al-Q were de minimis--I think he might have still have provided anthrax or botulinum toxin agent, say, to enemies of the United States hell-bent on inflicting harm to our interests--particularly given the success of 9/11 and how it defined terrorism up.

As George Tenet put it in a speech back in February:

As David Kay reminded us, the Iraqis systematically destroyed and looted forensic evidence before, during and after the war. We have been faced with organized destruction of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories and companies suspected of weapons of mass destruction work. The pattern of these efforts is one of deliberate, rather than random, acts. Iraqis who have volunteered information to us are still being intimidated and attacked.

Put simply, he was still obfuscating and needed to be brought to task by the international community.

That said, I am hugely upset about Abu Ghraib (particularly the reticence of key Administration players to show some honor and accountability in this sad affair) and the handling of the post "major combat operations" stage of the conflict (and it's not all Monday morning quarterbacking, I fear).

Posted by Gregory at June 19, 2004 02:47 PM
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