Friday, June 18, 2004

Also Could Have Said "Osama Sought Saddam help"

Thursday we ran a 42-point head over four columns above the fold on A-1, "9-11 panel finds no al-Qaida-Saddam tie." [It would have been bigger, and higher, but a brutal murder of a local infant topped the page that day.]

But the lede says the panel reported "that there did not appear to have been a 'collaborative relationship' between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein." It also said the panel found "no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated on attacks against the United States." [italics added]

Headlinese is the business of using the shortest words possible, and I suppose it is ethically safe to use "tie" when you mean "collaborative relationship." But with the report acknowledging "repeated contacts" between the two throughout the '90s, I do have to wonder, in headline math, how many "contacts" it takes to make a "tie." it would be even more accurate, and perhaps more interesting, to say "Panel: Osama sought Saddam's help."

So Saddam wasn't behind 9-11. I never believed that. Bush never said it. Today (Friday), buried on A-5, is an article in which the commission members respond to that morning's media orgy of headlines that say essentially, "Panel contradicts Bush." They emphasize that they DID find "contacts" between Al Qaida and Saddam. Even the panel's reigning Democrat, Lee Hamilton, went so far Thursday as to say the media-magnified clash between the administration's words and the commission's report was "not that apparent to me."

[The full Hamilton quote: "I must say I have trouble understanding the flack 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 what the governor just said, we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me."]

In fact, what was most interesting to me in the commission's staff report Wednesday was that it demolished the old canard that Osama, as a religious purist, would never dirty his holy hands by dealing with a secular fascist like Saddam. This was received wisdom on the intellectual left, and I also accepted it until about the time the war began and I began questioning everything I had learned from that side.

You might think it would be Saddam, hemmed in by sanctions and no-fly zones, who would reach out to the free-ranging Islamists for an alliance. But instead, as the report tells it, it was Osama who made "systematic efforts" to work together with Iraq, asking for ground for training camps and help getting weapons. It was a courtship in the early stages. Thank the gods -- and the United States -- that it never was consummated.

Instead, America get "reporting" like this, from John Roberts of CBS:

It is one of President Bush's last surviving justifications for war in Iraq, and today, it took a devastating hit when the 9-11 Commission declared there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. ... Those repeated associations left the majority of Americans believing Saddam was involved in 9/11, but the commission today put the nail in that connection, or for that matter, any other al-Qaida acts of terror against America, declaring, 'There is no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated on attacks against the United States.' The report is yet another blow to the president's credibility as he struggles to find the exit door in Iraq and opens him up to new criticism on the wisdom of taking on Saddam with al-Qaida's leadership still at large.