Conspiracy theory

Slate's Jack Shafer wonders why the mainstream press has been dismissive of Stephen F. Hayes' report in The Weekly Standard on alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

Hayes' article largely summarizes a memo by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, which may account for some of the skepticism. Feith does not enjoy a reputation as a disinterested pusuer of the truth. Like many of his fellow hawks in the Bush administration, he has a track record of reaching conclusions first, then subsequently marshalling arguments and alleged evidence to support them. (WMD anyone?) After repeatedly swallowing the hook, reporters should be expected to sniff warily at the latest bait proffered by Feith et. al. Fool me once, etc.

But the strongest argument against Feith's claims does not come from the Bush administration's critics, but from the Bush administration itself.

The White House and Pentagon have worked very hard to imply a connection between Saddam and al-Qaida, but have studiously avoided an explicit assertion of this claim. President Bush, on countless occassions, has mentioned Saddam and Osama bin Laden, 9/11 and Iraq, in consecutive, non sequitur sentences while scrupulously avoiding the claim that some are now saying Hayes' article supports.

The clearest, most logical explanation for this behavior is that this is because the administration lacks evidence to support such a claim. While establishing such a link has clearly been in their interest — as the most forceful argument to initiate and now to continue the war on Iraq — they have been cautious in not overstating the claim that such a link can be demonstrated. If they had evidence, it stands to reason, they would have every reason to share such evidence with the public and the world.

When surveys showed that a majority of Americans believed in such a link, critics attacked the Bush administration for promoting the idea. The administration's defense was, again, telling. They did not justify having made the claim because it was true, they denied ever making the claim at all. The administration and its defenders were aggressively defensive on this very point. We never said they were connected, they insisted, challenging their critics to produce any quotes or examples of where they had explicitly made such a claim.

A lawyerly parsing of their language shows that this is more or less true. They never made this claim in so many words. The implication of this disavowal is again clear: if they believed the claim to be demonstrably true, and they had evidence to support it, why such an aggressive denial of having uttered the words?

Hayes' report is itself more cautious than the way the Standard is playing it up. They titled it "Case Closed" and framed it as conclusive, undeniable evidence of a link between Saddam and Osama — the two are portrayed on the Standard's cover grinning at one another. What's more, they argue that the Bush administration has, and has had all along, the evidence of such a link.

To accept the Standard's position, one must somehow account for the administration's bizarre reluctance to make this claim and for its defensiveness when accused of having said what it supposedly can prove to be true.

To accept that Feith's memo "closes the case" one must accept that:

1. The Bush administration had evidence supporting the strongest case for the invasion of Iraq, but chose not to share this evidence with the American public or the U.N. Security Council, choosing instead to base its case for war on more tenuous claims, including some that were demonstrably false (Niger, "45 minutes," "mushroom cloud," aluminum tubes, etc.).

2. Although they knew this claim to be true, and could prove it, the administration meticulously avoided ever stating it, relying instead on a baroque rhetoric of inference and implication.

3. President Bush himself and his many defenders have indignantly denied the suggestion that they have even hinted at making this claim — never insisting that it was demonstrably true.

Consider the recent thin-skinnedness displayed in the recent brouhaha over whethr or not anyone in the administration ever explicitly claimed that Iraq presented an "imminent" threat to America's national security.

The indignation was palpable. No one ever suggested such a thing, the administration's defenders scowled.

Well, why not? If Saddam and Osama are linked conclusively — "case closed" — then doesn't that suggest that Iraq did in fact present an imminent threat? Such a link might actually entail even more than that — it would possibly mean that Iraq was an aggressor, already complicit in lethal attacks on American soil. Why deny that you ever said the words "imminent threat" if you already possess conclusive evidence of an established, existent threat?

And why — to consider another whole rhetorical realm that is unnecessary if the Standard's claims are true — would you talk of a "pre-emptive" war when you possess evidence that it was actually in a sense a defensive and retaliatory action?

Why weaken your case and alienate your allies and the entire international community with this frightening, unprecedented doctrine of "pre-emption" if you possess evidence that the invasion of Iraq is of a piece with the widely supported, internationally condoned campaign in Afghanistan?

The editors of the Standard and others, like William Safire, who are desperate to prove a Saddam/Osama link need to explain this strange, self-defeating behavior by the Bush administration. Why has the White House steadfastly, defensively denied its own strongest case for the war?

The most obvious explanation, and the simplest, is that this is not its strongest case. The most probable explanation is that no such conclusive evidence of a link exists.

But the Standard and Safire reject this simple explanation, opting instead for a conspiracy theory that goes beyond anything Oliver Stone could have imagined. They would have us believe in a massive cover-up perpetrated by the Bush administration against itself.

As conspiracy theories go, this one takes the cake. I've heard a lot of wacky theories about who really killed President Kennedy, but I haven't heard anyone suggesting that JFK pulled the trigger himself.

  • GC

    Nice job in summarizing exactly what I thought as well when I read Shafer’s piece. Man, you can get whiplash from the about faces this administration has taken on this topic: There’s a connection. Well, we never SAID there was a connection. But here’s the evidence of a connection, although we aren’t officially saying that there’s a conection. It’s not NEW evidence of a connection, but a restating of the evidence we already had, which wasn’t that great, or that conclusive. But they’re hardcore facts that cannot be refuted! Except by the ones that we’ve excluded and classified so no one can know how we’ve failed.
    I think it’s interesting to note that Shafer is taking the media to task for not playing this up (with the exception of the Murdoch-owned outlets, which are flogging it hard) while ignoring the zigs and the zags and the 180-degree spins that have been put on every other piece of evidence (and “evidence”) that has come out of the White House and the departments of State and Defense thus far. You can’t blame most journalists for taking a wait-and-see position at this point, especially when they’ve already been burned by information that’s come to them by way of Feith and his office.

  • John J. McKay

    “I’ve heard a lot of wacky theories about who really killed President Kennedy, but I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that JFK pulled the trigger himself.”
    Which just goes to show how thorough a job THEY did in suppressing the truth.
    Seriously, this is an excellent, effective, and crystal clear rebuttal to anyone who is tempted to believe Feith’s nonsense. A professor of mine used a parallel argument to deal with students who were falling for Holocaust denial arguments. If it never happened, why didn’t any of the Nuremberg defendants use that argument in their defense? Hundreds of men lost their freedom and quite a few lost their lives for that crime, yet on the stand, not one tried to claim it never happened. We were just following orders; it was self-defense; it was an accident; someone else did it; you weren’t there you can’t understand; even yes we did it and we’re proud, but never it didn’t happen.

  • dre

    “…haven’t heard anyone suggesting that JFK pulled the trigger himself.”
    Red Dwarf Season Seven Episode 1
    http://www.britannia.org/tvarchives/dwarf/episodes/series7.php

  • SW

    The only thing that one can learn by reading the Shafer piece, is about Shafer. Any pretence that this guy is not a complete hack has evaporated. Carrying water for Doug Feith! What a complete unabashed whore. There was a time when I would read Shafer, with a healthy does of skepticism but yet I would read him. That time is in the past.

  • none

    The Slacktivist lied and said,
    The Bush administration had evidence supporting the strongest case for the invasion of Iraq, but chose not to share this evidence with the American public or the U.N. Security Council, choosing instead to base its case for war on more tenuous claims, including some that were demonstrably false (Niger, “45 minutes,” “mushroom cloud,” aluminum tubes, etc.).
    “But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.” — Secretary of State Colin Powell during his presentation to the UN Security Council, February 6, 2003.
    Can you be anymore of a hack?

  • Truth Detector

    The Slacktivist lied and said,
    The Bush administration had evidence supporting the strongest case for the invasion of Iraq, but chose not to share this evidence with the American public or the U.N. Security Council, choosing instead to base its case for war on more tenuous claims, including some that were demonstrably false (Niger, “45 minutes,” “mushroom cloud,” aluminum tubes, etc.).
    “But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.” — Secretary of State Colin Powell during his presentation to the UN Security Council, February 6, 2003.
    Can you be anymore of a hack?

  • MutantD

    Truth Detector helps prove Slacktivist’s point and said:
    “But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.” — Secretary of State Colin Powell during his presentation to the UN Security Council, February 6, 2003.
    Here we have the perfect spot for Sec. Powell to lay out the incontrovertible link between Osama and Saddam, and yet he still hedges by saying that some other terrorist group is in Iraq and that group has ties to Osama. That’s quite a different picture than the one laid out in Case Closed:
    “OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda–perhaps even for Mohamed Atta–according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.” – lede from Stephen F. Hayes article
    How much stuff is this administration gonna keep throwing at the wall before they notice none of it’s sticking…

  • http://www.roadtosurfdom.com/surfdomarchives/001704.php The Road to Surfdom

    Hip replacement

    Tbogg provides the necessary takedown of John Leo’s loving assertion that certain conservative writers (like Glenn Reynolds and Mikey Kaus)…

  • Carleton Wu

    To expand upon the Mutant’s point, when Slacktivist said “this evidence”, the “this” meant “the evidence that Doug Feith culled from the raw intel reports.”
    Since the entire fucking article is about how the administration never used “this evidence” to bolster its case, one would have to be hellbent on misunderstanding what was being said in order to reach the conclusion that “this evidence” meant, say, something that hadn’t been mentioned in the article at all (ie AQ’s relationship with terrorists operating in Kurdish-controlled Northern IraQ). Or a complete moron. Or both, I suppose.
    wU

  • Alan

    Slaktivist prooves once again that this blog offers some of the most insightful analysis of any blog. But analysis doesn’t compete against alleged “facts,” unfortunately. What we need are facts that contradict the Bushfacts/lies.
    Here are two facts:
    1. Why was the picture of Feith, Wolfowitz, and Osama Bin Laden (all smiles) on the DOD web site taken down and all links to it it erased on 9/9/01, just two days before the horror of 9/11?
    2. The CIA was exploring the network of relationships between Halliburton and Bin Ladin Construction, one of of Saudi Arabia’s biggest firms for several years. Documents show many meetings between various players. Yet this investigation was shut down the same day that George Bush assumed office. Why?
    These are the facts that need to be put out.

  • sharon

    alan @12;14 am–could you please give a site re: picture removal, I’ve never heard this before, thanks

  • mrp

    Ditto. Please provide what info you can regarding the DoD pictures. I can only hope that someone has a screen shot saved.
    Here’s another enigma, btw.
    On the morning of 9-11, a drill was being conducted by the CIA and National Reconnaisance Office with the scenario of a plane crashing into a building near Dulles Airport. The drill was being monitored (or supervised) from the Situation Room in the WH. The drill was called off mid-way into the hijackings-crashes of the day by terrorists.
    Now. Why hasn’t the WH used that factual information to explain the lag time in getting fighters into the air, and to explain the seemingly inexplicable response of Bush and the Secret Service in the schoolroom in Florida, standing down from protocol? All of the delays and standdowns of the morning could be explained by confusion because they didn’t know it wasn’t a drill.
    And yet there has been a near blackout of this information. Why?
    I think I know why in both cases.

  • carsick

    Feith has no credibility and the new rehashing was put out so Fox et.al. could play with it for a few days before it was denounced. Too much bad Iraq news, they wanted to give the true-believers a little something to feed their denial.
    But this other conspiracy stuff? Links anyone?

  • Alan

    To Sharon and mrp:
    The idea is not to verify the facts, but to repeat them. Repeat them enough, spread the word, and they become more and more factual.

  • Gregory

    The idea is not to verify the facts, but to repeat them. Repeat them enough, spread the word, and they become more and more factual.
    Um, Alan, that’s *exactly* the strategy used by this Administration to peddle its mendacity. While constant repetition does indeed help an idea take root in the public psyche (see, “Saddam is responsible for 9/11!”), widespread acceptance doesn’t equate to truth or proven factuality.
    Verify the facts, *then* we can repeat them. Otherwise — and I think this is largely Slactivist’s point — one looks like a fool when the so-called “facts” are debunked.
    Great post, Slacktivist, by the way.

  • mrp

    Carsick, I don’t know if you were asking for a link from me or from the person who mentioned DoD photos of bin laden. But here if you google for National Reconnaissance Office – drill — 9-11 you’ll turn up a lot of stories on the matter I mentioned. Here’s a link to memoryhole.com for starters.
    http://www.thememoryhole.org/911/cia-simulation.htm

  • Chris

    Hmmm . . . seems that Slacktivist, maybe on purpose, maybe not, ignored the Epstein piece on the Iraq/9-11 hijackers connection.
    It seems that earlier reports that Atta couldn’t have been in the Checz republic were in error.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X