If the Cato Institute wants to lose the credibility it has tried so hard to establish with policymakers in Washington, all it has to do is publish more irresponsible op-eds full of falsehoods and fallacies, like this one by William Niskanen.
In it, Niskanen denies that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a necessary part of the War On Terror, basing this upon a denial of the alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda (which I call the Saddam-Osama Pact). Niskanen even goes so far as to claim that “At no time… has the administration made public any evidence that the Iraqi government… backed al-Qaeda or any other global terrorist group.”
Niskanen seems to have completely missed Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 speech to the UN Security Council, in which he testified about the Saddam-Osama Pact, and CIA director George Tenet’s October 7, 2002 letter to Senate Intelligence chairman Bob Graham, which declassified CIA reporting on Iraq’s links to al Qaeda. More evidence has been made public by the Bush administration since then, as described in this recent article in the Weekly Standard.
Still more evidence for the Saddam-Osama Pact is in two books by experts on terrorism: “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War On America,” by Yossef Bodansky, and “In The Name of Osama Bin Laden,” by Roland Jacquard.
How can Niskanen deny all this evidence and still expect to be taken seriously by those of us who are well aware of it? He doesn’t acknowledge the evidence but interpret it differently, or find it inadequate to prove the Saddam-Osama Pact, he flat-out denies its existence. Then he admits the connection between Saddam and Osama when he claims that the liberation of Iraq will provoke Al Qaeda to attack Americans (as if any further provocation were needed). If Osama really hates the Ba’athist infidels so much, why would he object to their overthrow?
Niskanen also denies the need for conventional military forces to fight terrorists:
“The most useful weapons are good intelligence — shared among national governments, among the various US intelligence agencies and between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local US police departments — and effective local policing. The Bush administration has yet to explain how an expanded military can defend US citizens against terrorist cells that use car bombs made out of fertiliser.”
Actually, the Bush administration has both explained and demonstrated in practice how conventional military forces can defend US citizens against terrorists: By destroying the states that sponsor terrorism. Consider the first phase of the War on Terror, the overthrow of the Taliban. Even if we reject the existence of the Saddam-Osama Pact, the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Taliban is undeniable, and it took more than just “good intelligence” and “effective local policing” to overthrow the Taliban (thus denying Al Qaeda its safe haven, training camps, and staging area in most of Afghanistan). That took the Green Berets, Nightstalkers, Navy and Air Force bombers, the Northern Alliance, etc. Niskanen owes us an explanation of how that could have been done with nothing more than “good intelligence” and “effective local policing.”
Once the need to end state sponsorship of terrorism and the existence of the Saddam-Osama Pact are acknowledged, it becomes clear that the use of U.S. intelligence resources to help overthrow Saddam was an integral part of the War on Terror – not the diversion that Niskanen says it was. Operation Iraqi Freedom may have also yielded more evidence of Saddam’s corrupt dealings with France, Russia, and other countries which have been reluctant to co-operate with the US. That evidence can be used to blackmail them into greater co-operation.
Libertarians ought to support winning the War on Terror by liberating people from totalitarian rule, but Niskanen seems to prefer that terror-sponsoring tyrants be left alone while the Department of Homeland Security increases its meddling in the affairs of peaceful Americans. That sacrifice of liberty in the name of security will leave us with neither, as Ben Franklin once said.