- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Brent Scowcroft, who served the first President Bush as national security adviser during the Gulf War, says there's no doubt about it: A U.S. military campaign against Iraq would eject Saddam Hussein from power. But, he added in a recent interview with the BBC in which he argued against such a campaign, "I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a cauldron and destroy the war on terror."

Destroy the war on terror? Forgive us for failing to catch this train of thought. Even if the Middle East were turned into a "cauldron" by an "explosion" ignited by an American move on Iraq and that's a big "if" given how very un-explosive the Islamic world became last fall after U.S. airplanes began pounding Taliban positions in Afghanistan it's not easy to see how this would "destroy" the war effort against Islamist terrorism. Military action against Iraq might not bode well for the less-than-musketeer-tight international coalition, but even that's an open question. What would most likely be destroyed, or at least transformed, in a wider war that Mr. Scowcroft envisions, are the most wretched dictatorships of the region, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, all of which amount to a cartel the Organization of Terrorism-Exporting and-Supporting Countries (OTESC) that must be broken.

This, of course, is not what Mr. Scowcroft sees in his crystal ball, although the former national security adviser isn't exactly known for either the clearest foresight (he told the then-president that it was a good idea to allow Saddam to retain power in 1991) or savviest hindsight (he still thinks it was). Even more myopically, he can't seem to picture Saddam in the terrorism business. "Saddam is a problem," he told the BBC. "But he's not a problem because of terrorism." Since President George W. Bush's top priority is dismantling jihadist terror networks, Mr. Scowcroft has urged him to get back to the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" go figure and stay out of non-terrorist (says he) Iraq.

Mr. Scowcroft may not be privy to secret cables any more, but presumably he has sufficient security clearance to read newspapers and magazines, some of which paint a very different picture of the Iraqi dictator and his links to international terrorism. In this week's Weekly Standard, for example, Fred Barnes reports from Prague that Czech officials say they have a photograph of an April 2001 meeting between September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Ahmed al-Ani, an Iraqi agent later expelled from the Czech Republic for espionage. While this same meeting has been pooh-poohed by some in the government and the media, Mr. Barnes cites the testimony of Martin Palous, the Czech ambassador to the United States, and public statements by both Czech Prime Minister Milos Zemam and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, which all attest to the meeting. "While the meeting might not tie Saddam directly to [the September 11] attacks," Mr. Barnes writes, "it does link Iraq to the al Qaeda terrorist network."

And there's more. The Atta-friendly Iraqi agent, Ahmed al-Ani, was also spotted (and photographed) last year hanging around outside an American landmark in Prague Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This facility, by the way, is regarded as one of the top four U.S. targets for Islamist terrorists in Europe. "At the very least," Mr. Barnes writes, "al-Ani's presence outside RFE/RL's headquarters and an [intercepted] Iraqi message saying RFE/RL broadcasts into Iraq must be stopped implicate Iraq in a scheme to disable an American facility."

It may be circumstantial. But evidence like this should convince the average, non-former national security adviser to believe that, far from destroying the war on terror, a military campaign against Iraq is what it takes to get the next phase started.

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