Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Washington’s conventional wisdom is as notorious for its often wrong-headedness as for its frequent flip-flops. One of the most flagrant recent demonstrations is on the ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, which were confirmed beyond doubt a few years ago, but now are considered laughably dubious.

Stephen Hayes shows that to be the case in his cover story of this week’s Weekly Standard and in his recently published book on the same subject, “The Connection.” While neither publication breaks new ground, they are worthwhile not only for punctuating the collaboration between Osama bin Laden and Saddam, but also for underlining the liberal media’s shifting conventional wisdom on the subject.

For instance, in a Jan. 11, 1999, story headlined “Saddam + Bin Laden?” Newsweek said, “Saddam Hussein, who has a long record of supporting terrorism, is trying to rebuild his intelligence network overseas … U.S. sources say he is reaching out to Islamic terrorists, including some who may be linked to Osama bin Laden … Saddam and bin Laden have interests — and enemies — in common.” About the same time, NPR’s Mike Shuster asserted in an interview, “Iraq’s contacts with bin Laden go back some years, to at least 1994.” Mr. Hayes also cites a Feb. 13, 1999, AP article, posted on CNN that day and published in The Washington Post on the following morning, on bin Laden’s departure from Afghanistan, which stated, “Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has offered asylum to bin Laden, who openly supports Iraq against the Western powers.”

Despite the additional evidence of those ties that has surfaced since then, liberal elites have now decided that no such connection exists. As Mr. Hayes says in the book’s introduction, “On the Washington, D.C. cocktail party circuit, the mere mention of Iraq-al Qaeda ties elicits laughter, even derision.” Mr. Hayes quotes “60 Minutes” anchor Lesley Stahl saying “there was no connection” between Saddam and al Qaeda; the editor of the Los Angeles Times asserting that proof of the connection is a “myth”; and a Reuters dispatch that read, “There is no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.”

What happened? The derisive decision had more to do with the regime change of 2000 than that of 2003. The Washington press corps, ever eager to give the benefit of the doubt to a Democratic occupant of the White House, is rarely ready to do so with a Republican resident. The bad news from Iraq — which has buried much of the ongoing good — has also been a factor.

But the facts themselves have not changed. If anything, more have been added. As Mr. Hayes says, “By the time the Iraq War began, the evidence of Iraqi links to al Qaeda went well beyond a few dots. It was a veritable constellation.” There are now a veritable thousand points of light, all illuminating the connection. While members of the press corps have chosen to walk in the darkness, honest information brokers should chose to walk in the light.

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