Declassified Intelligence Says Bin Laden Wanted Iraq As Base
Here’s a new report that coupled with President George Bush’s intent to use it in a speech is likely to spark debate — but it’s a tidbit that likely won’t transform the debate or sentiments over the war in Iraq:
President Bush on Tuesday declassified intelligence showing in 2005 Osama bin Laden planned to use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in the United States, according to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Johndroe said the intelligence was declassified so the president could discuss the previously secret material on Wednesday during a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
The speech will be aimed at defending a key part of the president’s war strategy — the contention that the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq because al Qaeda would fill the vacuum in the Middle East.
“This shows why we believe al Qaeda wants to use Iraq as a safe haven,” said Johndroe. He added the president will talk about al Qaeda’s “strong interest in using Iraq as a safe haven to plot and plan attacks on the United States and other countries.”
If the United States learned that bin Laden was toying with the idea of using Lebanon, or a country with a large Muslim population such as France, or Indonesia as a base, would that justify some kind of military action — particularly if that country had a large number of duly-elected legislators who declared they didn’t want the U.S.to be there…before leaving U.S. troops behind as they went on a two month vacation? And what about bin Laden’s clear desire, often noted in various articles, to have a greater foothold in Pakistan (where some believe he already does have a foothold)?
The decision also coincides with an ongoing push by the Democratic majority in Congress to force an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Bin Laden and a top lieutenant — Abu Faraj al-Libbi — planned to form a terror cell in Iraq in order to launch those attacks, Johndroe said.
Al-Libbi was a “senior al Qaeda manager” who in 2005 suggested to bin Laden that bin Laden send Egyptian-born Hamza Rabia to Iraq to help plan attacks on American soil, Johndroe said.
Johndroe noted that bin Laden later suggested to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, that America should be his top priority. That was followed in the spring of 2005 with bin Laden’s ordering Rabia to brief al-Zarqawi on plans to attack the United States, Johndroe said.
This declassified bit of info will bolster the adminsitration’s case — among those who already are on the same page with the administration’s stated case. It is unlikely to change many minds on existing policy.
Republican talk show hosts, TV talking heads, candidates debating in the Presidential primaries and weblog writers who already support the President will cite it. Democrats and those opposed to the war will largely pooh-pooh it.
Those in the middle may be split, but it’s unlikely those unhappy with administration policy will transform their feelings on staying in Iraq because an intelligence report released by the Bush administration says bin Laden wants to be there (hasn’t there been a teeny-weenie issue with intelligence presented by the administration before?).
The larger, most difficult problem for George Bush is that arguing points, even when peppered with shakes from a spice shaker filled with declassified intelligence, are unlikely to change minds unless (a) the war shows significant notable progress and — much harder for Bush and his administration — (b) the administration is vindicated in some of the many credibility problems it is now facing.
It’s hard to say “trust me on this” when you’re proclaiming Attorney General Alberto “I Don’t Recall” Gonzales is a fine, upstanding Attorney General who is misunderstood by a bunch of partisan hacks with political motives (a group of people that also now include many members of Mr. Bush’s own party).
It’s hard to compartmentalize credibility and that’s Bush’s long-term, ongoing challenge: He’s ending his final months in office with a serious “tune him out problem” among those who don’t already agree with and staunchly support him. Even if he has something important to say, some either won’t listen or won’t believe him. It’s hubris.