Did al-Qaeda Game Bush into Iraq War?
Douglas Jehl of the New York Times explains how Ibn al-Shaykh Libi, a high al-Qaeda official of Libyan extraction, was captured in fall of 2001 and alleged to CIA interrogators that Iraq had provided al-Qaeda with training in chemical and biological weapons.
Later on, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaykh Muhammad were captured in Pakistan. Abu Zubaydah was wounded in the course of being captured and was put on heavy duty pain killers, and was interrogated in part while under their influence. Both he and KSM maintained that Bin Laden had forbidden any operational cooperation with Iraq, because it was ruled by an infidel secular Arab socialist regime.
When the CIA came back to Libi with these statements of his colleagues, he folded and admitted he had lied.
What is going on here? It has been suggested that Libi told the CIA whatever they wanted to hear because they tortured him. But there is another possibility, which is that he deliberately misled them. Libi is also the source of a report in January 2002 that al-Qaeda had targeted the US naval base in Bahrain. That allegation was never confirmed, and it is possible that it was also a lie, intended to draw US resources away from Afghanistan, or to make the US cautious about using the base.
I think Bin Laden and his lieutenants wanted to provoke wars between the US and Muslim states. I think they knew that the 9/11 attacks would guarantee a US war on Afghanistan, and that they were confident they could draw the US into the country and defeat it, as they had the Soviets.
That they were trying to provoke a US/Afghanistan war and knew their actions would provoke one is suggested in several ways. First, they made no effort to have the hijackers on 9/11 employ aliases or cover their tracks. A toddler could have traced Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdar back to al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. They made their reservations under their own names! All of the hijackers had. Counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke was astounded that these men had even been let on the planes under those names, many of which were well known to US intelligence. Likewise, Bin Laden hand-picked the Saudi “muscle” that he sent along at the last minute, from among young men personally loyal to him, and who would be known to be his men. September 11 was a way of waving a huge red flag from Afghanistan at the American bull.
Two days before 9/11, al-Qaeda agents posing as Algerian newsmen blew up Ahmad Shah Masoud, the gallant leader of the Northern Alliance. Clearly, Bin Laden had gamed out the aftermath of 9/11 and understood that the US might well try to partner with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and he wanted to reduce the military effectiveness of the NA by eliminating its most talented strategist, Massoud.
Bin Laden, in choosing the “muscle” to be 15 Saudis, also was clearly attempting to alienate the US from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in hopes of weakening the regime in Riyadh and preparing it for overthrow by radical Islamists.
Libi’s story about Iraq training al-Qaeda, delivered after 9/11, is of a piece with the rest of this strategy. It was aimed at instigating a war by the US on Iraq.
All of these wars were intended to stir hatred of the US invader throughout the Muslim world, to weaken the “puppet” governments of the Middle East that were allied with the US and make them ripe for overthrow, and to mire the US in a series of Islamic quagmires that would sap its will and strength and ultimately force its withdrawal from the region.
In form, the Libi strategy resembles the Maoist hope that the rural third world could be brought into a confrontation with the industrialized capitalist countries, one in which contradictions would be sharpened and the capitalist minority ultimately surrounded and overwhelmed by socialist villagers. Substitute “radical Islamist” for “socialist” and you have the Libi plan.
If al-Qaeda wanted wars between the US and Muslim countries, why would Abu Zubayda and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad have told the US the truth? I can only speculate, of course. But Abu Zubayda may have been debriefed while badly wounded and heavily sedated, and may not have had his wits entirely about him, so that he reacted with anger and hatred at the Baathist regime when it was brought up. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was not arrested until March of 2003, and may have delighted in revealing to the US that it had been duped after the war began on March 19.
Even though Libi recanted his earlier disinformation, Vice President Dick Cheney has continued to rely on his allegations. Note that it should no longer be necessary for the US to depend on a single unreliable source such as Libi, since it has captured the Baath intelligence files and should by now know pretty much exactly what the Baath government was up to with regard to terrorism. If the US does not know, it would be because it irresponsibly gave those intelligence files to Ahmad Chalabi.
Chalabi was playing the US from the other side, feeding it disinformation about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda ties that was just made up out of whole cloth.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz allowed themselves to be manipulated by Libi and Chalabi because it suited them.
The question is whether letting ourselves be duped in this way suits the American public.