May 9, 2006
Ask even news-savvy Americans what they know about Saddam’s plans to deploy suicide bombers against the West, and the most common response will be blank stares. Ditto for asking about how Saddam’s thugs trained thousands of terrorists from around the Arab world, right up through 2002.
Both stunning revelations surfaced recently, one in Congressional testimony last month and the other in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. The Pentagon has known about these items on Saddam’s terrorist agenda since the end of 2003, which is when it received the after-action analysis report it had commissioned. (It served as the basis for the testimony and the magazine article.)
Now declassified, the book-length report analyzed thousands of Iraqi documents and interviews with over 100 officials of Saddam’s regime to piece together what was going on in the tyranny’s final days. Much of it is darkly humorous, such as the lengths to which minions would go to deceive Saddam or how the despot actually appeared to believe the ridiculous propaganda spewed by Baghdad Bob.
To the extent the report or its summaries were covered by the mainstream media, attention mostly was focused on the finding that Saddam apparently behaved himself in late 2002 and early 2003 in a vain attempt to stave off the invasion. Yet entirely ignored by the supposedly objective news outlets were the rather newsworthy items indicating that, in fact, Saddam was interested in exporting terror.
According to a Nexis search, only four news outlets have even mentioned “Blessed July,” which was, in the words of the Foreign Affairs article, “a regime-directed wave of ‘martyrdom’ operations against targets in the West.” All nine articles were editorials or opinion pieces. The New York Times essentially avoided covering the report or the magazine summary of it, as the paper instead excerpted a book co-authored by one of its reporters that relied heavily on the report. Even the Associated Press declined to print a quick mention that preparations for “Blessed July,” again quoting from the magazine article, “were well under way at the time of the coalition invasion.”
The Washington Post, however, did cover the release of the Foreign Affairs article, but with this headline: “U.S. Said To Misread Hussein On Arms.” The not-so-subtle implication of the rather brief story was that Saddam didn’t pose as big a threat as we thought. In the weeks following the Post article, the full report was released and its authors appeared before Congress. Neither event triggered additional coverage.
Even if Post reporters missed the section in the 230-page report on terror training camps operated by the Fedayeen Saddam, the militia of soldiers most loyal to the ruthless ruler, that issue was raised again in Congressional hearings last month. The camps, which were started in 1994, trained some 7,200 Iraqis in the art of terrorism in the first year alone. “Beginning in 1998,” according to the full report, “these camps began hosting ‘Arab volunteers from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, ‘the Gulf,’ and Syria.’”
So in the late 1990’s and beyond, during which time conventional wisdom tells us that Saddam was “contained,” Iraq was training thousands of terrorists from across the Arab world. Saddam was not slowing down. “The training activity of the groups were increasing both internal and apparently external. It was increasing over time,” testified Lt. Col. Kevin Woods (retired), the report’s chief author.
Many Democrats, leading leftists, and even ostensibly objective members of the Fourth Estate scoff at Bush’s contention that the war in Iraq was a necessary component of the war on terror. Yet when fairly compelling proof emerges that Saddam was actively involved in both training terrorists and planning attacks, the collective response was silence.
Most baffling, though, is that the White House has been equally silent.
Had President Bush made even one mention of “Blessed July,” Saddam’s plans for a “wave of ‘martyrdom’ operations” would have dominated cable newscasts and newspaper headlines for at least a day. Maybe not dominated, but it would have garnered at least some attention.
Had the White House press office decided that the mainstream media couldn’t be trusted to disseminate the information accurately, it could have at least highlighted Saddam’s terror training camps for friendly columnists, talk hosts, and bloggers. It didn’t.
The White House doesn’t believe in re-fighting the decision to go to war, which is painfully logical. But politics isn’t logical. Neither are Bush’s political enemies. If the President wants people to trust that he made the right call by toppling Saddam, he needs to reiterate everyday what we know: Saddam was a threat who could no longer be tolerated.
“Blessed July” and Saddam’s terror training camps would be as good a place as any to start.
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Joel Mowbray is author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America’s Security.