The tireless Thomas Joscelyn, writing in the Daily Standard, debunks the claim of Daniel Benjamin that there was no relationship between Baghdad and al-Qaeda prior to our attack in 2003. Joscelyn relies on claims and findings by the Clinton administration, which Benjamin served, and on Benjamin’s own defense of the bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa in 1998. Although some suggested at the time that Clnton attacked the plant for no reason other than to deflect attention away from his impeachment, Benjamin has argued that the plant was connected both to al Qaeda and to Iraqi weapons scientists. To be sure, Benjamin has also claimed, in effect, that the plant’s simultaneous connection with these two groups somehow was accidental. But that claim seems absurd, especially since Iraqis were present at several other similar facilities in Sudan. Indeed, according to the 9/11 commission report Richard Clarke himself, who for years had read intelligence reports on Iraqi-Sudanese cooperation on chemical weapons, speculated that the large Iraqi presence at chemical facilities in Khartoum was probably a direct result of the Iraq-Al Qida agreement. Even Michael Scheuer once wrote, “We know for certain that bin Laden was seeking CBRN [Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear] weapons . . . and that Iraq and Sudan have been cooperating with bin Laden on CBRN weapon acquisition and development.” And the Clinton administration’s original indictment of bin Laden alleged that al Qaeda had agreed not to work against Saddam’s regime and to cooperate with it on weapons development.
It’s understandable that the Clinton national security gang now wants to whitewash the record on Iraq’s connections to al Qaeda. After all, the Clinton administration bascially gave Saddam a free pass for eight years while pretending that it had him in a “box.” But Saddam was not one to be boxed in without a fight, and since the Clinton administration was not willing to fight, it’s not surprising that Saddam saw al Qaeda as a vehicle through which he could operate outside of his box.