I had wanted to link to Laurie Mylroie’s column in the Jerusalem Post a few days back and forgot to do so. Now you need to go through a cumbersome registration procedure to get to the column. Laurie Mylroie is the author of The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks. The book, published a year before 9/11, was an awesomely astute account of the terrorist war conducted by Saddam Hussein against the United States evidenced in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Mylroie’s column is a concise account of her thesis that the 9/11attacks and the war in which we are now engaged feature Iraq as our key antagonist. Given the importance of the subject and the timeliness of the column, even though written for an Israeli audience, I am accordingly taking the liberty of pasting in the column verbatim below:
Another mistaken ‘conceptzia’ BY LAURIE MYLROIE
Al-Qaida has struck again, or so it seems. “A virtual enemy,” as a Clinton administration official describes it, al-Qaida is everywhere and anywhere. It is no less a threat than it was a year ago, according to CIA director George Tenet although the Taliban are defeated; al-Qaida’s leadership is dead or on the run; and more than 3,000 others have been detained. “You see it in Bali. You see it in Kuwait,” Tenet affirmed. And now, presumably, we saw it in Mombasa.
US government officials recently stated that missiles shot at an Israeli passenger plane were linked to a failed al-Qaida attack on an American fighter jet in Saudi Arabia. But does this idea that al-Qaida is acting alone really make sense? Not at all.
The Clinton administration “spun” America’s terrorist problem when it re-emerged in February 1993, with the bombing of the World Trade Center, one month into Bill Clinton’s first term in office. New York FBI believed that was a “false flag” operation run by Iraq, working with and hiding behind Islamic militants.
But Clinton did not want to hear it (he thought he took care of the problem slyly if the FBI was correct when he hit Iraqi intelligence headquarters several months later). So his administration claimed a new terrorism had emerged, consisting of “loose networks” of Islamic militants, unsupported by states.
Israel might have recognized this for the dangerous misconception it was, were it not for the unrealistic expectations that set in regarding the “peace process” when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister. Already then, a new “conceptzia” had begun to blur Western vision.
“Conceptzia” was the term coined by the Agranat Commission to describe the intelligence failure that led to the surprise of the Yom Kippur War. As a friend at Tel Aviv University explained, “It is much more than a mistake.” It is a fundamentally flawed understanding of events that prevents one from seeing what is before his eyes.
The new conceptzia is easy to explain. By the mid-1990s, the notion had taken hold that the US had decisively defeated Iraq in 1991 (in fact, many, including prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, were appalled when the US ended the war with Saddam in power).
Then following Iraq’s defeat, so the conceptzia goes, a new threat emerged the spread of Islamic militants after the 1992 collapse of the communist regime in Afghanistan. Thus, the two threats, Iraq and the spread of Islamic militancy, are separated in time and space.
BUT THE Gulf War never really ended. The two phenomena the ongoing war with Iraq and the spread of Islamic militancy existed at the same time, the 1990s, and in the same space, the Sunni Muslim Middle East. Did they merge?
That is an important question, which almost no one asks. But it would seem they did. Consider Egypt, a key member of the anti-Iraq coalition. Without Egyptian backing, the Arab League would never have voted to support Iraq’s ouster from Kuwait, as it did in August 1990.
Egypt seemed to have beaten back its post-Afghanistan Islamic challenge by 1997. On November 17, however, more foreign tourists were killed in one day in an attack at Luxor than were killed during Egypt’s entire post-Afghan Islamic insurgency.
The attack occurred as the first crisis over UNSCOM ended. More crises would follow, as Saddam deliberately moved to end weapons inspections. When the next crisis began in early 1998, Egypt, through the Arab League, took a strong position that it not be resolved by force. No major terrorist attack has occurred in Egypt since.
What happened at Luxor? If Iraqi intelligence joins with an indigenous militant group, isn’t the ensuing attack likely to be far more lethal than what that group might do on its own? Of course. Recently, I discussed this with the distinguished historian Bernard Lewis, who concurred. The subtle hints that Iraq was involved in Luxor were missed by those who jumped to the conclusion the militants had struck again, but not by the Egyptians.
A major debate rages in Washington as to whether Iraq supports al-Qaida. As Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland wrote, “The links become clear with a little digging. You miss them only if you have a strong need not to know.” The attacks on tourists in Bali and Mombasa come as momentum builds for war with Iraq. As one US official, part of the new Bush team, noted, their main purpose is “to divert us from the war on Iraq…. Terrorism is an instrument of state, not a wildcat NGO.”
The conceptzia needs urgent reexamination. If Israel accepts and endorses an erroneous explanation for this terrorism, that will only increase the risk more will follow.
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