Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Messaging Problem 

Over at the Weekly Standard, Christian Lowe is reporting on Paul Bremer's statements about captured Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq- almost 300 foreign fighters in custody, a mix of terrorists and mercenaries, all from other countries. These are not disgruntled Iraqis, opposed to the reconstruction and "occupation" as we so often hear. These are professional warriors imported to disrupt our efforts in Iraq. Lowe also reminds us of Ansar al Islam, the Al Qaida-affiliated group destroyed in northern Iraq in the early days of the war, that had been harbored by Saddam Hussein.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt among administration supporters who are following events that there was plenty of terrorist connections to the Hussein regime. But the case doesn't seem to be being made all that persuasively by the Bush Administration these days. They seem to be letting the critics have the field and the microphone, for the most part. Why is that? Some suspect that the administration is just carefully marshalling all the data, in order to produce one overwhelming presentation of proof regarding the reasons they went to war with Iraq. I hope it's that, and not just a messaging failure. The administration has an uneven record for making the cases it should be making. (Charles Pickering and Miguel Estrada come to mind).

Remember this speech?

"And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.

From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. Our nation has been put on notice, we're not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans."

That speech, combined with the evidence we already have about terrorists in Iraq, seems to leave no ground at all for claiming we attacked Iraq on deceptive or misleading grounds. The whole "Bush lied" bit seems as much based on simple hatred for Bush as anything that's happened over this war. You might say that Iraq harboring terrorists was not enough reason to attack them; but that's what Bush said he would do, and he did it (what an odd thing to say about a politician these days). I'd love to hear Bush using his "bully pulpit" to make just that case. "Disagree with me if you like, but I did what I said I'd do." I think that would go a long way with the men and women of the republic.

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