Earlier today, I made the mistake of reading Eric Alterman’s column on MSNBC.com. After discussing how French anti-Semitism during World War II was basically a myth, which seems to conflict with a number of events I remember reading about in history class, Alterman launches into a critique of a registration-only article discussing bias at The New York Times. Needless to say, Alterman disagrees with its author, basically asserting that the Times is, in fact, a right-wing mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. Fine.
Anyway, Alterman goes on about how Saddam Hussein had no connection whatsoever with al Qaeda and about how this is a skull-thumpingly obvious fact that everyone knows. I don’t want to rehash the whole debate over Iraq’s al Qaeda connections, which are contentiously debated (see here, here and here for counter-arguments, as well as here for my take). But having just recently been reading the 9/11 Commission report, which Alterman apparently never has, I was struck by his certainty.
One tiny example, from p. 134 of the paperback version of the report:
�In February 1999, [CIA Assistant Director Charles] Allen proposed flying a U-2 mission over Afghanistan to build a baseline of intelligence outside the areas where the tribals had coverage. [Richard] Clarke was nervous about such a mission because he continued to fear that Bin Ladin might leave for someplace less accessible. He wrote Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick that one reliable source reported Bin Ladin’s having met with Iraqi officials, who �may have offered him asylum.� Other intelligence sources said that some Taliban leaders, though not Mullah Omar, had urged Bin Ladin to go to Iraq. If Bin Ladin actually moved to Iraq, wrote Clarke, his network would be at Saddam Hussein’s service, and it would be ‘virtually impossible’ to find him. Better to get Bin Ladin in Afghanistan, Clarke declared. [Sandy] Berger suggested sending one U-2 flight, but Clarke opposed even this. It would require Pakistani approval, he wrote; and �Pak[istan’s] intel[ligence service] is in bed with� Bin Ladin and would warn him that the United States was getting ready for a bombing campaign: �Armed with that knowledge, old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad.� Though told also by Bruce Riedel of the NSC staff that Saddam Hussein wanted Bin Ladin in Baghdad, Berger conditionally authorized a single U-2 flight. Allen meanwhile had found other ways of getting the information he wanted. So the U-2 flight never occurred.�
I know others have sifted through all of this and come to differing rational conclusions – the Commission ultimately dodged the issue – but I doubt that Alterman is one of them. Instead, he simply makes conclusory statements unsupported by evidence. It might not all be so bad if he wasn’t criticizing others for doing exactly what he is doing.