A Mixed-Up Colin Powell
Jude Wanniski
February 6, 2003


Memo To: Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman, Senate Foreign Relations
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Al-Qaeda Link

As the most important member of this Congress at the moment, as chairman of Senate Foreign Relations when we are contemplating war with Iraq, you cheered me this morning when I found in the New York Times that you indicated you believed there had to be a second resolution of the UN Security Council to authorize the use of force against Iraq. You also indicated you believed Secretary of State Colin Powell made a credible case for such a resolution in his presentation to the UN yesterday.

My own assessment is that Mr. Powell, in throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Iraq, made so many errors of fact that it will be extremely difficult to get UN support for a second resolution once the errors are made known. Of course, if the UN inspectors this weekend fail to get satisfactory cooperation from Baghdad in clearing up the genuine points of contention – and report that failure to the Security Council – there could conceivably be the second resolution you seek. We will just have to wait and see on those deliberations, but I think you should be asking the Bush administration to clear up the confusion about Powell’s revelation of Iraq’s ties to Al Qaeda. It was this revelation yesterday that attempted to show Saddam Hussein’s connections to terrorist groups which might prove to be a realistic threat to the territory of the United States if Iraq can develop weapons of mass destruction and pass them on to terrorists who can then strike the U.S. directly.

The presentation Powell made on this point was beyond the ability of the ordinary citizen to follow, because of the several linkages one would have to follow. But in the immediate aftermath of his presentation, knowledgeable journalists in the major media were quick to spot the weakness in those links. Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, was on CNN noting his skepticism, but it took the NYTimes today to develop the huge holes in Powell’s case. I think it will probably take hearings of your committee to sort all this out, but after reading the Times articles here is what it looks like to me:

Powell argued that an al-Qaeda operative named Abu Musaad al-Zarqawi had worked his way into an enclave of northeastern Kurdistan controlled by an extremist group named Ansar al-Islam. There, in a place named Khurmal, he “helped establish another poison and explosive training camp.” As Powell spoke, a monitor displayed a photo with the caption: “Terrorist Poison and Explosives Factory, Khurmal.”

The first big problem with all this shows up in the NYTimes dispatch from Oslo, Norway, by Don Van Natta Jr., who interviews the founder of Ansar al-Islam, Mullah Krekar, and says the Mullah “wore a wan smile” as he watched Powell say his Ansar was “providing a safe haven to members of Al Qaeda while aligning itself with Saddam Hussein’s regime.” Krekar says: “This is just not true... Powell is trying to make a link that does not exist. Saddam Hussein is my enemy. I have never met a member of Al Qaeda. Powell’s information is propaganda – it’s very odd and very weak.” He also said he resented Powell’s efforts to connect Zarqawi to his organization: “I have never seen him or met him.”

Is the Mullah not telling the truth when he says he doesn’t know Zarqawi and has never met Osama bin-Laden and has never met a member of Al Qaeda, let alone provided safe haven to them? The intelligence agencies must be able to tell you what the journalists seem to know, that the Mullah is telling the truth and Ansar is an independent organization with links to neither Baghdad or Qaeda.

In another NYTimes dispatch from Erbil in Kurdistan, this one by C.J. Chivers, “Kurds Puzzled by Report of Terror Camp,” we find that Powell has located the chemical factory in the wrong town, if indeed there is a chemical factory. What makes this error so glaring is that the Kurds interviewed are allies of the United States and adversaries of Baghdad, who would like to see Saddam removed as long as it does not cause them difficulties. The village shown in the photo labeled Khurmar turns out to be controlled by a moderate Islamic group, the Komala, not Ansar. And as the dispatch from Oslo shows, Ansar has no connection to Zarqawi or to Saddam or to Al Qaeda. Chivers closes his story with a quote from Abu Bari Syan, an administrator for Komal Islami Kurdistan, the party that controls Khurmal, who says of Powell’s claim: “‘All of it is not true,’ he said.”

My hope, Senator, is that as you will be able to help make sense of this and the other points raised by Powell in determining the course of war or peace. It is clear President Bush will not rest until there is regime change, as I think he believes Saddam committed genocide and is a present-day Hitler (which I think is untrue) and that he believes Saddam tried to assassinate his father (which I also think untrue). Those matters are separate and apart from the questions you face as chairman of Foreign Relations, having to do with the threat to the national security by Iraq. You have known me for at least 25 years, Senator, and know I do my homework before I take positions on any issue, whether it be national security or economic policymaking. I hope you take me seriously on this one.