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Thursday, March 20, 2003
I've been trying to come to grips with the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. I'd like to give the president some slack on this matter -- most of whatever information he has should probably remain secret. But let's take the worst case -- that there is not much connection between Saddam and bin Laden. This war may actually be a good thing, serving to counter the asymmetrical warfare strategy of the Islamic terrorist groups.

The pattern of the Islamic and other Arab terrorists has been for a group without distinct ties to an identifiable country to launch an attack, whether against a soft target (airports and the Olympics in the 1970's, hostage-taking and hijackings in the 1980's, and first WTC attack in the 1990's) or a military target. Each of these, if attributed to the forces of a state, would constitute a valid cause for war, either as a war crime against civilians or a direct attack on another state's military. By maintaining the separation between the terrorist group and a state that supports their goals, an unfriendly state is able to stage an attack without incurring a retaliation. The attack, in the past, was often treated as a criminal matter, rather than an act of war. If the first attack on the World Trade Center had been treated as an act of war, the second might not have taken place.

Sadly, there are abundant examples of Arab extremists adhering to this pattern. Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Lybia have supported stateless terror groups who share their goals, but because the actual attacks have been carried out by nationals of other countries (Lebanese, Palestinians, Saudis), they escape reprisal. Iraq's hands are by no means clean in this regard. Abu Nidal, whose suicide (murder?) occurred in Iraq last year, was supported by Iraq for decades. Terrorists of various kinds have received training, equipment, and funding from Iraq for many years. The notorious payments to suicide bombers are only the most public example.

The war on Iraq has served notice that the US is prepared to ignore the formal separation between a terrorist group and its sponsoring states, visiting retaliation on the sponsors. Already Syria is signaling that it will improve its behavior. Pakistan has switched sides abruptly, although we must also get them to stop the Kashmir infiltration and attacks. Iran is noticeably anxious, perhaps with reason. And if the Saudis take a lesson here, they may find the courage to rein in their Wahhabi clerics out of fear of worse things.

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