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7/07/2004

Mylroie and Interpretation

I don't fancy myself a gullible guy. I "know" that I heard Bush alleging collaboration between bin Laden and Hussein, but I will concede that my memories of those statements are stronger than most of the transcripts reflect. Part of this is simply a tribute to the quality of Bush's speechwriters. Bush probably didn't understand the nuances between the collaborative relationship he was implying and the insignificant relationship for which he was claiming there was evidence. To keep him on message, to keep him from overstating the ties as well as they did, is a testament to their skill.

It wasn't just skilled rhetorical craftmanship that led me to strengthen the administration's relatively equivocal statements on OBL-SH ties. Part of it was mere cognitive dissonance: I didn't (and still don't) understand the case for war absent stronger ties. It's not even that I don't understand it: I don't believe it can be, or would be, made in good faith without a belief in collaborative ties.

Another reason for my credulousness is that there were people outside the administration, but with close ideological and personal ties to it, that were pushing the stronger version of ties. Outside parties, many closely allied with the administration, strongly supported the administration's perceived contention that there was collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Against this fusillade of implication and innuendo, the administration offered either no defense, or tacit endorsement. When there is only one advocate claiming meaningful OBL-SH ties, and that argument is publicly acknowledged within the administration, and the administration confronts it only with silence or rhetorical mimicry, it is fair to conclude that they mean something similar to that outside source.

Suppose Richard Perle accused Saddam Hussein of employing Dracula. If the administration later claimed "Hussein had ties to vampirism," should we interpret this to mean Saddam liked Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire?

The best example of this is Laurie Mylroie. Peter Bergen has a new, must-read article in the Guardian on Mylroie. Mylroie is a source of infinite depth on the OBL-SH connection. She testified about her theories before the 9-11 Commission. She is most famous for her insistence that Iraq was behind the WTC bombing in '93. Much of Mylroie's writing is posted on the web page of the consulting group she works for, Benador Associates.

Mylroie has no credibility among normal humans. She was demolished by Peter Bergen in Armchair Provocateur, an earlier article he wrote for the Washington Monthly. Her irrational hostility to the CIA (presaging recent events, perhaps) was detailed by David Corn in the LA Weekly. Juan Cole calls her Rasputin, noting the low standards typical of her work.

Nonetheless, she still holds considerable sway in the administration. Richard Clarke had this to say:

"Mylroie's thesis was that there was an elaborate plot by Saddam to attack the United States and that Yousef/Basit was his instrument, beginning with the first World trade Center bombing. Her writing gathered a small cult following, including the recently relieved CIA Director Jim Woolsey and Wolfowitz."
Richard Clarke, AGAINST ALL ENEMIES: INSIDE AMERICA'S WAR ON TERROR 95 (2004). Clarke refers to Jason Vest's November 2001 Village Voice article on the "intelligence" attitudes of the Department of Defense. Later, Clarke claims, with disbelief, that
"Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue."
Richard Clarke, AGAINST ALL ENEMIES: INSIDE AMERICA'S WAR ON TERROR 232 (2004).

She was spouting this nonsense. Significant figures in the administration believed it. The official line paralleled it closely. Was I naive to assume that her ideas had influence? Perhaps. Regardless, the administration profited from her conspiracy theories, and certainly never undertook any effort to deny or repudiate them.

I can take being duped. I can't help but wonder, however, if I would rather the recent bout of wordsmithing had not taken place, that I could continue to believe that the administration actually believed in collaborative OBL-SH ties. Would I rather be governed by a scylla of a cynically manipulative, yet precise, group that wages war without justification, or a charybdis of a misguided group of dolts? I think I'll just vote for John Kerry.

 

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