The commission looking into the causes of the 9-11 terror attacks on the United States did not conclude that claims by the Bush administration of ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida were pure myth, as many newspaper headlines and broadcast reports asserted. As the vice chairman of the panel, Lee Hamilton, stated, "There were connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree on that."
Perhaps this can be placed in a context more Americans would understand. Suppose that instead of radical Islamists (would the nonradicals kindly step forward and isolate and eliminate the radicals?), we were talking about the Mafia. Surely in our "Sopranos"-obsessed age we would immediately get it, wouldn't we?
Let's say the Gambino family was mostly in charge of loan sharking. The Bonanno family ran prostitution rings. The Genovese family looked after the numbers racket. The Lucchese family established legitimate business fronts through which they laundered everyone's illegally obtained cash. A technical case could be made that members of the Genovese family were not directly connected to the activities of the Bonanno family. Neither could it technically be said that the Gambino boys had much to do with the fronts of the Luccheses. Does that mean there would be no direct criminal relationship among them, though all were part of the Mafia?
Maybe Saddam Hussein didn't speak directly to Osama bin Laden, but he was part of the same "family." Saddam did not personally bomb targets inside Israel (except during the 1990 Gulf War) but he rewarded the families of homicide bombers. Does that prove a connection between Saddam and Palestinian terrorism? The guy who drives the getaway car is as guilty as the people who rob the bank and shoot the teller.
Jeff Birnbaum of The Washington Post wrote: "The staff report (of the 9-11 Commission) indicates that there was considerable interaction between bin Laden and Iraq ... it was clear that they're fellow travelers." Commission co-chair Thomas Kean said, "What we have found is, were there contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq? Yes, some of them were shadowy -- but they were there."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday his government had warned Washington after 9-11 and before military operations in Iraq that Saddam Hussein's regime was preparing attacks in the United States and on its interests abroad.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry observed on Oct. 9, 2002: "It would be naive to the point of grave danger not to believe that, left to his own devices, Saddam Hussein will provoke, misjudge or stumble into a future, more dangerous confrontation with the civilized world .... He has supported and harbored terrorist groups, particularly radical Palestinian groups such as Abu Nidal, and he has given money to families of suicide murderers in Israel .... We should not go to war because these things are in his past, but we should be prepared to go to war because of what they tell us about the future."
Since then, Kerry has been singing a different tune because he wants to be president, and continuing support for President Bush's position won't help him win the election.
These Islamists -- from Osama bin Laden, to Saddam Hussein, to those inside Saudi Arabia who fund books and curricula that promote the hatred of all things American and Western -- are part of the same "family." Some are Islamists by religious commitment, and others, like the secularist Saddam Hussein, got religion when he thought it might gain him some favor with other family members. All hate America and teach their people to do so in order to shift attention from their own failings to improve the lives of their people.
It's all connected. Ask Tony Soprano.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.