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Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2001 / 7 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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The second front --
Histories of World War II are full of the behind-the-scenes debates among national and military leaders over issues like the second front, whether and when-1942? 1943? 1944?-to launch an invasion on the coast of France. But ordinary citizens and even the most well-informed members of the press knew nothing of those debates at the time, though they suspected they were going on. So it may be now that George W. Bush and others might be deciding whether to open up a second front in the war against terrorism. We don't know what they're saying. But we can guess.

My guess is that they've been talking about Iraq–and are talking about it even more since anthrax cases started appearing on October 4, first in Florida, then in New York and Washington, D.C. The anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle's office, in an envelope nearly identical to that sent to NBC's Tom Brokaw, contained "pure spores," according to experts at the Army's Fort Detrick. That suggests, they say, that "it wasn't a kitchen or garage operation or, if it was, someone who knew how to purify spores" was involved.

Moreover, the purity of the anthrax makes it easier to trace. Richard Butler, who led the United Nations team inspecting Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction from 1997 to 1999, writes that Saddam was particularly interested in biological weapons and had been developing anthrax up through the last inspection in 1998.

There is good evidence as well of contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq. Faruk Hijazi, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer, made at least one trip to the Taliban capital of Kandahar, Afghanistan. And September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met twice with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, once just before leaving for the United States in June 2000.

On October 1, William Safire reported in the New York Times that al Qaeda operatives, armed by Saddam and taken prisoner after attacking Kurds in northern Iraq, gave up information about terrorist-Iraqi connections. On October 12, the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland reported that a former Iraqi intelligence officer told the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress that Islamic extremists had been seen in Iraq last year receiving training on how to hijack a Boeing 707.

CIA skeptical. Former CIA Director James Woolsey, writing in the Wall Street Journal October 18, says the CIA dismissed the story, evidently because "the CIA has always had an institutional bias in favor of information coming from recruited agents rather than volunteers and defectors." There has been similar skepticism in the government about scholar Laurie Mylroie's theory that Ramzi Yussef, ringleader of the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was an Iraqi agent.

Mylroie's theory is susceptible to proof, by fingerprint evidence probably readily available in Britain. Publicly, the government has shown no interest in obtaining such evidence. But it's possible that someone behind the scenes has been looking–or will look– and is keeping quiet about it. Publicly, government officials have been saying there is no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks. But what is happening inside? Are officials, as Woolsey suggests, skittering away from evidence of Iraqi involvement? Or are they accumulating evidence and keeping it quiet, holding it closely until the time comes to open a second front in Iraq?

We don't know. And we shouldn't know: There is no reason to give Saddam Hussein any advance warning, any more than Franklin Roosevelt wanted to give Adolf Hitler advance notice of where and when we were going into Normandy. Let him wonder what we will do next. And let the coalition partners who might be queasy about action against Iraq stand by us while we are in Afghanistan.

There has been much speculation about arguments within the administration on this issue. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has long called for action against Saddam Hussein, while Secretary of State Colin Powell talks often about the need to hold a coalition together. But neither one will make the final decision. And from the very beginning of the war, George W. Bush has been careful to keep open the possibility of a second front. On September 11, he took care to make it clear that "we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." In his September 20 speech to Congress, he made it clear that this was not just a fight against Osama bin Laden. On October 7, he said, "Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader." How much broader we don't know yet. But we shall see.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone