Two Complementary Wars

Only a few days have passed since the terrible bombings in Indonesia, but there has been a swift leap to connect them with the US position on Iraq. Or, should we say, not to connect them?

Press and policymakers are making the following argument: the US announced a war against terror more than a year ago. Its goal was to stop the spread of terrorism and show nations that sponsor terror that America will tolerate their behaviour no longer. These days, though, the US is working on a second war - the war against Iraq. What the deaths in the Bali nightclub show is the price of neglecting the original commitment to stopping such terror. Bali, so the argument goes, is a reminder that Iraq may be a dangerous distraction.

Yes, the "distraction" theorists are correct in asserting that, in terms of both expenditures of effort and financial outlays, the US is about to wage two wars. But there is little evidence that one war gets in the way of the other; what is more, from a policy point of view, there is mounting evidence that the causes of the two wars are related.

Consider the nature of the long anti-terror war declared in the hours after September 11, 2001. This war is not primarily a military war. It is a war of intelligence and money.

On the intelligence side, the US must build a network of knowledgeable scholars, agents and informants who can help it to track down terrorist cells. The FBI and CIA must link with the national and local law-enforcement agencies of the rest of the world.

On the financial side, the issue is, to a significant degree, a matter for national treasuries and banks. These are already at work tracing cash that might be flowing to al-Qaeda or other such groups.

Finally, there is the political and policy work. Thus, for example, the US will spend this week talking with Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's president. The US efforts will be diplomatic, not military: the US will continue to put pressure on the president to crack down on Hamzah Haz, her vice-president, who has expressed support for militant Islam.

The Iraq conflict, by contrast, is mostly a military one. The Air Force will probably be involved; so will the army and the navy's ships. In other words, there is not much overlap in terms of US resources.

But there is also a case, and one stronger than that which could have been made using publicly available documents a month ago, that the tasks of taking action against Iraq and eliminating al-Qaeda terror in places such as Indonesia are related. Just on Monday, Matori Abdul Djalil, Indonesia's defence minister, flatly accused al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesian group thought to be affiliated to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, of the attack on the nightclub. As the FT has reported, the minister said that "we are sure al-Qaeda is here", and that "the Bali bomb blast is related to al-Qaeda with the co-operation of local terrorists".

On the US government side, there is strengthening conviction that there has been a significant relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq both before September 11, 2001 and after it. This was clear from the president's speech before Congress a week ago, and it has become a little clearer since.

Take the little-noticed second half of a letter sent by George Tenet, director of the CIA, to the Senate before that body passed its joint resolution to give the president authority to act on Iraq. The letter offered the following bulleted points: "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade." "Credible information indicates that Iraq and al-Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression." "Since Operation Enduring Freedom [the US intervention in Afghanistan] we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad." "We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs."

Most of the press coverage of this letter, interestingly, concentrated on Mr Tenet's argument that the prospect that Saddam Hussein would launch an attack using weapons of mass destruction in the near future was low. But the other material is telling because it makes it impossible to rule out the chance, however remote, that Iraq has had a role in bombs such as the Bali one. It is also impossible to rule out, that, for example, one of the Bali terrorists is now making his way to Iraq. Here we are entering the realm of speculation. Still, the point is a clear one: Bali does not disprove the developing case for the Iraq war - it may even strengthen it.

© Copyright 2002 Financial Times

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