Saturday, June 05, 2004

Saddam and al-Qaeda

Earlier this week I finished reading Steven Hayes' excellent new book The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Hayes presents a compelling case for a substantive link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al-Qaeda, based on credible intelligence reports, testimony from captured Iraqi and al-Qaeda operatives, open source materials, and most importantly, Iraqi intelligence documents that have come to light since the fall of Saddam's regime. I'll have some thoughts on particular aspects of Hayes' argument later this weekend. For now, let me just say that the book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of al-Qaeda, the nature and aspirations of Saddam's Iraq, and the struggle against radical Islamist terror. An article by Hayes summarizing his book is in the June 7th Weekly Standard. See also his article "Case Closed", from the November 24, 2003 issue of the Standard.

It's important to note what Hayes is not saying. He does not claim that Osama took his marching orders from Saddam, that Saddam was behind 9/11, or that the two didn't have serious differences over whose form of totalitarianism would dominate the Middle East once the infidel Americans and Jews had been expelled. Hayes is very careful to let the evidence he presents speak for itself. He openly acknowledges uncertainties and alternative explanations for some of the items he refers to.

There are a couple weaknesses with the book. I would have liked to have seen Hayes provide more of an overall analytical framework for the Iraq-al Qaeda connection. For example, how did al-Qaeda's ties with Iraq compare to its ties with Iran? What was the overall course of the relationship? While Hayes clearly shows, in my view, that such a relationship did exist, he doesn't do enough to put the connection into an overall context. As a result, the book tends to read like a series of individual articles as opposed to a single narrative.

My other main peeve is that the book does not include footnotes, a bibliography, or even an index. Hayes is very good about citing his sources within the text, however using a more formal method for his open source citations would have increased the research value of his book. (What do you want? I am a librarian.)

Overall, though, these are minor flaws with a book I consider to be a must read.


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