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What Do Facts Have to Do with It?

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If Osama bin Laden, who condemns Saddam Hussein as a socialist and a bad Muslim whom hed prefer to see overthrown, is in cahoots with the Iraqi dictator, he has a strange way of showing it. Perhaps President Bush is an ally of Husseins also: he agrees with bin Laden on all counts.

Most people who studied Secretary of State Colin Powells UN presentation on February 5 thought his weakest argument was the one associating Hussein with bin Ladens gang of ruffians, al-Qaeda. The argument consisted of a series of weak links: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who Powell said is close to bin Laden and who might have gotten medical attention in Baghdad, has ties to a militant group in northeastern Iraq called Ansar al-Islam, which operates a poison-chemical factory there. For Powell, this shows that Hussein and al-Qaeda are simply two divisions of Terror, Inc. When Powell told his story it sounded impressive that is, until the facts came out in the succeeding days. First, Zarqawi is not close to bin Laden. Second, Zarqawi has ties to Iraqs rival, Iran. Third, the head of Ansar al-Islam doesnt know him. Fourth, the head of Ansar al-Islam isnt an ally of Hussein he hates him. Fifth, journalists say the chemical factory is something else altogether. Sixth, Ansar al-Islam is based in Kurdish territory outside the control of Saddam Hussein, and where American and British warplanes could turn their factory into Lincoln logs any time they want.

This may be why intelligence officials in the United States, England, and Germany are skeptical about an alliance between Hussein and bin Laden.

Now to this shredded case Powell adds another layer of nonevidence: the latest audio tape from bin Laden. By this stretch alone we are justified in doubting Powells entire thesis. If he could do better, he would have.

Bin Ladens tape was little more than a motivational speech. As Powell himself puts it, bin Laden speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq. Does the Bush administration seriously expect us to believe that a bin Laden pep talk to the Iraqi people on the eve of a brutal U.S. assault is proof of collusion with Hussein? Lets hope the American people are not the dolts that the presidents men think they are.

There are more reasonable interpretations of the bin Laden message than that hes in partnership with the hated secular Iraqi government. It would certainly help to build his following if he is seen championing the people who are about to come under assault by U.S. forces. If the war throws the country into chaos which it may well do radical Muslins would stand to gain..

In fact, the war that President Bush threatens would accomplish several of bin Ladens objectives. If he is looking for a showdown between America and the Islamic world, this war could be the start of it. And if war puts an end to Saddam Hussein, that would suit bin Laden fine, since bin Laden is the enemy of all secular states in the Muslim world.

Powells emphasis on the alleged Husseinbin Laden link indicates a lack of confidence in his other arguments. Maybe the American people who, alas, fervently want to believe the president arent persuaded that an Iraq with some chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons is a threat to them. It must be apparent that Hussein is an nervous survivor unlikely to invite his own destruction by attacking Americans or Israelis, who have far more military power than Hussein could ever hope to command.

The administration has also justified war on the grounds that Hussein is an oppressor. Thats true, but perhaps the American people intuit that it is not the role of the U.S. government to police the internal affairs of other countries. The Framers of the Constitution left out such a power for a reason it would be a warrant for perpetual war. Besides, many other brutal rulers are counted among the U.S. governments allies.

So the administration plays the al-Qaeda card, and by implication the 9/11 card. The problem is, the facts arent there.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.