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"Boogie to Baghdad" By: Byron York
TheHill.com | Monday, November 21, 2005


I have to admit that I have failed miserably in my small effort to make the words “Boogie to Baghdad” part of the national conversation on ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

In case you don’t remember, “Boogie to Baghdad” is the phrase that Richard Clarke, when he was the top White House counterterrorism official during the Clinton administration, used to express his fear that if American forces pushed Osama bin Laden too hard at his hideout in Afghanistan, bin Laden might move to Iraq, where he could stay in the protection of Saddam Hussein.

Clarke’s opinion was based on intelligence indicating a number of contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq, including word that Saddam had offered bin Laden safe haven.

It’s all laid out in the Sept. 11 commission report. “Boogie to Baghdad” is on Page 134.

Now, given the intensity of the current debate over prewar intelligence and the role of al Qaeda and Iraq, you might think that would have attracted some notice — if only because “Boogie to Baghdad” is a nice, catchy phrase that editors would find irresistible for headlines.

But, no. A search of the LexisNexis database reveals only about a dozen instances in which the phrase has appeared. A significant number of them were in articles by me, either in this newspaper or in National Review. Most of the others were in The Weekly Standard.

According to the database, the phrase has never appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time or similar publications. It’s as if those words — and the Sept. 11 commission report that revealed them — never existed.

If you’ve forgotten, here’s the short version of the story behind “Boogie to Baghdad,” taken from the Sept. 11 report:

In 1996, after bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to get along with his new Taliban hosts. So he made inquiries about moving to Iraq.

Saddam wasn’t interested. At the time, he was trying to have better relations with his neighbors — and bin Laden’s enemy — the Saudis.

But a bit later, Saddam apparently changed his mind. According to the report:

“In March 1998, after bin Laden’s public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with bin Laden.”

Still nothing happened. But later:

“Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and bin Laden or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the [intelligence] reporting, Iraqi officials offered bin Laden a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Laden declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative.”

It was in that context that Clarke believed that if the United States made bin Laden’s situation too hot in Afghanistan, then, in Clarke’s non-famous words, “old wily Osama will likely boogie to Baghdad.”

Now, that doesn’t at all suggest that Iraq had a role in Sept. 11, but it certainly does suggest a relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda.

That’s important, because these days Democrats are poring through old statements by Bush administration officials, looking for evidence to support their claim that the president “lied” us into war in Iraq.

One such statement that has been kicked around recently comes from an appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sept. 8, 2002, in the run-up to the war.

Moderator Tim Russert played a clip from the vice president’s appearance a year earlier — just days after the Sept. 11 attacks — in which Russert asked, “Do you have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraq to this operation?”

“No,” Cheney said.

In 2002, Russert asked, “Has anything changed, in your mind?”

“I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11,” Cheney said. “I can’t say that. On the other hand, since we did that [2001] interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years.”

Cheney mentioned the still-disputed/alleged/possible/discredited/maybe meeting between lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi agents in Prague. It was the subject of some dispute, he added. “The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn’t he there, again, it’s the intelligence business,” Cheney said.

Was there anything else? Russert asked.

“I want to separate out 9/11 from the other relationships between Iraq and the al Qaeda organization,” Cheney said. “But there is a pattern of relationships going back many years.”

Which leaves just one question. In light of the Sept. 11 commission’s report — and no matter what Democrats say — what was wrong with that?

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