Scheuer: Bush Let Zarqawi Get Away
Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden team, gives credence to a longstanding claim that the Bush administration “deliberately passed up repeated opportunities to kill the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before the March 2003 US-led invasion of that country.”
He told [Australian Broadcasting Company’s] Four Corners that during 2002, the Bush Administration received detailed intelligence about Zarqawi’s training camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Mr Scheuer claims that a July 2002 plan to destroy the camp lapsed because “it was more important not to give the Europeans the impression we were gunslingers”. “Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot because they were wining and dining the French in an effort to get them to assist us in the invasion of Iraq,” he told Four Corners. “Almost every day we sent a package to the White House that had overhead imagery of the house he was staying in. It was a terrorist training camp . . . experimenting with ricin and anthrax . . . any collateral damage there would have been terrorists.”
Considering that Scheuer ceased being head of the bin Laden division in 1999, has since written two books about our efforts against al Qaeda, has written numerous op-eds, and appeared on dozens of television interviews since then, I’m viewing his claims somewhat more dubiously than Kevin Drum. Not to mention that Scheuer, while possessed of many keen insights on Islamist terrorism, is something of a crank.
Still, it’s not inconceivable that opportunities arose to kill Zarqawi and a political calculation was made not to do it. Scheuer has repeatedly claimed that the Clinton administration did the same with bin Laden. His own analysis is that, “The world is lousy with Arab princes. And if we could have got Osama bin Laden, and saved at some point down the road 3,000 American lives, a few less Arab princes would have been OK in my book.” In my book as well. Then again, killing some Arab princes might eventually lead to something much worse than 3000 dead Americans and, in any rate, it’s not as if 9/11 were a known alternative outcome.
I can’t imagine a political analysis that would justify not killing Zarqawi given what we know now. It’s quite conceivable, though, that it appeared rational given what we knew in 2002.