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Friday, February 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Bush plays into al-Qaida's hands

Special to The Times

Compelling. We keep hearing that Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council was compelling.

It was, indeed, very powerfully delivered. It presented a strong case demonstrating that Saddam Hussein is one very nasty fellow and that he is not cooperating fully with U.N. inspectors. This, however, is not news. Powell also attempted to tie Saddam to al-Qaida sponsorship. His evidence here, if properly analyzed, is far from compelling.

Powell and company would have us believe that we must invade and conquer Iraq. Nothing could be more reckless at this time.

Powell's presentation was consistent with the Bush administration's official national-security strategy that promotes the broad use of military might to solve our problems. The ideologues promoting this policy and this war seem incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions. Relying so much on force as a first option will make us less secure, rather than more so. Powell once seemed to understand this.

The administration's ideologues have been regularly willing to distort the truth. Powell, however, has always stood apart. Now, even he, wittingly or unwittingly, is helping to spread the disinformation.

The "fine paper" released by Tony Blair's government, and cited by Powell, was significantly plagiarized from other sources (not British intelligence as implied) and then altered for proper effect. California researcher Ibrahim al-Marashi, whose work was lifted (without consulting him), says, "I said that (Iraqis) support organizations in what Iraq considers hostile regimes, whereas the UK document refers to it as 'supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes.' "

Powell also repeated the false but inflammatory charge that Saddam "forced out" the U.N. inspectors in 1998. Actually, they left at the urging of the Clinton administration, and against the wishes of the U.N., so that Clinton could hit Baghdad with some 120 missiles.

Most of what Powell reported was based on classified information. But who has officially analyzed this intelligence? The CIA has discounted much testimony of al-Qaida captives and Iraqi defectors because both groups have their own motives for relaying disinformation. And because this conclusion does not please the Bush administration, it has taken the CIA out of the loop. It has put ideologues, without intelligence training, in charge of evaluating such testimony.

Powell cited al-Qaida captives as reporting links between them and Iraq. This, of course, is exactly what the administration wants to hear. Those who seriously study al-Qaida know that Osama bin Laden also would like us to conquer Iraq.

When the Al-Jazeera network broadcasts the bloodied bodies of Iraqi women and children to the Islamic world, bin Laden will have a terrific recruitment tool. The al-Qaida captives might be only too eager to tell us — falsely — that they have links with Iraq if it will promote war. The new bin Laden tape can do the same.

Saddam and bin Laden both hate the United States. But their goals are different.

Bin Laden wants to destroy the United States. He believes his goal is realistic because Allah helped the Afghan mujahedeen bring down the Soviet Union. He is a religious fanatic, willing to bring the world down with him.

Saddam, while ruthless, "simply" wishes to establish himself as the dominant leader of the Middle East. He is not likely to pass on weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida, over which he has no control, knowing that their use will spell certain U.S. retribution and doom for Iraq.

If we go to war, here is a likely scenario. We will win the war, but we will lose the peace. The Islamic world will despise the United States and we will be targets at home and anywhere we travel. Al-Qaida, which truly is our deadly enemy, will grow stronger. If Bush uses nuclear "bunker buster" bombs, as he reportedly is considering, we will earn the enmity of the Islamic world for centuries, not decades.

A pre-emptive war will set a new international standard. North Korea is already following our example, threatening first-strike nuclear attacks.

Will we persuade India and Pakistan to pull back again, as we did last summer, because their potential nuclear confrontation was too reckless? On what moral authority? By what standard?

To find ourselves increasingly despised will be quite an accomplishment for the country that defended Europe in two world wars and has sponsored such great programs as the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps.

U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reported after Powell's speech that, while Saddam has been far less than completely cooperative, the U.N. inspectors are prevailing and they will succeed in disarming Iraq. Let them finish their job. And let us rely, as long as necessary, on deterrence and containment. These are proven strategies.

Lloyd Jansen, whose doctorate is in political science, is a faculty member at Green River Community College. He gives public lectures on the ideological roots of al-Qaida and the U.S. response to 9/11.

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