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A Time to Remember the Iran-al Qaeda Connection
One of the more surprising things about Iran and the
visit of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
is that Bush administration's unwillingness to lay out the case of Iran's unusual complicity with al Qaeda.

I say unusual only because Shi'ite governments do not often make common cause with Sunni radicals, although tactical alliances among non-state actors is not so unusual.

But, it seems, if the cause is big enough, tactical alliances can be made and endure. Hatred for the United States and a shared desire to create Islamist states seem to be enough in this case to unite the old guard of al Qaeda with the Ahmadinejad regime.

The tactical alliance is not new, but it is passing strange that, in light of the relationship, the current administration does not focus more explaining the Iranian threat.

This alliance alone is enough to negate Ahmadinejad's request to visit Ground Zero in New York. He scored tactical points by making the request and having it denied, although it would be akin to allowing an accomplice to lay a wreath at the grave of the victims.

The Bush administration squandered the opportunity to make the point that this is not a free speech issue as Ahmadinejad claims, but a terrorism-related issue. Iran is harboring senior al Qaeda leaders, has trained with al Qaeda and maintains at best an ambiguous relationship with al Qaeda in Iraq.

And, while I am a strong advocate of freedom of expression here and abroad, would it not be an interesting experiment to let demagogues like Ahmadinejad and others speak to university groups here on the condition that they allow a reciprocal speech on one of their country's premier university campuses?

It need not be a U.S. official, but perhaps a dissident, a Nobel laureate, or any number of options, but force the closed societies to give something in exchange for their willingness to use the freedoms offered here.

The evidence of Iran's support for al Qaeda, lacking in the Iraq case, is clear in public testimony from al Qaeda defectors long before 9-11 as well as testimony of Iranian officials in European court cases and intelligence dossiers both in the United States and Europe.

The collaboration is also amply noted by the 9/11 Commission, which found that eight to 10 of the hijackers traveled to Iran in the year before 9/11. That speaks to how safe the al Qaeda operatives felt moving there as they planned their spectacular attacks, when no any security breach would have been lethal.

This is not to argue in favor of military action against Iran, only to point out that, as many in the U.S. intelligence community said before the misadventures in Iraq, the real danger to the United States and the stability of the Middle East was Iran, not Iraq.

Perhaps after the fiasco of the Iraq intelligence it is simply not politically viable. However, given the constant, if veiled nods to the idea that Iraq was al Qaeda's ally prior to 9/11, it is hard to understand why a more tangible relationship is with Iran not discussed more publicly.

The chief interlocutor between the Iranian security forces and al Qaeda is the Quds (Jerusalem) Force, the elite unit that manages Hezbollah as well as the arms flows to Iraq. The unit protects Sayf al-Adel, Sa'ad bin Laden (Osama's son), and other senior al Qaeda leaders that reside in Iran.

Maybe our inability to articulate the danger of Iran except from the nuclear side is a direct consequence of the inability to get Iraq right on the intelligence front. Or, as David Ignatius points out in the Washington Post, some in the Community's inability to get it right overrode the voices of those who got it right.

So the United States has largely mounted no credible response to a person who spews hatred, offers ridiculous platitudes for answers to the most basic questions about freedom in his own country, and has little to offer the world.

In order for the record to speak for itself, the record has to be credibly laid out. Iran's record has not been. Technorati Profile

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