DID SADDAM SEND THE BOMBERS?
August 13, 1998
by Helle Bering
Did Saddam send the bombers?
If you believe President Clinton, no one is more committed to the fight against terrorism than he. Unfortunately, few people seem to believe Mr. Clinton these days. Certainly the terrorists who blew up two US. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last week killing over 250 and
wounding over 5,000 people, don't believe him.
"These acts of terrorist violence are abhorrent; they are inhumane," Mr. Clinton said indignantly during an appearance in the White House Rose Garden on Friday the day of the bombings. We will use all the means at our disposal to bring those responsible to justice, no matter
what or how long it takes." On Sunday in his weekly radio address, Mr. Clinton stated, "The most powerful weapon in our counter-terrorism arsenal is our determination to never give up. No matter how long it takes or where it takes us, we will pursue terrorists until the cases are solved and justice is done?'
But the fact is that for all Mr. Clinton's bluff and bluster, the record of his administration when it comes to punishing acts of terrorism is a sorry one indeed. As has often been the case with Mr.
Clinton's foreign policy, there's a yawning: gap between rhetoric and reality tragically, that lack of credibility may have given encouragement to the enemies of this country, resulting in the attacks
that shocked and horrified two otherwise friendly and peaceful African nations last week.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has spent the past week looking as thoroughly implacable as only she can. However, Mrs. Albright's statement following the bombing did not match her scowl, nor promise much hope that the perpetrators would be caught and punished. In fact, the secretary of state urged caution, which--no mater how sincere your respect for law and order--is not exactly what you would expect when your coun-try is under attack.
We are not a nation that retaliates just in order to get vengeance [nor do we] forget our own legal system while searching for those who harmed us," she said. Even if we would like to go out right this instant and bomb somebody, I think that we've got to be careful about
what we are doing and why we are doing it and if we are doing the right thing so that we can be true to ourselves?'
Now, there are those of us who think that you can be true to yourself and hit back hard. President Reagan's bombing of Tripoli in response to the 1986 Berlin disco bombing comes to mind as an entirely appropriate reac-tion. It was effec-tive, too, down-grading Muammar Gadhafi from a ter-rorist threat to a low-level nuisance in one stroke.
Needless to say, how you retaliate depends on your target. As former US Ambassador to Kenya Smith Hempstone told me, "I don't see this as indigenous African terrorism. If it was, I don't see what the purpose of it was." It seems at least plausible that Mrs. Albright's cau-tion
may have something to do with the possible state-sponsorship of the bloody deed. In recent days, we've heard much about how difficult it is to track shadowy fundamentalist groups. But the kind of planning demanded to pull off simultaneous bombings in two countries is not usually characteristic horse and buggy outfits--like the hitherto unknown Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places, which rushed to "take responsibility" on Friday. The level of organization indicates state sponsored terrorism at work, terrorism, let's not forget is not just "the weapon of the weak" but also of rogue states.
During the Cold War, terrorism was a favored tool of the Soviet Union, which trained and funded networks all over the globe, from Germany's Red Army Faction to the Irish Republican Army to the Italian Red Brigades; and the PLO. It was part of an effort to destabilize Western societies from within.
Today, one candidate who disappeared much too soon from the line up of suspects in the embassy bombings is Saddam Hussein. While Iraq was mentioned during the first day after the bombing, by the weekend talk shows, the administration had turned suspicion towards Osama Bin Laden, a crazed Saudi businessman based in Afghanistan who does indeed have the
money and the terrorist network to be a serious threat. Iran, too, has been aired as a possibility; but with relations in a warning trend between the US and Iran, this would not make much sense. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, has both the opportunity and the motive--as hey say in the world of detective fiction.
By now, Saddam can surely read Bill Clinton like an open book. In 1993, he experienced firsthand what retribution Clinton-style feels like when we bombed an empty Baghdad office building at night as punishment for an Iraqi terrorist plot to kill former President Bush during a visit
to Kuwait. Not exactly a sign of respect for Mr. Bush. When terrorism hit in Saudi Arabia, where a 30,000 strong U.S. force remains to forestall Iraqi aggression, the investigations petered out, and little effort was made to connect the bombings of Khobar Towers with the most obvious source. In 1995 the American government training center in Riyadh was bombed, killing seven, including five Americans. And the following year, the US Air Force barracks in Dhahran was bombed, killing 19 of the American flyers whose job it was to patrol the skies over Iraq's southern no-fly zone. In both cases American investigator were stumped.
Last week's bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam happened at the same time that Iraq announced its decision to cease cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspectors, provoking scathing denunciations by team leader Richard Butler, who warned strongly against Saddam's continued capability to wage biological warfare. Coincidence? Perhaps, but not likely. With an extensive intelligence network operating since 1991 out of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, Kenya's neighbor to the north, Saddam certainly has the network to pull off a major terrorist operation. Saddam also has a habit of reminding the world how much trouble he can cause if continually crossed. Kenya, it may be recalled currently sits on the UN Security Council and has not been voting Iraq's way on the lifting of sanctions.
All of which, if true, would mean a major gamble on the part of Saddam Hussein. He would have to bet that Mr. Clinton was unable or unwilling to mount the massive military retaliation called for if an Iraqi connection to the bombings is established. Or just maybe, he doesn't consider it much of a risk any more.