Let the backfilling begin.
The NY Times and the BBC are reporting that US intelligence has found a document addressed to al Qaeda leaders asking for assistance in starting sectarian violence in Iraq.
Several things are worth noting about this story and its spin.
The alleged author is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has long been asserted to be a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, though descriptions of the nature and strength of the link has varied: from "member" to "associate" of al Qaeda. The Times story cited above describes him as a "senior operative."
The timing of the announcement is interesting: the electronic document was apparently found in January, but goes public the very day of Bush's stammering performance on Meet the Press. Slow discovery and translation time? Perhaps. Intended as a one-two punch for Bush? Perhaps.
More interesting is the spin being given the story by TV news: last night channel surfing I heard the document described as the "smoking gun" confirming the link between Saddam and Osama. However, Dexter Filkins' 2/9 Times article explicitly states that the document "does not speak to the debate about whether there was a Qaeda presence in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era, nor is there any mention of a collaboration with Hussein loyalists."
Nonetheless, today's BBC story reports:
"US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington said the letter added 'credence' to US pre-war claims about connections between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi leadership."
Yet the circumstances of the document's discovery suggests something else. The computer file was found on a CD allegedly being carried from Iraq to Afghanistan. The document sought al Qaeda's assistance. In short, not only does the document fail to establish a pre-war connection between Saddam and Osama, it also suggests that current links between Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda may be very tenative and weak.
Let the backfilling begin? It's already begun. We've grown to expect such things from the news media and now, sadly, from the Secretary of State. To counter such backfilling, we're gonna need some bigger shovels.