It's spelled AEI, but pronounced Aiiiieeee!!!
Laurie Mylroie, the pet conspiracy theorist of the neoconservatives, long ago earned the painful debunking inflicted in the new Washington Monthly by Peter Bergen, a serious journalist and scholar widely recognized for his pioneering investigations of al-Qaida.
The inventive Mylroie blames Saddam Hussein for nearly every terrible event of the past decade or so -- from the crash of TWA Flight 800 to the Oklahoma City bombing to the 9/11 attacks. As an American counterterrorism official quipped, she "probably thinks the Washington sniper was an Iraqi." Her flights of fantasy would hardly matter, however, except that she is the neocons' only certified Iraq expert, and thus wields influence in the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. She has been encouraged by such powerful patrons as Bush defense advisor Richard Perle, former CIA director James Woolsey, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff -- and by the American Enterprise Institute, which sponsors her research.
As Bergen puts it, "Her theories have bolstered the argument that led us into a costly war in Iraq and swayed key opinion-makers in the Bush administration, who then managed to persuade seven out of 10 Americans that the Iraqi dictator had a role in the attacks on Washington and New York." Her promoters at AEI and in government should be required to read his article, which dismantles her works with clean logic and forensic skill. And although never flippant, he also doesn't neglect his subject's darkly comical characteristics. Having observed Mylroie since 1990 (and having debated her not long ago on public radio), I recognized his description of their tense encounter on Canadian TV last February:
"As soon as the interview started, Mylroie began lecturing in a hectoring tone: 'Listen, we're going to war because President Bush believes Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Al-Qaida is a front for Iraqi intelligence ... [the U.S.] bureaucracy made a tremendous blunder that refused to acknowledge these links ... the people responsible for gathering this information, say in the CIA, are also the same people who contributed to the blunder on 9/11 and the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and so whenever this information emerges they move to discredit it.' I tried to make the point that Mylroie's theories defied common sense, as they implied a conspiracy by literally thousands of American officials to suppress the truth of the links between Iraq and 9/11, to little avail.
"At the end of the interview, Mylroie, who exudes a slightly frazzled, batty air, started getting visibly agitated, her finger jabbing at the camera and her voice rising to a yell as she outlined the following apocalyptic scenario: 'Now I'm going to tell you something, OK, and I want all Canada to understand, I want you to understand the consequences of the cynicism of people like Peter [Bergen]. There is a very acute chance as we go to war that Saddam will use biological agents as revenge against Americans, that there will be anthrax in the United States and there will be smallpox in the United States. Are you in Canada prepared for Americans who have smallpox and do not know it crossing the border and bringing that into Canada?"
Whew! Obviously we -- along with those defenseless Canadians -- barely escaped with our lives.
Bergen mentions that until Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, Mylroie served as an academic apologist for Saddam's regime. I know that's true because I first came across her name during my own 1990 investigation of the U.S.-Iraq Business Forum, a corporate pro-Saddam lobbying outfit based in Washington. Perhaps her compulsive need to blame Saddam for everything terrible since then arises from a lingering sense of guilt. That would be an explanation, if not an excuse. Those who misused her research to mislead America have neither.
Incidentally, the same issue of the Washington Monthly includes an additional pair of penetrating probes into the American Enterprise Institute, the deep think tank where Laurie Mylroie holds forth on her unified conspiracy theory. Nicholas Confessore exposes the corporate "journalism" of AEI fellow (and Washington Post columnist) James Glassman's TechCentralStation, and Benjamin Wallace-Wells examines AEI's long intellectual decline into propaganda, which has paralleled its increasing cultural influence and its growing roster of corporate sponsors.
[9:30 a.m. PST, Dec. 3, 2003]