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This evening were very

This evening we're very pleased to run the first half of our interview with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen. Part two will run Friday afternoon.

Bergen is the author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, and interviewed bin Laden in person in 1997. He is currently a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.

The interview was conducted early Wednesday afternoon ...

TPM: There've been a series of [recent] attacks --the attack on the Jordanian embassy, the attack yesterday. And no one has claimed responsibility. There's the big debate about who's doing this. So what is your sense on the narrow question of who did it, and more broadly, what's happening in Iraq right now, this escalation?

BERGEN: Well, what's happening is utterly predictable, unfortunately. Which is that Iraq is acting as a sort of super-magnet for ... al Qaida or the jihadists in general. And they're coming to Iraq. Were they behind the Jordanian embassy attack? Very possibly. It happened on August 7th, which is a date that al Qaida is fairly preoccupied by, because that was the day that President Bush [Sr.] announced Operation Desert Shield and [began] posting American troops in Saudi Arabia. And then 8 years later [al Qaida] blew up two US embassies simultaneously on that day.

TPM: Huh, I'd never heard [that it was on the same date.]

BERGEN: They don't operate on anniversaries, but this is one that they have operated on. And they would definitely -- you don't spend five years [planning for] blowing up two US embassies without actually deciding, "We're going to do it on a day that really makes sense for us." And their principle political beef has been the US presence in Saudi Arabia. So the fact that the Jordanian embassy was attacked on August 7th, it's an interesting coincidence at least.

Then, attacking embassies, doing it in a professional manner. This is something that al Qaida has -- al Qaida or its affiliates -- among their specialties. Whether it was in Africa in '98, the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in '95, attempting to blow up a series of Western embassies in Singapore post-9/11, which didn't happen.

So that's point one. Then point two: The United Nations is definitely -- attacking the United Nations is definitely something that for starters was a suicide attack, probably extremely well-organized. I don't think there's a huge group of people willing to martyr themselves to bring Saddam Hussein back to power. I mean it just doesn't make sense on the face of it. You know, there might be people who are nostalgic, but not nostalgic enough to want to kill themselves … Secular socialism posits heaven here on earth, rather than in eternity.

Now, there's information just now that the FBI is saying that the explosive materials involved indicate some sort of military Iraqi [connection], which is interesting. So maybe there is some alliance between these former military people and the jihadists. But I think that -- I've never heard of a suicide operation mounted by people who don't believe in heaven.

TPM: Right, right. Does it tell you anything that no one has claimed responsibility for either of these attacks?

BERGEN: Well, al Qaida tends not ever to claim direct responsibility. I mean, there was a bogus thing, where they did claim responsibility for the blackout, but I doubt that was al Qaida. I mean claims of responsibility are -- you know, there are two claims of responsibility in the attack in Jerusalem: Hamas and Islamic Jihdad. So, I don't know. Claims of responsibility are sort of curious. Al Qaida as a general proposition has tended not to make claims of responsibility, so make of that what you will.

I don't think there are any claims so far. You know on Monday of this week, just before the attack on the United Nations, an audio tape came out from an al Qaida spokesman, calling for attacks on Iraq and making sort of a -- deriding US efforts to bring more people into the coalition. Obviously an attack on the United Nations' headquarters, it sends a very strong signal: If you're contemplating sending troops, you know, "Don't do it."

TPM: As you mentioned, there was this report today that these were Soviet-era munitions that the former regime had around. And that at least raises the question of whether there's some sort of coordination. Now obviously before the war this was one nominal casus belli. So, what is your sense on that big question: Was there a link between Iraq and al Qaida, was there coordination before the war -- and might there be now?

BERGEN: You know, the best evidence linking al Qaida to Iraq was what Colin Powell said with George Tenet sitting behind him at the United Nations. And it's this guy Zarqawi who went for medical treatment in Baghdad. Now I've talked to US officials and European intelligence officials and Zarqawi had his own organization that's not part of al Qaida. And even if you put the best possible spin on everything, A) he has a separate organization, and B) the way US intelligence officials look at it, they say that he would say, "Yeah, sometimes I do work for Osama."

But the fact is that this guy spent more time in Iran and Lebanon than he spent in Iraq.

I mean, he went to Iraq for medical treatment. He also traveled under an alias, by the way. This is a guy with many aliases. It's quite possible that he was getting medical treatment without the regime knowing it. After all, he's Jordanian.

So Zarqawi's their best [evidence] --and it's a pretty thin reed. You know, Iraq actually has quite good medical treatment compared to most other countries in the Arab world, from my understanding. So the fact that he went there -- and just by the law of averages, by the way, if we accept the fact that, as President Bush said in the State of the Union, that there are sixty countries where al Qaida exists, just by the law of averages, some of them are going to show up in Iraq.

But, you know, I spent years researching my book on al Qaida, and one of the striking things is how few Iraqis there are in the organization. I mean, everybody has an alias in al Qaida. They're called al Misri, which means you're from Egypt, or you're called al Jazeera, which means you're from Algeria. Very few are al Iraqi. The only one who is significant is a guy called Mahmud Salim who's actually in prison, and has been in prison since '98, who was a significant player in the leadership of al Qaida.

But obviously bin Laden is a Saudi, most of the top leadership is Egyptian, rather than Iraqi. And if you do a breakdown of who went through the training camps, the overwhelming numbers, from the Arab world at least, would be Saudis, Yemenis, and Algerians. Those would be in the top three. Iraqis really would have come down [the list]. And also, no one from Iran. There were no al Iranis in the groups.

TPM: Now that would be at least a sectarian divide?

BERGEN: Actually there's more evidence for al Qaida playing footsie with Hezbollah in the early '90s. You know, if you look at the model, the al Qaida model is the Hezbollah model. And this goes back to the question du jour--which is, what's happening in Iraq?

If you accept the fact -- and it is a fact -- that bin Laden modeled al Qaida's tactics on Hezbollah in Beirut in the mid '80s, when the bomb went off and we withdrew, and also on Mogadishu, where 18 Americans were killed and then we also withdrew ... If you accept that as their model, then that's the model they're going to apply in Iraq. That would explain the Jordanian embassy, the UN Headquarters, and the future attacks there are undoubtedly going to be against US soldiers there.

Some people trained with Hezbollah in Lebanon who were members of al Qaida and [bin Laden] met with Imad Mugniyah, who was sort of the operational commander of Hezbollah. But that's in the early '90s. On the Iraq question, he also met with Iraqis when they were living in Sudan. But you know, we all have meetings that don't mean anything. Look at the UN sometimes. So the fact that these guys were having meetings doesn't really mean, I think, very much.

TPM: How about Ansar al Islam, which is the other player in this debate?

BERGEN: Ansar al Islam A) is a small group of people, and B) was in the part of Iraq not controlled by [Saddam]. In fact, the only reason Ansar al Islam existed as a group, if you think about it, was because we were enforcing a no-fly zone. Totalitarian regimes don't tolerate opposition of any form, whether it's religious, political, whatever. Saddam Hussein would have executed people in Ansar al Islam.

So that's -- I think to say ex post facto that these attacks can be laid at Ansar al Islam might be convenient for the administration. And may or may not be true -- I don't know. There is the fact that Ansar al Islam mounted a suicide attack on a group of Western journalists during the war and killed an Australian. So they have managed to assign operations against Western targets. But to me they seem a rather trivial [group] when you're looking at numbers of 3,000 Saudis, as Saad al Fagih, the leading Saudi dissident told me yesterday.

I think the maximum number of people in Ansar al Islam were in the several hundred. And they seem much more preoccupied with attacking the Kurdish leaders. Other than this attack that I mentioned on the Australian journalist there doesn't seem to be a lot of indication that they're involved in anti-Western terrorism.

TPM: Now one of the accusations, at least before the war, was that the Saddam Hussein regime was aiding Ansar basically because they had a mutual enemy in Kurdish leaders. And to the extent that there was any argument about cooperation, that's how people built it up.

BERGEN: You know, maybe it's true. What does this all mean? The bottom line is, was [Iraq] involved in 9/11? Obviously not. Were Saddam and al Qaida in cahoots? No.

If you actually talk to the people who investigate this stuff --- the people in the US government [for whom] this is their daily bread, this is what they get up and think about every day --- they will say, well, one of them will say, "Don't get me started. My blood pressure was fine before you mentioned it. They came to me for a casus belli before the war and I said, 'I'm not the guy, there's nothing here.'"

And these are people who have investigated al Qaida arguably since 1993.

TPM: People in the US intelligence community, law enforcement, etc.?

BERGEN: Yeah. One of the key pieces of evidence is this guy Farouk Hijazi, who was the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey and a fairly senior Iraqi intelligence officer, that he might have met with bin Laden in December of '98. And [the US intelligence officials] say, "We really don't know if that's even true."

So I think going back to Colin Powell's presentation is the most useful exercise, because Powell didn't want to get out in front of what basically they felt they could nail down. Yes, Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment. Yes, there were meetings in Khartoum between al Qaida and Iraqi officials. But other people I've talked to in the US government say, "Those meetings happened. What to make of them, who knows?"

Also, another official would say, "Actually, bin Laden was just doing that to be polite, because Sudan and Iraq were closely allied at that time."

And I can speak from my own personal experience. Because when we met with bin Laden in '97, at the end of the interview (when this was a question of no political import at the time) Peter Arnett, the correspondent (I was the producer of the interview) asked bin Laden, "What do you think of Saddam?"

And he said, immediately, "He's a bad Muslim"--and no argument there, I mean that's a statement of fact--"and he took Kuwait for his own self-aggrandizement"--again, no argument there. These are both truthful statements that represent bin Laden's unmediated [views]--that's his response.

You know, proving negatives, of course, is difficult. But I think the case that al Qaida and Iraq had any kind of relationship, even of the most trivial kind, has not been proven at all. And look, if we find a warehouse of documents that proves the Iraq-al Qaida link in Baghdad, I'll be the first person to say, basically, I've got this one wrong. Because I don't have a dog in the fight -- I really don't care. I mean, obviously it's interesting. But it's not like something that I've got an ideological thing of wanting to separate these things out. It's just if it's not there, it's not there.

You know, we now have in custody, after all, the two people -- al Ani, who was the Iraqi intelligence agent who supposedly met with Mohammed Atta in Prague, is in custody. Don't you think he knows his get-out-of-jail-free card to some degree is saying "Hey I did meet with Mohammed Atta"? He's obviously not saying that, otherwise we'd know about it.

And then Farouk Hijazi, the guy I just mentioned, is also in custody. He must know that his biggest -- you know, I mean, we're not hearing about it. And what's very interesting is that we do know that the CIA -- the interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh are saying, "We specifically rejected Iraq's help." And these people by the way, the high ranking al Qaida operatives are giving very useful information for reasons that -- it's kind of puzzling in a sense -- ego, wanting to show that they're in the game, that they're important, whatever. They are producing useful information. They know that they're going to be in custody for the rest of their lives and very possibly executed. If there's any way of making their lives slightly more comfortable, don't you think they would have said, 'Hey, we have this relationship with Iraq?' So, au contraire, they're not saying that.



The second half of TPM's interview with Peter Bergen will be published Friday afternoon.

I see from Matthew

I see from Matthew Yglesias' site that there is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes. Now, that strikes me as a rather creative of interpretation of the event. To the extent that the form of attack is different -- mass casualty terrorism versus isolated guerilla attacks on soldiers -- I suspect it's because the perpetrators are not the same people. But that's just a supposition on my part.

However that may be, this new theory from the war-hawks suggests a broader question, a deeper problem.

I'm probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.

Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed.

The utility of requiring this would be that if the result of the invasion of Iraq is an Islamic theocracy, governed by Osama bin Laden, and purchasing nuclear weapons from Pakistan at bargain-basement prices, we'd have the hawks on record saying this was in fact not a positive development.

Now, we've already had the 'flypaper' theory: that guerilla attacks against American troops are a good thing because we're pulling 'the terrorists' out of the woodwork and attacking them on our own terms. And now we have what I guess we could call the 'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate.

For my part, I don't think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration's policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don't strike me as positive developments.

So I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with ...

I just conducted my

I just conducted my interview this afternoon with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen, the author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden.

We plan to publish the interview tomorrow evening.

One thing that caught my attention was Bergen's comments on the identity of the foreign jihadists now operating in Iraq and why they're there. According to Bergen, the majority of them are Saudi militants -- numbering as many as a few thousand -- who've come into the country not through Saudi Arabia but through Syria.

Now, why these guys would want to go into Iraq to kill Americans might not seem like much of a mystery. But there may be as much of a push as a pull. According to Bergen, the current Saudi crackdown against Islamic militants is actually quite fierce. And he says that many of them are fleeing Saudi Arabia because of it. Ironically, the crackdown on Islamist militants in Saudi Arabia may be leading to an upsurge of their numbers in Iraq.

If youre wondering whether

If you're wondering whether the Texas redistricting fracas is being orchestrated from Washington, look at this article in today's Dallas Morning News.

The one Republican who's broken ranks over redistricting is Bill Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant). He's not just any state senator. After President Bush left for Washington in 2001, he was succeeded by then-Lt. Governor Rick Perry. Ratliff's colleagues then chose him to serve as acting-Lt. Governor, an extremely powerful office in that state.

Today Ratliff revealed that "in the summer of 2001 he was asked by Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land and current U.S. House majority leader, whether he, as acting lieutenant governor, would suspend the Senate's two-thirds rule so the GOP could push through a favorable congressional redistricting plan during a special session." Breaking the two-thirds rule is what triggered the exodus of Democratic senators to Albuquerque and prompted Ratliff to come over to their side.

Add that to this from the Houston Chronicle in mid-June ...

Rove called state Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, the most likely Republican to oppose a GOP-drawn redistricting plan in Texas. Ratliff, who is undecided, said Rove stopped short of saying Bush wanted him to vote for the bill but "indicated that it could be important to the president."


In any case, now there's something you can do about this.

Regular readers of TPM have heard plenty from me about this ugly episode and why I believe it matters. Now Moveon.org is organizing efforts to support the eleven Democratic state senators who are now holed up in Albuquerque, New Mexico to block the latest attempt to push through Tom DeLay's precedent-busting redistricting plan.

Here's a letter from state Senator Rodney Ellis explaining what's at stake and what's happening now.

What these eleven are doing is really important.

Stop by the site. If you think this is important, get involved.

Heres a comment from

Here's a comment from retired General George Joulwan, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The quote's from Larry King Live ...

Let me be clear -- what I think, and this is my own personal opinion here, what is -- we're in danger. It's not there yet. But if we're in the careful here, we're in danger of losing the initiative in Iraq, and to a degree in Afghanistan. And that concerns me. We had the initiative going into Baghdad. We had a whole groundswell with us. But now that is turning. So it's extremely important, I think, that we reassess how to bring in the international community. NATO right now is in Afghanistan and Kabul. I think we need to broaden this and really get a secure environment in that country for the agencies to operate from the U.N., NGOs, et cetera. That is what concerns me. I don't see that happening right now.


I think there are very few retired military leaders who disagree with that proposition. Indeed, there seem to be very, very few people outside the Office of the Secretary of Defense who don't think we have too few troops in country.

One obvious reason to have more troops is that providing a secure environment is a sine qua non of almost everything else we want to accomplish in Iraq. Another is that it would give the occupation less of a US face, and thus help deflate the charges of neo-colonialism which hover over this whole enterprise.

But there's another important reason.

One of the medium to long-term challenges we face, I think, is that very few people in other countries have much invested in our success. I don't think most Europeans want us to fail exactly. But I think that the way this whole operation has gone down has made a lot of people want to see us at least get our nose bloodied or at a minimum fall rather short of a signal success.

One might say, well, if the French think that, they suck. And maybe they do. But as a practical matter, it doesn't really matter if they suck or if this is a good moral argument against them. One reason is that it's not just the French. And, more to the point, it'll be very difficult to pull this off if everyone else around the world is sitting on the sideliness, quietly relishing our stumbles.

By internationalizing this operation -- on our own terms, but still internationalizing it -- we'll get other countries invested in its eventual success.

The rejoinder to this argument might be that, well, all those other countries will pervert the enterprise to their own weenieful, relativistic, Brussels-esque ends. But, handled right, I don't think we have much to worry about. One of the great failings of the right's hostility to international institutions -- most notably, the UN -- is the inability or unwillingness to recognize how dominant our voice is in almost every international institution we claim membership in.

What I fear is that the administration is going to wait too long to make a course correction.

Despite some rough patches we've hit so far, I think it would still very much be possible for the president to internationalize the operation and have it appear as a grand gesture on our part rather than something we were forced to do because we were unable to manage the situation on our own. We could even present it as something we had intended to do all along. And though few would likely believe us, most countries would probably be eager enough to participate that they'd be willing not to make too much of it.

Unfortunately, if we wait till things really get out of hand, it really will look like a failure for us to call in other countries and we'll be far less able to call the shots. If things get bad enough, other countries that are now willing to send in troops might look at us and say, "You broke it, you fix it."

The key is that there is absolutely no strategic, moral, or diplomatic reason why internationalizing the occupation has to be seen as a failure. Quite the contrary. The problem is that many people in the administration see it as exactly that. And if we wait too long to do what is actually in our own interests, their own flawed vision -- that internationalization means a strategic failure for the US -- could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Theres a shocking --

There's a shocking -- really shocking -- and surreal video of the moment of the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad at the CBSNews website. (The link is near the top of the CBSNews site. The caption reads: "CBS News camera captures explosion, aftermath.") The feed begins with a garden variety UN briefing. Suddenly, there's a terrible racket, everything goes black, and the racket is replaced by confused screams and shouts from someone trying to take control of the situation.

Slowly the smoke begins to thin and you see disoriented victims trying to make sense of the situation, an endless number of people shocked, caked in powder, and blood-spattered. And just confusion. The cameraman slowly makes his way out into the open through what seems to be a gaping hole in the building and out into the light which momentarily overwhelms the light sensor on the video camera and makes the entire screen white. Images then slowly come back into view and, again, walking wounded.

Through the feed -- which runs about five minutes -- there are occasional shouts from bystanders, apparently telling the cameraman to turn off his camera. And such tapes can easily become a sort of grisly pornography of violence. But this struck me as different, as close as you'd ever want to come to seeing what it's like to be at the center of such a horror, and yet not needlessly gory. Go see for yourself. It's difficult to watch, but worth watching.

Oh thats classic. Tom

Oh that's classic. Tom DeLay says those Texas state Senators, who are off in New Mexico to stymie his re-redistricting plan, are guilty of violating the federal constitution.

From Fox News Sunday this morning ...

TONY SNOW: All right. Let's switch to another topic. Texas -- there is an imbroglio about redistricting. Republicans want to change the map because their Republican majority is substantial in your home state.

But there's a question. These same Republicans, a couple of years ago, agreed to a redistricting, or at least, in courts, got involved. Why should Republicans get another bite at the apple?

TOM DELAY: Well, we haven't had the first bite. We're supposed to, by Constitution, apportion or redistrict every 10 years. The state legislature in Texas couldn't do it in the last legislature, and three judges did it and they did a very poor job, as evidenced that the fact that we have a minority of Republicans in our congressional delegation.

What -- you know, we in Texas, Tony, have prided ourselves on honor, duty and responsibility. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the state legislature don't understand honor because they're violating their oath of office to support the United States Constitution. They don't understand their duty, which the Constitution calls for in redistricting. And they don't want to accept responsibility for it, so they ran.

We're insisting that the Constitution be upheld, and we feel very confident that if the state legislature does its duty and redistricts, then we will end up with a majority of Republicans in the congressional delegation.



Now that's classic. DeLay is pushing an effort which is entirely unprecedented in the last half century and hasn't been commonplace in this country for well more than a hundred years. And his opponents, who are resisting his efforts, are guilty of violating the constitution.

Persistent, chronic up-is-downism ...

From todays Wolf Blitzer

From today's Wolf Blitzer show, Wesley Clark on Tom DeLay ...

BLITZER: General, I want you to listen, during the war, when you were still working for CNN -- and just want to alert our viewers, you're no longer working for CNN as our military analyst.

CLARK: Right.

BLITZER: But during the war, early in April, Tom DeLay, the majority leader in the House, really hammered you directly. I want you to listen to what he told our Judy Woodruff then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Frankly, what irritates me the most are these blow-dried Napoleons that come on television and, in some cases, have their own agendas.

General Clark is one of them that is running for president, yet he's paid to be an expert on your network. And he's questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert.

I think they would serve the nation better if they would just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward as an expert.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, pretty strong words from Tom DeLay going after you. What do you say to that criticism?

CLARK: Well, first of all, I'd be happy to compare my hair with Tom DeLay's. We'll see who's got the blow-dried hair.

But beyond that, Wolf, he's got it exactly backward. It's upside down. I am saying what I believe. And I'm being drawn into the political process because of what I believe and what I've said about it.

So it's precisely the opposite of a man like Tom DeLay, who is only motivated by politics and says whatever he needs to say to get the political purpose. And so, you know, it couldn't be more diametrically opposed, and I couldn't be more opposed than I am to Tom DeLay.

You know, Wolf, when our airmen were flying over Kosovo, Tom DeLay led the House Republicans to vote not to support their activities, when American troops were in combat. To me, that's a real indicator of a man who is motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes.



Noted without comment, but nice dig on the hair!

My friend James Sparrow

My friend James Sparrow spent a couple years (with grant support from The Sloan Foundation, I think) setting up an archive on the history of the great New York City blackouts of 1965 and 1977. It's all put together in an amazing website (The Blackout History Project) which covers the social history of these events, what happened, people's reminiscences in written and recorded formats, and so forth. The site also has a great deal of information about just how blackouts happen, what these 'grids' are that folks are talking about, and how various forms of electricity deregulation which have taking place over recent years have made an event like we've seen today much more likely. Like, for instance, why did this become so systemic? If you're interested in knowing more, go check out the site. If you're a journalist or tv producer who wants to get a hold of someone who can really talk about this stuff, get a hold of Jim Sparrow.

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