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A valuable addition from

A valuable addition from reader J.:

<$NoAd$>There are many indigenous forces that push for liberalization and democratization [in the Middle East]. These range from the moderate Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to the old leftists--most of whom are quite tired by now--and the newer, human rights-oriented generation of activists and sympathizers. There are, in other words, plenty of people who are willing to make the sacrifices for democracy that this process will require, and are doing so now.

Perhaps because of distance, one tendency is to go for name recognition. ... In the case of the Arab world, Saad Eddin Ibrahim has come to fill that role. And he has a certain heroic air about him in the U.S. in particular. But it should be made clear that he is primarily disliked not for heroically espousing freedom, but for accepting funding from foreigners and then apparently espousing their causes. This is more like U.S. congressmen and women accepting special interest funding and then moving legislation through government that benefits those interests. Ibrahim is linked especially to the deeply unpopular American policies that have had enormously negative impact on the lives of millions of Arabs.

At one point, while I was an impoverished graduate student here in Cairo, I freelanced as a translator for an NPR reporter who was asking people their opinions about the imprisonment of Saad Eddin. Nobody would speak to us. In fact, one man became enraged, saying, "why are you focused on Saad Eddin, go report on what is happening to the Palestinians." This point isn't worth more effort than this, but I just want to argue that people ... should perhaps consider not making Saad Eddin Ibrahim the poster boy of democratization and liberalization. Shirin Ebadi of Iran is much more convincing as a poster girl, if we need such a person. Others exist, as well and should be given, as you say, very discreet support by people who are genuinely sympathetic to them and to their causes, not by intelligence types who are hoping to use them as wedges to crack open their respective societies.

Anonymous makes several arguments

Anonymous makes several arguments in Imperial Hubris for why we're losing the war on terrorism. Some are a matter of keeping score in the military ventures we've undertaken. He sees our intervention in Afghanistan as a disaster. While not as strident, a host of mostly liberal critics generally agree, arguing that the Bush administration has allowed Afghanistan to slip back into warlord-dominated instability. The prescription this critique implies is a vigorous nation-building effort. Anonymous rejects this entirely. Expanding Hamid Karzai's writ across the country is a recipe for violence, he writes: "After twenty years of war and ineffective or alien government in Kabul, the regions, subregions and tribes have never been more autonomously minded and jealous of their prerogatives." Democratization in Afghanistan, he believes, is a mirage. "We focus on issues that don't matter to Afghans--women's rights, democracy--and we denigrate those things that matter to Afghans--Islam, tribal and clan relationships, ethnic pecking orders," he says. Sometime soon, "you're going to have a government back in Kabul that looks like the Taliban, perhaps under a different name." The proper purpose of the 2001 war, he believes, was to use U.S. forces to annihilate the Qaeda presence in the country and do no more. With our inability to do that, our garrisoning of troops in Afghanistan and support of a weak central government of ethnic minorities provides little aside from an Islamist rallying cry against U.S. occupation--what he terms "an unmitigated defeat."

Then there's Iraq. "[T]here is nothing bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq," he writes.

All Muslims would see each day on television that the United States was occupying a Muslim country, insisting that man-made laws replace God's revealed word, stealing Iraq's oil, and paving the way for the creation of a "Greater Israel." The clerics and scholars would call for a defensive jihad against the United States, young Muslim males would rush from across the Islamic world to fight U.S. troops, and there--in Islam's second holiest land--would erupt a second Afghanistan, a self-perpetuating holy war that would endure whether or not al-Qaeda survived.


The reason we've made these mistakes, he argues, is that we fail to understand that bin Laden doesn't hate us because of our freedom. Or, rather, while he does hate the licentiousness and modernity that the U.S. represents, it's not what compels him to declare war on us. Nor does an anti-modernist bent explain bin Laden's appeal across the Muslim world. Instead, it's what Anonymous identifies as six points bin Laden repeatedly cites in his communiqués: "U.S. support for Israel that keeps the Palestinians in the Israelis' thrall; U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian peninsula; U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. support for Russia, India and China against their Muslim militants; U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low; U.S. support for apostate, corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments." Combined with his charismatic biography, bin Laden's strategic success has been to frame these arguments through a Koranic prism, "to convince everyone that U.S. policy is deliberately anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic," he says. Bin Laden's critique presents in resonant Islamic terminology a coherent jihadist explanation for practically everything Muslims can find offensive about the U.S.--the most deadly slippery slope there is. And the more Americans insist on treating bin Laden's anger with the U.S. as a pure hatred of freedom, the less equipped we'll be to answer him in a battle of ideas.

But Anonymous doesn't really consider it possible for the U.S. to answer bin Laden in a battle of ideas throughout the Islamic world: U.S. support for what many Muslims may see as unjust policies has drained us of our credibility, he argues. He combines that critique with a rejection of anything resembling democracy promotion. Woodrow Wilson, to Anonymous, is a "bloody-handed fantasist." Insisting on democratic reform in the Muslim world then becomes naïve futility--even though one of Bin Laden's rallying cries is, as Anonymous puts it, U.S. support for "tyrannical Muslim governments."

Without the option to work for reform, a large portion of what Anonymous advocates is essentially a policy of brutal and unforgiving war.

To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing …

Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. … [S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.


While military force will surely be necessary in the war on terrorism, a scorched-earth policy of warfare, especially in the age of Al Jazeera, seems tailored to play into Bin Laden’s arguments about U.S. desires to destroy Islam, to say nothing of transforming the U.S.'s war on terror into something resembling Russia's dirty war in Chechnya, or the Indian or Chinese responses to Islamic extremism. (Which, as Anonymous observes, is something Bin Laden denounces the U.S. for supporting.) I asked him about this.

<$NoAd$>ANONYMOUS: The war we need to conduct is simply to protect America. It's to stop the enemy, to have him cease and desist from attacking us. It is not--I hope it's not--to make them democratic, or to make them become libertarians or whatever, whereas the Indian intention in Kashmir is to install Hindu domination. The Chinese intention in western China is genocide: a silent genocide as they're doing in Tibet by inundating the Uighurs with Han Chinese. And the Russians are intent on doing what they tried to do in Afghanistan: to subject the population and eliminate whatever percentage of that population is necessary.

TPM: But isn’t it enough like those governments, or certainly like Russia in Chechnya, in that you’re calling for scorched-earth tactics? And isn't that at the heart of what the Islamic resistance in Chechnya views as Russia’s attempt to destroy Chechnya--and what in fact fuels the Islamicization of Chechnya?

ANONYMOUS: I think that's a good argument. My argument, I think, taken from the whole book, is that we've left ourselves with no option but the military option, and our application of military force against our foe, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else, has not been particularly intimidating. They've ridden out two wars. They're on the offensive at the moment. What are we left with? If we don't use our military power, we really just sit and take it. …

TPM: But isn't the argument that we'd be using our military force disproportionately?

ANONYMOUS: The question is survival. What are we going to do, dive an airplane into the Grand Mosque at Mecca? No, we're not going to do that. Proportional war ends up being war forever, because they'll never stop being able to attack us, and if the cost they pay is minimal, it just goes on forever. That's where we are now.

TPM: When you say that we're left with few options besides military options, what are the other options we should be pursuing?

ANONYMOUS: I try to outline them in the book. I don’t think very many of them will even be debated. I think we should look somewhat at our relationship with Israel. Clearly we need an energy policy, not just in the United States but in the West, that makes us less dependent on oil out of the Gulf. For myself, I can't figure out what American interest we would have in Saudi Arabia if it wasn't for oil. If they all killed each other to their heart's content, it wouldn't affect America at all.

TPM: Is there an ideological war America can wage against al-Qaeda?

ANONYMOUS: I think the whole idea of public diplomacy is finished. For a long time, America was indeed viewed as a broker, as a mediator. Franklin Roosevelt helped ensure the British empire went away. [Eisenhower] stopped the Israelis and the French and the British at Suez. Ronald Reagan supported the mujahideen. There's none of that left anymore. No one gives us the benefit of the doubt. Partially, I think a large part, because of our policies. But also because of the domination of Arab satellite television. Our words are never going to be listened to while Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera is broadcasting live every day from the West Bank, as homes are being bulldozed and the Israelis are fighting the Palestinians and the Palestinians are blowing up the Israelis. No one's out there to listen.

Our ideology of democracy and personal freedoms and civil liberties can have an effect in the world--by example, not by transfer. … [Not] by our trying to transfer it, by putting it on a CD-ROM and giving it to Chalabi and saying, "Here, you have three months to install this."…

TPM: But can't we support, and materially support, Arab liberals? And in the case where it would hurt Arab liberals to be associated with us, to say "We'll back away and give you what you need?" In order [for them] to seek an open path according to [their] local circumstances?

ANONYMOUS: I'm not sure if there is a liberal element out there anymore in the Arab world, insofar as someone who would stand up and say "We want to adopt Western society or democracy." I think we're so viewed as malignant in the Islamic world that there aren't that many people who would say that, first because they're mad at us, and second because they'd risk being killed by people who disagree with them. So I'm not so sure we can talk our way out of this one. I think that's probably one of the most important points of this crossroads we're at. No one's going to listen. It doesn't matter what we say. It doesn’t matter how many Madison Avenue people we hire to put out the word, to put out magazines. Ain’t no one out there listening anymore.


As the above exchange illustrates, I think relinquishing the promotion of democratic reform in the Muslim world limits our options in the war on terrorism to basically military measures that stand a significant chance of spiraling out of control. And there are Muslim liberals and reformers out there--just ask Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. After the occupation of Iraq, and especially after Abu Ghraib, it's hard to disagree with the proposition that our credibility is in serious disrepair, but that's not an argument for cutting our losses and ceding the intellectual battlefield to the jihadists. In order to sharpen this point and chart a course forward in what Anonymous rightly identifies as a war of survival, Imperial Hubris is worth examining and debating.

Julian Borger has a

Julian Borger has a story in The Guardian that paints the anonymous intelligence professional who penned the forthcoming Imperial Hubris: How the West is Losing the War on Terror as animated in no small measure by "contempt for the Bush White House and its policies." That's a bit wide of the mark. Does the book exhibit contempt for the administration's policies? Certainly. It also takes a dim view of the White House's conception of what motivates al-Qaeda and how to fight it. But in the book and in an interview, Anonymous doesn't traffic in Bush-bashing. He has much harsher words to say about the leadership of the intelligence community, whom he faults for bending too far to the predispositions of the policymakers they serve.

<$NoAd$>ANONYMOUS: The intelligence community, and especially the CIA, serve the president. I think the mistakes that were made [in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism broadly] were probably made by the intelligence community not having the balls to stand up and to say any number of things that were knowable. "Mr. President, the people we're backing in Afghanistan will not be able to form a government and will ensure continued war and instability." "Mr. President, if you attack Iraq you will be giving bin Laden a gift." "Mr. President, we don't have enough [intelligence] officers and people to run two wars at a time." "Mr. President, all of the reporting about Iraqi WMD is coming from opposition politicians, and you have to take it with a massive grain of salt.”

I tend to blame, as I do in the book, a leadership generation in the intelligence community that is more interested in its next promotion and its career prospects than it is in talking about hard issues. Somebody needed to go and say, not just to Mr. Bush, but to Mr. Clinton, "Mr. President, this is a war about Islam. You can say all you want that it's not a war about religion, but it is." And it's much more so now than in 1992, and still no one will say it.


More to come shortly about Anonymous's critique of how the U.S. is waging the war on terrorism.

From national treasure Trent

From national treasure Trent Lott's Q&A in the Sunday Times Magazine:

<$NoAd$>You recently created a stir when you defended the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib.

Most of the people in Mississippi came up to me and said: ''Thank Goodness. America comes first.'' Interrogation is not a Sunday-school class. You don't get information that will save American lives by withholding pancakes.

But unleashing killer dogs on naked Iraqis is not the same as withholding pancakes.

I was amazed that people reacted like that. Did the dogs bite them? Did the dogs assault them? How are you going to get people to give information that will lead to the saving of lives?


Somewhere in Tashkent, as he's schmearing his morning bagel over the cries of prisoners being submerged in boiling water, Uzbek President Islam Karimov is nodding in approval, relieved to have found a kindred spirit.

For an indication of

For an indication of how rapidly sectarian divisions in Iraq can inflame the country, read this New York Times story. Not long ago I spoke with a prominent Iraqi leader, and he left me with little doubt that the Kurds were deeply unsatisfied with U.S. intransigence over resolving Kurdish displacement in the north--something Saddam engineered preceding and during his genocide of the Kurds in 1987-8--and that Iraqi Arabs would not react to unilateral Kurdish actions passively. Such a situation appears, dangerously, to be coming to pass:

<$NoAd$> Thousands of ethnic Kurds are pushing into lands formerly held by Iraqi Arabs, forcing tens of thousands of them to flee to ramshackle refugee camps and transforming the demographic and political map of northern Iraq.

The Kurds are returning to lands from which they were expelled by the armies of Saddam Hussein and his predecessors in the Baath Party, who ordered thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed and sent waves of Iraqi Arabs north to fill the area with supporters.

The new movement, which began with the fall of Mr. Hussein, appears to have quickened this spring amid confusion about American policy, along with political pressure by Kurdish leaders to resettle the areas formerly held by Arabs. It is happening at a moment when Kurds are threatening to withdraw from the national government if they are not confident of having sufficient autonomy.

In Baghdad, American officials say they are struggling to keep the displaced Kurds on the north side of the Green Line, the boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region. The Americans agree that the Kurds deserve to return to their ancestral lands, but they want an orderly migration to avoid ethnic strife and political instability.

But thousands of Kurds appear to be ignoring the American orders. New Kurdish families show up every day at the camps that mark the landscape here, settling into tents and tumble-down homes as they wait to reclaim their former lands. The Kurdish migration appears to be causing widespread misery, with Arabs complaining of expulsions and even murders at the hands of Kurdish returnees. Many of the Kurdish refugees themselves are gathered in crowded camps.

American officials say as many as 100,000 Arabs have fled their homes in north-central Iraq and are now scattered in squalid camps across the center of the country. With the anti-American insurgency raging across much of the same area, the Arab refugees appear to be receiving neither food nor shelter from the Iraqi government, relief organizations or American forces.

"The Kurds, they laughed at us, they threw tomatoes at us," said Karim Qadam, a 45-year-old father of three, now living amid the rubble of a blown-up building in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. "They told us to get out of our homes. They told us they would kill us. They told us, `You don't own anything here anymore.' " …

The biggest potential flash point is Kirkuk, a city contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. Kurdish leaders want to make the city, with its vast oil deposits, the Kurdish regional capital and resettle it with Kurds who were driven out in the 1980's.

To make the point, some 10,000 Kurds have gathered in a sprawling camp outside Kirkuk, where they are pressing the American authorities to let them enter the city. American military officers who control Kirkuk say they are blocking attempts to expel more Arabs from the town, for fear of igniting ethnic unrest.

"The Kurds are pushing, pushing," said Pascal Ishu Warda, the minister for displaced persons and migration. "We have to set up a system to deal with these people who have been thrown out of their homes."


Arabs will not react passively if they perceive the Kurds expelling Arabs from the north. Already, in heavily-armed Falluja, anti-Kurdish sentiment pervades. The Washington Post recently quoted one Iraqi who blamed the U.S. and the Kurds--participants in the April attack by the U.S. on the city--for the death of his daughter. "I will send my brothers north to kill the Kurds," he said . The displacement of Arabs from the (oil-drenched) north might be all the spark that the (resource-light) Sunni areas require to lead to an all-out civil war.

And in that situation, what will the U.S. do? The Kurds are our allies in every significant sense: One of the most betrayed people in the history of the world, they fought with us to overthrow Saddam. We may well find ourselves having to deploy forces to separate Iraq's different ethnicities, a very dangerous situation for our troops. How this will play out in practice in a place like Kirkuk--multiethnic, resource-rich and claimed by Arabs and Kurds alike--is incredibly difficult to determine. And it puts the U.S. in something close to a worst-case scenario.

The Washington Post which

The Washington Post, which has provided consistently excellent coverage of the Iraq occupation, now provides what might be termed a requiem for the war. I say "war," and not "postwar" because there's no such thing as the "postwar": the strategic objective of the invasion of Iraq was to midwife a stable Middle Eastern democracy, not simply overthrow Saddam Hussein. Maybe that will happen several years from now. My optimistic friends remind me that, after all, it's only been fifteen months since the invasion. Fair enough, but I see no positive trends taking root. The Post points out several reasons why, both in its requiem and in its collection of essays in the Outlook section.

Infrastructure is in total disrepair, and only getting worse with this month's spate of attacks on oil pipelines, bridges and other economic arteries. There is no security in the country--not just for American and foreigners but for Iraqis simply seeking to live their lives, who are the ones we desperately need to buy in to a brighter future. Violent crime has skyrocketed and gangs and militias have proliferated. Sectarian fissures in the country are severe: Grand Ayatollah Sistani's rejection of the interim constitution has inflamed Kurdistan, and even if the Kurds decide against secession (still a dangerously open question at this point), future peaceful compromise in Iraqi politics will be significantly more elusive as a result. Falluja, a symbol of resistance to the U.S. occupation, is both armed to the teeth and feels threatened by both the Kurds (who participated in the April siege of the city) and Shia aspirations of ruling the country. One of the scariest questions in Iraq is what revanchist Sunnis will do now that they have the city as a base of operations. They're not as well armed as the Kurds, nor are they as numerous as the Shia, but one lesson of the last year is that just one armed fanatic can inflict massive bloodshed. Against this background, it's difficult to see civil society--a constituency for the rule of law and the nonviolent adjudication of legitimate disputes--taking hold. Typically in such cases, democracy is a Potemkin affair.

On July 1, the CPA will cease to exist, but it is extremely unlikely that Iraqis will consider themselves no longer under occupation. The presence of 138,000 Americans--visible enough to provide a symbol of hated foreign domination, too few to stop the chaos that plagues Iraqis--who are hated by about 90 percent of the country probably ensures this. As one Baghdad policeman told Reuters last month, "Bush is a scorpion. He is a liar. He is sneaky, making all kinds of promises when he just wants to control Iraq." As a result of this distrust, Iraqis are unlikely to shed what administration officials exasperatedly term the "Man On The Moon" syndrome: The expectation of American omnipotence to solve their problems, since a superpower mighty enough to put a man on the moon can surely provide electricity in Baghdad for more than nine hours a day. After all, the U.S. Embassy will still reside in the Republican Palace in the middle of Baghdad, garrisoned in the Green Zone. We're still going to be blamed for everything that goes wrong, and a lot looks primed to continue going wrong.

The U.S. will leave behind foundations for liberalization, but they come entwined with foreign domination. A good example is the legal structure that the CPA is bequeathing to Iraq: It provides significant openness and political space for Iraqi civil society, both from L. Paul Bremer's proclamations and the interim constitution. But as Nathan J. Brown of George Washington University observes,

[Iraqis'] nationalist sensibilities will be offended when they turn their attention to specific provisions. When Iraqi political and legal officials discover that multinational troops still are effectively granted extraterritorial status; that their vehicles must be given priority in traffic; that the official name of the country in some documents has been changed (from the "Iraqi Republic" to the "State of Iraq"); and that international agreements may—even absent an explicit provision—override requirements for open and competitive bidding in procurement, they will probably conclude that the CPA orders, while often liberal, are inconsistent with full sovereignty.


A consequence of all this is something that undercuts an implicit premise of the Post’s excellent coverage: That the occupation is in a significant sense ending. What appears more likely to happen is abdication. The U.S. will be declaring that it's not responsible for the deteriorating course of the country while Iraqis suspect (with significant foundation, as Brown points out) that the U.S. is the real power broker in Iraq. As retired State Department official Richard Murphy writes in his Post article, "Washington has oversold the significance of the June 30 handover." All this makes the actual fulfillment of our strategic objectives increasingly remote. Which is a euphemism for failure.

About an hour after

About an hour after news of the despicable murder of Paul Johnson went over the wires yesterday, I spoke with a veteran intelligence official who's tracked terrorism and radical Islamism going back to the Afghan jihad in the 1980s. Next month, as "Anonymous," he'll publish a book titled Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror. There's a lot in the book to consider, disagree with and debate, and I'll be writing more about it shortly. First, here's some excerpts from our conversation about what the Johnson murder tells us about al-Qaeda strategy and Saudi counterterrorism efforts.

<$NoAd$>ANONYMOUS: I don't know if it tells us a lot about their worldwide strategy. It reinforces a lot about what we know about al-Qaeda. al-Qaeda is in many ways a reflection of Saudi society. Osama bin Laden is not an aberrant or deviant product of the Saudi educational system. He is its poster boy. He is the product of an educational system that has existed for more than half a century and turns out people who are of a mindset quite similar to bin Laden and his al-Qaeda people, though probably not as talented.

We saw al-Qaeda execute the operation of killing one American, kidnapping another, within two days. It reinforces the idea of nearly simultaneous attacks. They posted the information about Mr. Johnson, said what they wanted, said what they were going to do, and did it. Which perhaps is the most important trademark for al-Qaeda: they tell you what they’re going to do and then they do it.

In terms of their goals in Saudi Arabia, which are not entirely reflective of their overall strategy, it's to demonstrate the inability of the al-Saud government to provide security for expatriates--and to rally their supporters within the kingdom, which are numerous. So I think the unfortunate, tragic murder of Mr. Johnson is just another step in their attempt to unravel Saudi control over the kingdom.

TPM: Over the last couple days, a lot of the commentary about the kidnapping has been that it's al-Qaeda’s intent to spare Saudi society and instead inflict pain on foreigners who work on the oil sector. It sounds, though, that you’re saying a more important aspiration of al-Qaeda is to provide a demonstration effect of what the power of its ideology and the steadfastness of its operatives can do for people inside Saudi Arabia.

ANONYMOUS: I think that’s right. I think clearly al-Qaeda does not want to kill Muslims unnecessarily. They’re willing for Muslims to die in an attack on the United States or some other target, when the deaths are part and parcel of an act of war. But within Saudi Arabia I think they're kind of the society's Robin Hood. It's an oppressed society, the Saudi government is a tyranny, and I think they have a tremendous audience in Saudi Arabia. I remember reading in The National Interest in 2002 that a poll taken by the Saudi government showed 95 percent of Saudis between 18 and 40 supported Osama bin Laden. Domestic support is not an issue for bin Laden. He's always wanted to protect the oil industry in the sense of its infrastructure, its natural production of oil. He's found a way through this type of murder to affect the American economy, probably, without destroying the future potential of the energy industry in Saudi Arabia. It makes sense for all of those things he wants to do to follow this sort of practice.

TPM: … What should we be asking the Saudis to do after the Johnson murder? How do you assess Saudi anti-terrorism efforts inside the country--have the bombings last May, as many have commented, proven to be a wake up call? How do you rate what the Saudis are doing, both in terms of discrete anti-terrorism efforts, in terms of cooperation with the United States, and in terms of combating terrorism [at] its root?

ANONYMOUS: I think the attacks in May brought the message home to the Saudis that they have a domestic problem. In the course of the last decade, it's clear that the Saudis paid lip service to anti-terrorism, but as long as it didn't happen in the kingdom, that was all they did. The Saudis walk a very fine line on this issue. What we identify as terrorism is identified as jihad, as a religious responsibility within the Salafist or the Wahhabi doctrine that dominates Saudi educational facilities and has forever since the founding of the Saudi state in the '30s. Their efforts to suppress al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-like people angers as many as it pleases. So their efforts are not and cannot be to eradicate the problem, because it will just aggravate a huge number of people in a very young populace that is very religious. There's a certain point at which they can't trust anti-terrorism efforts without risking a much wider anti-al Saud response.

TPM: Is this just a fatal and unavoidable contradiction of Saudi Arabia?

ANONYMOUS: It's a very difficult issue. It's hard for me, and there's other people far more expert on the kingdom, but I cannot see it reconciled in the near term. The Saudis had a breathing space in the '80s because they exported so much of their young men who were bin Laden-like to Afghanistan. For a decade they kept their unhappy young militants focused on fighting the Soviets. Now they have a problem, because those folks are home--although I would suspect that the Saudis and the Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Algerians and the rest of them are exporting some of their militants to Iraq, with the same idea that they can fight the jihad there and hopefully they won’t come back alive. But to answer your question, there’s a fundamental danger to the existence of the Saudi regime if they press too hard on counterterrorism.

TPM: So what has that led to in terms of cooperation with the United States?

ANONYMOUS: From what I can tell, including what I see in the media, it's much better than it used to be, but I'm not sure what that means in terms of progress because we're faced by a community that is by and large sympathetic and familiar with the arguments bin Laden makes about the responsibilities of religion. I would say there has been improvement but I think the Saudis really are in a Catch-22 situation, and that will have a limiting effect on their cooperation not only with us but with any other country.

TPM: What should we be asking them to do?

ANONYMOUS: I think we're focused on what we want them to do. We want to control al-Qaeda within the kingdom. We want them to continue to produce oil. We want them to do any number of police-type, and intelligence-type cooperation, and I'm sure they'll be willing to do that. But what we [really] want them to do, as I wrote in the book, I don't think is going to happen: people argue that we should force them or pressure them to change their curriculum and their education system, and that is very unlikely to happen. The al-Sauds, when they came to power, made a deal with the Islamic establishment: the al-Sauds would take care of the economy and foreign policy, and the religious establishment would take care of education. I'm not sure they're terribly eager to adopt a curriculum of Islamic education as it’s proposed by the United States. …

It's a system that's not prone to reform at a pace that would satisfy us. A pace that would satisfy us would completely destabilize the country. We're going to watch them do as much as they can, and they'll do as much as they can that's consistent with the survival of the state.


Or, in terms of cooperation with the U.S., perhaps less. As The Washington Post reports today, the intransigent interior minister, Prince Nayef, greeted the dispatch of 20 FBI officials to the kingdom by deriding U.S. counterterrorism proficiency to Le Figaro.

More to come soon from our conversation on the future of al-Qaeda, U.S. counterterrorism, and Imperial Hubris.

At the risk of

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, let me recommend a very special issue of The New Republic. As you can see on the left-hand side of the page, TNR has put together a series of reflections by (mostly) liberal hawks about their support for the Iraq war. It's not just an attempt to answer the question "Were We Wrong?" though the pieces certainly grapple with it. It's an attempt to understand what the Iraq war and postwar mean for the idea that U.S. national security is tethered to the promotion of American values, particularly after 9/11--the idea that gives the phrase "liberal hawk" a meaning beyond merely denoting a liberal who happens to favor a particular intervention. There's a lot contained in the issue's 12 essays, and even when certain pieces come to similar conclusions, they often do so for different reasons, so there's a lot I think you'll find worth considering--no matter where you stood on the war, and why. I hope you'll check it out.

What did the 911

What did the 9/11 Commission actually say about Iraq-al Qaeda connections? And what did the Bush administration actually say about them? An e-mail sent out from the White House Office of Public Liaison titled, "TALKING POINTS: 9-11 Commission Staff Report Confirmes Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties" claims:

<$NoAd$>A 9-11 Commission staff report supports the Bush Administration's longstanding conclusion that there was no evidence of "collaboration" between al-Qaeda on the 9-11 attacks against the United States. The Administration has never suggested that Iraq "collaborated" or "cooperated" with al-Qaeda to carry out the 9-11 attacks.


And indeed, as the, uh, talking points memo notes, President Bush stated that "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with ... September 11th." Of course, what the memo quickly adds is that he said that on September 17, 2003. And what it leaves out entirely is why he said that on September 17, 2003. It was in response to this:

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection.

MR. RUSSERT: But is there a connection?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.

We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.


Despite not having a shred of evidence, Dick Cheney not only floated the prospect of Saddam sponsoring 9/11, but Saddam being behind the 1993 World Trade Center attacks--which Paul Wolfowitz also referenced on Good Morning America for the second anniversary of 9/11. (Hey Dick: Let's see the evidence on that one, too.) The ensuing media outrage at this blatant dishonesty was what prompted Bush to set the record straight(er).

Let's not stop there. The White House memo continues:

The Administration has said, however, that it was worried about a number of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda, including contacts between senior Iraqi intelligence officers and senior members of al-Qaeda.


This is what the 9/11 Commission actually said:

A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting Bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior Bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq. [Emphasis added]


So for the White House memo to be conveying truthful information, the Bush administration would need to have followed up any references to "contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda" with reminders that the intelligence community saw no indication that those contacts were fruitful--and that in some cases entreaties were apparently rebuffed. Did they say that?

On October 7, 2002, in a televised, primetime speech on the threat from Iraq, President Bush said:

We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.


Two weeks earlier, in a press conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe he said:

The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.


Any given day. You can't distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam. (For more administration assertions of the dubious link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, check out the IRAQ'D mixtape sweepstakes.) If the American people mistakenly think Saddam is tied to 9/11, it's not surprising. On that count, I think I agree with Dick Cheney.

Lets connect a few

Let's connect a few dots in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Don't miss this blockbuster story in USA Today. The paper obtained sworn testimony from Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the prison's top officer overseeing interrogations. As you'd expect, much of it is self-serving--Jordan directly observed no abuse, his superiors and the CIA are the ones responsible for the torture, etc. As the paper notes, Major General Antonio Taguba heard Jordan's assertions of ignorance and considered him a liar, as the testimony of others, in the words of Captain Donald Reese, pegs Jordan as "very involved with the interrogation process and the day-to-day activities that occurred."

Jordan testified that he felt "pressure" from the White House and the Pentagon to "pull the intelligence out" of Abu Ghraib. White House staffers in September, he testified, implored him to get more information about the Iraqi insurgency. That plea was followed up by a November visit from Frances Fragos Townsend, the former NSC counterterrorism chief. (As my TNR colleague Ryan Lizza has noted, the post formerly held by Richard Clarke has become to the Bush administration what the drum throne was to Spinal Tap.) She confirmed the trip to USA Today, but stated, in the paper's words, that "she did not discuss interrogation techniques or the need to obtain more information from detainees, and neither witnessed or heard about abuse of detainees." And she called the idea that her Mesopotamian excursion pressured anyone at Abu Ghraib to get more information "ridiculous."

So the top NSC counterterrorism official makes a visit to Iraq in November--which, you'll recall, was the bloodiest month thus far for the U.S. occupation, so much so that it prompted the administration to shift its political strategy and schedule a transfer of sovereignty by June 30. She spent, by her reckoning, two hours at the Abu Ghraib prison, which the previous September the U.S. military had made "a central collection and interrogation point for anyone involved in attacks on coalition soldiers or Iraqi security forces," in the words of the Wall Street Journal. She was shepherded around by the prison's senior interrogation official, whom she recalls was "exceptionally polite." And she says she spent 15 minutes in the actual "detention areas" of Abu Ghraib. Remember: She's a White House terrorism official deep in the bowels of a military intelligence operation halfway around the world. And she didn't discuss "the need to obtain more information from detainees"? Is there any other plausible explanation for her visit?

Now here come the dots. Abu Ghraib, by all accounts, was a pressure cooker for information, as that Journal piece referenced above clarifies. "The whole ball game over there is numbers," a senior interrogator, Sergeant First Class Roger Brokaw, told the paper. "How many raids did you do last week? How many prisoners were arrested? How many interrogations were conducted? How many [intelligence] reports were written? It was incredibly frustrating." Prisoners were spewing into the system at a pace of over 60 a day. Colonel Thomas Pappas, Jordan's boss and commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, instituted a quota system for his interrogation teams. And there's a serious reason why the pace is so hectic: Military commanders and their civilian superiors at the Pentagon were speaking, in the Journal's words, "pointedly about the need for more and better intelligence to crush the insurgency." On November 19, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez placed Abu Ghraib under the "tactical control" of Pappas--even though his chief interrogation officer, Jordan, "lacked anything beyond a 'passing familiarity' with the rules and laws governing prisoner treatment," as USA Today reports.

In late August, the commander of Guantanamo Bay, Major General Geoffrey Miller, made his famous trip to Abu Ghraib, "with my encouragement," testified Pentagon intelligence czar Stephen A. Cambone, "to determine if the flow of information to [Sanchez's command] and back to the subordinate commands could be improved." The previous March, Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes II had prepared a 100-page report explaining why Guantanamo interrogators were permitted to torture detainees "in order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign." After receiving Miller's briefing, the gloves apparently came off.

And Pappas wanted to make sure that his superiors knew that the operation was yielding results. He prepared documents about the prison based on what Miller had told him: one was titled, "Draft Update for the Secretary of Defense." Now we know that the White House was flying senior NSC officials to Abu Ghraib for--well, they won't say what for, but, to put it gently, there's an interpretation that jumps out at me. Townsend arrived at Abu Ghraib at a moment of severe military challenge and subsequent political panic. It's 100 percent understandable that the administration has an overwhelming need for actionable intelligence for use against the insurgents. Indeed, as Rumsfeld put it yesterday, "Certainly, that's a fairly typical thing in a conflict." What isn't typical is that Rumsfeld and Townsend's colleagues in the legal offices of the Bush administration had been arguing for nearly two years that under certain circumstances--circumstances they consider much like those in Iraq--torture is legal. What might she have been trying to find out at Abu Ghraib? What did she communicate back? And, Ms. Townsend, shouldn't you answer these questions with your hand on a Bible?

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