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A few days ago

A few days ago there was a small stir over an article in the Washington Post describing Paul Bremer's efforts to start recruiting members of Saddam's intelligence services (particularly his foreign intelligence service, the Mukhabarat) to bolster US intelligence capacities in Iraq in order to stem the rising tide of terrorism.

This development raises any number of very valid concerns. But what strikes me about it is less the immediate issue of whether we should be using Saddam's ex-secret police to help control the country than another broader issue.

In the run-up to war, in the debate between neoconservatives and what's left of the foreign policy establishment, the neocons' primary argument was about the moral and strategic poverty of their opponents' policy of supporting corrupt authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

Not only was that policy obnoxious to our values, they argued. But it was also bad news in strategic terms since corrupt, illegitimate regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt were simply breeding grounds for al Qaida recruits who attacked us on our own territory.

Now we're seeing the other side of the coin.

It's awfully difficult to build a new state and society around the democratic opposition, when the democratic opposition really doesn't exist. You can say it exists, but once you're in the country it's liable to become clear that the democratic opposition is really just a program at AEI. However that may be, it's very hard not to fall back on at least some of the baddies from the old era because they end up being the people who have a lot of the skills you need. This is one of the reasons, after all, why we ended up working with a lot of Nazis during the occupation of Germany, the broadly successful program of de-Nazification notwithstanding.

My point is not to justify hiring Mukhabarat agents today or ex-SS officers half a century ago. I'm only trying to note how difficult these enterprises are and that it's usually impossible to avoid making at least some deals with bad-actors from the old regime. The key is not making no deals but making them judiciously so that the structure of the old regime, as opposed to a few individuals, doesn't return.

The broader point, however, is that this should have been friggin' obvious from the start. In those earlier debates you can almost imagine (and frankly I've heard) grizzled CIA operators saying, "Wow, and all this time we were tossing Mossadeq, keeping Mubarak in power, and making nice with the Saudis, we could have just built western democracies instead. Why didn't we think of that?"

I don't want to give too much of a pass to the Agency types. We have seen a lot of boomerang effects (or 'blowback' as the term of art has it) from our coddling of dictators and foreign repression. But it's not like the neos were the first ones to come up with the idea of exporting democracy. The history of US foreign interventions in the last century is filled with stories in which the US first tried to build liberal institutions in this or that country, saw it was going to be either really tough or unsustainable, and then settled for dictators or autocrats who were thought could secure our interests for the time being.

That's not great. But it's even worse to blunder into a situation blinded by an arrogance you mistook for idealism and then end up falling back on the same old bad-guy-empowering tactics anyway.

Of course, a lot of these guys never believed their own mumbo-jumbo to start with. But that's another story for another post.

From a story today

From a story today on the Reuters newswire ...

Operating in growing numbers, the Taliban and their allies have succeeded in destabilizing large parts of Afghanistan and creating conditions that could undermine the U.S. military and central government. Aid and reconstruction is suspended across swathes of territory in the center, south and southeast, giving Afghans the impression the international community has abandoned them now the Taliban has been formally ousted.

Speaks for itself. Read the whole piece.

A few grafs from

A few grafs from Michael Wolff's piece about a recent conference/political powwow in Aspen ...

There was a party on the second day for Clinton at the Aspen version of Nobu, and then, later that evening, a discussion between Clinton and President Kagame, hosted by the William Morris Agency, at Whiskey Rocks Bar in the St. Regis Hotel (Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, while not a conference attendee, slipped into the room).

This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conference—even the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clinton’s partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, “Good!” From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.

It was all anyone could talk about the next day. People seemed genuinely taken aback (some people kept offering that since it was late at night, in a bar, it didn’t quite count) that one of their own might have violated the accepted codes of lofty liberal behavior. There was a little current of fear at the sudden recognition that testosterone could fuel politics. It was a shock, apparently, that we might be this close to real feelings. That politics could actually be personal.

Find the whole article here.

That should go over

That should go over well.

Back during the British mandate period, there was a pipeline that shipped oil from Kirkuk to the Israeli port city of Haifa. The pipeline is still there. But, for what are probably obvious reasons, it's sat unused since 1948. As we reported in late April, the possibility of reopening the pipeline was being actively discussed in Israel, by members of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, and by certain persons in the US government.

Now Ha'aretz has reported that the Israeli Prime Minister's office has asked for and received from a "senior Pentagon official" a telegram asking the Israelis to investigate financial and technical questions relating to refitting and restarting the pipeline. According to Ha'aretz, the Prime Minister's office "views the pipeline to Haifa as a "bonus" the U.S. could give to Israel in return for its unequivocal support for the American-led campaign in Iraq."

Now, given that one of the Iraqis' big suspicions is that we're after their oil, you might think that rerouting almost half of the country's oil through Israel, and using a pipeline last used when Palestine was ruled by the British, might at least create some perception problems.

But that doesn't seem to be all of it. That oil from the Kirkuk oil fields is now transhipped through Turkey. And folks in government circles in Jerusalem seem to think that these American hints about the Kirkuk to Haifa pipeline are, as Ha'aretz says, part of an "attempt to apply pressure on Turkey."

This deserves more attention. Why are we even remotely considering this scheme to send half of Iraq's oil through Israel? And why do we seem to be trying to sow discord between two of our most important allies in the region?

A few nights ago

A few nights ago, over drinks, a friend asked me what the rationale for a Clark candidacy would be. Not the substantive rationale, mind you, but the political one. How could he win? What point would his entry into the race have at this point, and so forth?

The political rationale is, I think, straightforward and strong.

Here's how I'd describe it.

Howard Dean is now by many measures the front-runner in the Democratic primary campaign. Though he lags in the national polls, he's at least in the hunt in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He's raising money at a faster clip than any of the other candidates. And he's clearly generated the most excitement.

But Dean is an insurgent candidate, often campaigning explicitly against Washington and the party establishment. By many measures he's campaigning to various left-leaning elements in the Democratic party base -- notwithstanding his previous record as a fairly centrist governor of Vermont. I say this all not with any judgment attached, just as a description of the developments in the race, as nearly I can ascertain them.

Now, by the normal laws of political gravitation, Dean's sustained surge should have forced a coalescence around one of the several more-centrist-minded establishment candidates -- Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman. With Dean catching fire, those who aren't comfortable with his candidacy should be getting behind one candidate in order to beat him. But that clearly has not happened.

In some ways this is a more striking development than Dean's rise itself.

Now, why hasn't that coalescence taken place? I think the answer is elementary. None of the current candidates has passed the audition for the job. Lieberman's campaign is generally believed to be moribund (and I like the guy). Edwards has gone absolutely nowhere. Gephardt has bet everything on getting the support of organized labor. But if he gets it, it'll basically be a mercy ... well, I don't want to be off-color. But, you know what I mean. Kerry is basically the establishment front-runner at the moment. But it's an extremely anemic frontrunnerdom. He's basically the front-runner by default because all the other potential frontrunners who haven't caught fire are doing even worse than he is.

What this all tells me is that there is a vacuum with a lot of political forces pushing to fill it. And yet none of the current candidates has been capable of becoming the vehicle for those forces. I know these are some convoluted metaphors. But I trust my meaning is relatively clear.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons why late-entering, draft-so-and-so type candidacies never end up winning. But the vacuum I've just described is one Clark could potentially fill. At least he could get in the game and give it his best shot.

Clark's other potential strength is that he combines outsider status and a thorough critique of the president, with impeccable national security credentials and domestic policy positions with a seemingly broad appeal.

Words matter. Often thats

Words matter. Often, that's just a conceit of people in the word business. But it's also true.

A few moments ago I was in a cab heading toward the DC train station. On the radio, the president was commenting on the recent troubles in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism.

He said something to this effect: We're in a war on terrorism. When the civilized world expands democracy it's a challenge to the terrorists' totalitarian vision. And so they strike back with increasing terror. They're hoping the civilized world will flinch. But we're not going to flinch, and so forth.

I understand what the president's saying. I recognize a general truth in it.

But the generality, vagueness and abstraction is the problem. They are becoming the engines of policy incoherence and the cover for domestic bad-actors who want to get this country into fights few Americans signed up for.

We've heard critiques of this phrase, the 'war on terror,' ever since 9/11. But only now, I think, are we seeing the full effects of its mystification. We're at war with al Qaida and any and all radical Islamist groups who threaten mass casualty terrorism against America or her vital interests abroad. We are at war, even if it's a war fought by non-conventional means against non-conventional, non-state entities. That's who we're at war with: a loose-knit network of radical Islamist groups who practice mass-casualty terrorism against us.

Radical Islamist revisionism is a primary foreign policy challenge for the US and probably will remain so for a very long time. That understanding should (and already has) decisively shape our policies toward the various states in the Middle East. But we're not at war with it any more than we were or could be 'at war' with right-wing or left-wing extremism in the second half of the 20th century.

Just as vague and abstract language makes for bad prose, it is also the handmaiden of bad policy and the abettor of buck-passing.

All this talk about civilization, totalitarianism, fascism and terror is just preventing us from looking at what's happening and recognizing what our own interests are. They also make it possible for some people to convince themselves that it's not a screw-up that we've turned Iraq into a terrorist magnet. After all we're at war with 'the terrorists' and it makes sense that 'the terrorists' would attack us anyway, if only in a new venue. And we always knew it would be a long fight, a long twilight struggle, and yada, yada, yada and the rest of it. Same with the mumbo-jumbo about totalitarianism.

Look at the difference thus far between Afghanistan and Iraq. In the first place, we drained the swamp. In the second, we've made the swamp.

It's really that simple.

Admittedly, that's an odd development from an administration so generally inimical to wetlands. But, you know, ironies abound.

Bear in mind that the author of these words is a fairly convinced Wilsonian, a strong supporter of our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, someone who's convinced that our values cannot be divorced from our national security interests, a believer in the power for good of American military might, and someone who thinks progressives who recoil at this administration's excesses should avoid the safe-harbor of foreign policy Realism (creeping Scowcroftism).

But the White House is being run by men and women who've already made a lot of really stupid mistakes that are going to cost a lot of American lives, money and credibility. And now they're trying to hide from accountability in their own idiot abstractions.

A not-so-subtle message picked

A not-so-subtle message, picked up on in this article on the Reuters wire.

Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage went on Al Jazeera yesterday and warned states bordering on Iraq about allowing militants and jihadists to make their way into the country. What stands out is the list of countries and how Armitage seemed to equate them.

Thus Armitage ...

"The borders are quite porous, as you'd imagine, and the fact that we've captured a certain number of foreign fighters in Baghdad and around Iraq indicates that the ways that these people are getting into the country is from Iran and from Syria and from Saudi Arabia ... I'm not in any position to assert that the governments of Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia are in any way responsible. But, as a minimum, I can state that they're not -- these fighters -- are not being stopped at the borders, and this is something that causes us a great deal of concern."

First, this was an interview for a Gulf Arab audience. Second, Iran and Syria are hostile states which the US now frequently (explicitly or not) threatens with military force.

Armitage seemed to go out of his way to place Saudi Arabia on a par with these other two as neighboring, trouble-making states.

I'm not sure precisely what this means. But it means something.

From the annals of

From the annals of artful verbal construction ...

"Iraq is turning out to be a continuing battle in the war on terrorism."

-- George W. Bush
August 22nd, 2003

Sarcasm fails me ...

Time to Unite is

"Time to Unite" is a typical -- or, in other words, excellent -- column by The Washington Post's David Ignatius. Pique, anger, resentment, schadenfreude, hidebound ideology -- everyone must set aside everything in order to cooperate on finding a practical solution to solving the crisis in Iraq and stablizing the situaiton. As Lincoln said, we must all disenthrall ourselves. Ignatius seems more optimistic than I am that the administration has seen the light on this one. But, in this case, I'd be very happy to be proven wrong.

As promised here is

As promised, here is part two of our interview with al Qaida expert Peter Bergen.

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.

(You can read part one of the interview, here. The complete interview will be posted in the TPM Document Collection.)

The interview was conducted early Wednesday afternoon ...

TPM: One thing you said recently--it's a bitter irony, but you know--that there seems to be little evidence that al Qaida was in Iraq (or at least the part of Iraq that Saddam controlled) before this April. But it seems quite possible that there might be now. Or if not al Qaida, people who are jihadists.

BERGEN: Yeah, jihadists and I think al Qaida. Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and other top leaders of the group have made repeated statements since the beginning of the year to go fight jihad in Iraq. [And] for the people who sign on to this sort of thing it's sort of akin to a religious order. It's in the middle of the Middle East. Saad al Fagih, who has a good understanding of all this says--

TPM: And who is that?

BERGEN: Saad al Fagih is the leading Saudi dissident, he's based in London. And he--

TPM: Dissident from which, just for the--in which direction?

BERGEN: He's opposed to the royal family. In fact, six weeks ago someone tried to mount an assassination attempt on him, very possibly the Saudis.

TPM: Right, but in a Western direction, as opposed to a ?

BERGEN: No, I think kind of an Islamist, a moderate Islamist direction.


BERGEN: And the way he explained it to me is the following, and this makes a huge amount of sense. This is not about killing civilians in New York. This is about attacking an army that is occupying the heart of the Muslim world. After all back -- for people like bin Laden, the capture of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 is as recent as for us, the OJ trial. It's part of the mental furniture. And so, to have quote 'infidel' troops in the holy land, Saudi Arabia, that used to be their principal gripe, now Iraq is going to become their principal gripe ... On October 7th, 2001 bin Laden came out and he said a very interesting thing. He talked about the humiliation of the past 80 years and of course what he was referring to--

TPM: The end of the caliphate?

BERGEN: Was the end of the caliphate, then you know the British and French basically carved up the Middle East, the British got Iraq, the French got Syria -- this is all very recent history for people like bin Laden. We did a very smart thing in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Mullah Omar made a calculation that we would be drawn into a Soviet-style invasion. They would respond with guerilla warfare. They would have some tactical successes in that warfare, and a strategic success that the United States would be reviled around the Muslim world for its brutal occupation of Afghanistan.

That didn't happen, obviously, and there are only 300 Americans in the whole, on the ground. That was very smart. Obviously, the US and British occupation of Iraq is different from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in many many ways -- not least of which is that Soviets killed a million Afghans and made five million of them refugees. Obviously that hasn't happened in Iraq. But there are some similarities in the following way: We are occupying in large numbers in thick spaces and we are doing that in the middle of the Middle East. And it seems that we're going to be there indefinitely. It seems that way, according to the Iraqis and to everybody else. Obviously we're in a period of guerilla warfare, these kind of high-profile terrorist attacks. You know, that's the future. I mean al Qaida is not going to get off this little exercise. Obviously the United States is not about to change its policy in Iraq. So I think, given those two facts, we're going to see more of what we saw at the United Nations Headquarters in the future. I mean this is just the beginning, I think.

TPM: I think I saw an interview you did on CNN in which you discussed the the question of who, if there are foreign fighters in Iraq now, who are they? And I think you had said that a lot of them seemed to be Saudis who'd actually come in through Syria. Whatever details you have -- who are these people? Where are they coming from? Are governments assisting in bringing these people in?

BERGEN: I don't think governments are assisting in bringing these people in at all. Because if you think about, Syria has been quite cooperative in the war on terrorism, Jordan has fallen all over itself. That's one of the reasons the Jordanian embassy was attacked. Kuwait, don't have to explain that. But judging from what US counter-terrorism officials say and what Saad al Fagih says they're predominantly Saudi, which makes sense. Saudis were predominantly the people in Afghanistan, and the major group of people at Guantanamo Bay are Saudis. So that all kind of coheres. Some Kuwatis, and I would imagine a sprinkling of other nationalities, although I haven't heard any other than the Saudis and Kuwatis--that's all I've heard about. Now you know, if Zarqawi is in Iraq--although apparently he might be in Iran. So maybe there are some Jordanians, I don't know. But it doesn't sound like people from the Philippines are coming to Iraq, as it were, and coming to Afghanistan.

TPM: They would stand out?

BERGEN: They'd stand out. And also maybe it's just a matter of time. After all, this whole thing is a relatively recent phenomenon. I mean it seems to me that these volunteers, as it were, jihadist volunteers, either came directly before the war, during the war, or even more so after the war. The Saudi volunteers especially have come in the last few months. But I think this is all totally predictable. I don't see this as being a surprise.

TPM: Well you know before the war, and in the arguments that were made on either side before the war, there was an argument made--at least by certain neoconservative voices in the pro-war camp -- that getting rid of Saddam had its own immediate advantages (non-conventional weapons, threat to his neighbors, and so forth) but that changing the government in Baghdad could basically trigger a kind of domino effect in the region.

BERGEN: I just saw that as a sort of theological position.

TPM: Yeah, there was that position and then the contrary position, saying it's going to domino the other direction.

BERGEN: I'm going to firmly sit on the fence, because I think all we can say about the events of the Iraq war is the following: We speeded up history, right? Because we volunteered for this, we really didn't have to do it. There wasn't an imminent threat, you know there was no link to 9/11. Saddam's a horrible human being, but there are plenty of those around. So we volunteered essentially, and we basically sped history up. I know that you're a professional historian. When you speed history up, to say [with] rose-tinted spectacles, it's all going to be great, there's going to be democracy around the Middle East and everyone's going to love us, I mean that is as wrong as saying this will be the biggest disaster of all time. We just don't know.

I mean, we are playing the tape now. Maybe this is an easy way out of your question. The tape is being played. We just have no idea how it's going to turn out. Yeah, you could imagine a situation--you could easily say ten years from now, Iraq will have split up into a series of -- essentially a civil war between various Sunni jihadists and Shiia whatever. Or you could say, you know, Chalabi is running it and everything is fine and we're all happy. Or you could say -- I don't know. I think making predictions about this is impossible. But to say that it's all going to come out fine, that always struck me as being wishful thinking of the first order. We just don't know.

TPM: Regardless of where a particular commentator comes down on these basic questions of the big picture, the relationship between what happens in Iraq and what happens in Saudi Arabia is a key one for everyone. As near as you can tell, what is happening in Saudi Arabia? Because there's clearly been -- they're having these fire fights breaking out.

BERGEN: Actually, one interesting point: May 11th was the 9/11--May 11th, the Riyadh attacks in Saudi was like the wake-up call, the 9/11 for the Saudis. You know, up to that point, I've heard from several different US counter terrorism officials, the Saudis, even post-9/11, were not being cooperative.

TPM: Now what exactly does -- in the US press, we hear that all the time. You know, they're dragging their feet. Can you tell us what does that mean in practice?

BERGEN: We're talking about a very secretive society, and we're talking about a very secretive investigation anyway. So it's hard to tell, but I think you can make some commonsense observations. Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi. Isn't it kind of curious that none of their mentors or buddies or facilitators or people that booked their tickets or whatever -- we haven't heard a single thing about them? There's an absence of the kind of things that you would expect to hear given the fact that this was an entirely Saudi operation.

Now, maybe in fact the Saudis have got all these people in jail and they haven't told us about it. I kind of don't believe that. But now May 11th comes along and that changes everything. Because al Qaida and its affiliates are really an existential threat to the House of Saud; they want to overthrow the House of Saud. And the HOS for a long time chose to kind of play both sides of the street, I think. But now this crackdown is very severe apparently. So part of the reason you're seeing these people show up in Iraq is, A) there's a very attractive group of Americans to go out and attack, but B) you know, the Saudis are really cracking down.

TPM: So there could be a push and a pull.

BERGEN: So I think that's also a factor. But you know they got this al Ghamdi guy that they just got in custody and some of his information led to that alert about hijackings. So you know, the Saudis are cooperating. And interestingly enough they're probably the last -- you know, I mean other countries around the Middle East have understood that al Qaida represents an existential threat, that it really makes sense to get on board whether with Jordan or Syria or whatever.

The Saudis I think have finally -- they've got a problem, which is -- they've got a lot of their own problems. They didn't want to grasp this nettle. But it seems they are doing quite a good job now. Apparently there's quite a lot of cooperation on this Riyadh attack in terms of law enforcement with the US.

TPM: Now there was--Crown Prince Abdullah gave a speech a week or so ago, a very seemingly muscular, aggressive speech in which he said that there was everything that happened before the attack [on May 11th] and everything after. So your sense, on balance, is that this has really qualitatively changed, with the seriousness of the crackdown?

BERGEN: Yeah, I think that's true. The biggest challenge to them is the Islamist challenge. I think that they have cracked down on that. Long-term -- you know, will that save their bacon as it were? I don't know. It seems to me that they've got so many multiple problems beyond that.

TPM: Going back to Iraq, as you say, we're playing the tape now, maybe playing it at fast forward. In the US there's a debate between basically proceeding as we are right now or moving toward some form of internationalization of the occupation. In practice, we can't really get up and leave. So what is there we can do to combat this kind of stuff?

BERGEN: Well I don't know. I mean I don't know what the answer is. I mean it seems to me that they're are -- one possible way of combating it would be to say, you know, "Let's produce some very low benchmarks of what constitutes success and then just walk away." I mean, I don't think that's going to happen. But you could imagine a situation saying, "Well OK, so the electricity's back on, we've got this Iraqi council. You know we're not in the business of totally rebuilding this country. It's too expensive, and it's too much whatever. It's proving too costly in terms of blood and treasure." And you produce these relatively low benchmarks and you leave. Now, but I don't think the Administration is going to do that, do you?

TPM: No, I certainly don't.

BERGEN: Because you're asking, what can be done about it? I don't think anything can really be done about it. Given the policy, and given that al Qaida's modus operandi and motives and that it's right in their backyard, etc., etc. You know I just think we're going to see more of the same. All you can do is just sort of say like "OK, we'll just make security better." [Unintelligible] Other than that, I don't see. This may be a question sort of outside my expertise -- I think it is -- because I just don't know what you can do.

TPM: We'll there's -- from what the president said yesterday -- there seemed to be some sense on the part of the Administration that we're in a kind of a hearts and minds battle over the Iraqi people with the terrorists. And maybe the masses of Iraqis will see this now and say, "This isn't just against the US, it's against us."

BERGEN: I think right now, I'm not sure if that's true. I get the impression that a lot of Iraqis don't want us to be there also. So, I just don't know what the answer is -- obviously it's a hearts and minds question. So I don't know. I don't really have an answer for that.

We're all going to be kind of reassessing the situation as the result of this. Look at the size of the headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post -- this is a huge story and represents I think an entirely new phase in the whole deal. And how you adjust for that? It's going to be complicated.

TPM: Last question. Over the last month or so, in various publications there's been this -- what's called the flypaper theory. I don't know if you've heard this. This is basically the idea that even if there are attacks inside Iraq that this is actually good because we're sort of bringing everybody out of the woodwork and fighting them on our terms--

BERGEN: I think that's -- that's kind of, that's a post-facto rationalization. Don't you think?

TPM: Well I think-- [crosstalk] there's not a finite number of terrorists, at least in practice ... [crosstalk]

BERGEN: You can attract them all to Iraq--

TPM: And kill them and then you're done.

BERGEN: At what cost? If that is the idea, no one in the Administration is standing up to articulate that. Plus that seems like a very high-risk strategy. And also it doesn't make sense anyway. Because Afghanistan was a sort of an anti-flypaper thing where we went in and we bombed them and they all left.

So I don't think the Administration is thinking like that. I think that they really believe their own theories, I guess. There's really no other explanation for what they did. And going back to this whole al Qaida-Iraq connection, the reason ultimately I think that it's important -- forget about whatever people in the Administration said -- something that swayed the American people was that this connection existed. To me, the only justification for the war was you know, getting rid of Saddam's tyranny. But that's a sort of Gladstonian, liberal position.

I don't think that would have been easy to sell to the American people -- saying, "Hey, we're just going to liberate this place because this guy's a total you know, whatever." They sold it on the basis of this kind of putative connection, I think. I think that was the background. Sixty percent of Americans surveyed before the war thought Iraq was involved in 9/11. So I think this question of whether there was a link between al Qaida and Iraq is not a trivial one, because certainly people believed it.

TPM: One quick last question. To the extent that you're in touch with the guy in London, the Saudi dissident--and people in the countries around the periphery around Iraq, is there a consensus among people in these countries about the situation we're in? You certainly hear the Administration saying "You know, it's tough going but we're moving in the right direction." What do people in the region, outside Iraq, think we have on our hands?

BERGEN: I don't know the answer to that question. But there's a very interesting survey by--was it Pew? I think it was Pew. You know in countries as diverse as Turkey, Indonesia, Morocco, and Jordan, when asked "Who do you have more confidence in, Osama bin Laden or President Bush?" A substantial majority said Osama bin Laden in those countries. These are all countries that are closely allied to the United States. I think those figures speak for themselves about the faith they have in what we're doing.

For more on Peter Bergen, visit his website.