Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Friday, September 17, 2004

Yahoo! News - CIA Officer: al-Qaida Efforts Still Lag

Yahoo! News - CIA Officer: al-Qaida Efforts Still Lag: "CIA Officer: al-Qaida Efforts Still Lag

Fri Sep 17, 3:34 AM ET Add U.S. Government - AP to My Yahoo!


By KATHERINE PFLEGER SHRADER, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A senior CIA (news - web sites) officer says bad decisions, understaffing and infighting among intelligence agencies stifled efforts to stop Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) and his network. More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency remains short-staffed, he says.



In an unusually critical campaign for a government employee, Mike Scheuer has spent much of the last three months publicly criticizing his agency. Most government officials wait until they retire, as former National Security Council aide Richard Clarke did.


In July, Scheuer, head of the CIA's bin Laden unit until 1999, published his best-selling book "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror." Then, he was only identified as "Anonymous."


Last week, Scheuer sent the Senate Intelligence Committee a six-page letter accusing senior career civil servants of failing to ensure the "optimal performance" of the U.S. intelligence community and of missing opportunities to stop bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist group and prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


Scheuer lists 10 management and leadership problems in the letter, delivered just before the confirmation hearing of President Bush (news - web sites)'s nominee to run the CIA, Rep. Porter Goss (news, bio, voting record), R-Fla. A congressional source provided a copy to The Associated Press this week.


"There has been no systematic effort to groom al-Qaida expertise among Directorate of Operations officers since 11 September," Scheuer writes, referring to the CIA's most famous division, its clandestine service. "Today, the unit is greatly understaffed because of a 'hiring freeze' and the rotation of large numbers of officers in and out of the unit every 60 to 90 days."


He says experienced officers do less work and become trainers for officers who leave before they are qualified for the mission. Senior CIA managers running operations against al-Qaida have made pleas for more officers, Scheuer says.


The CIA declined to comment on Scheuer's statements.


An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Scheuer met numerous times with a commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks and made the criticisms found in his letter. The official said the clandestine service has more officers working against al-Qaida at headquarters and overseas than before the Sept. 11 attacks, and also has more expertise on al-Qaida.


At his confirmation hearing, Goss said he reached conclusions similar to Scheuer's and sees a need to improve the CIA's human intelligence capabilities: "They are our best bet for dealing with the war on terrorism," Goss said.


In his letter, Scheuer details past intelligence woes. He says the CIA initially suppressed a 1996 report about al-Qaida's unsuccessful efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that an abbreviated version was circulated within the intelligence community following internal protests.


He also describes disputes between the CIA and another intelligence agency over access to al-Qaida communications intercepts.


Scheuer complains that the bin Laden unit was ordered to disband in spring 1998, leading many there to look for jobs just before the East Africa embassy bombings in August. Then-CIA Director George Tenet intervened and kept the unit open.


Scheuer says intelligence officers were transferred at critical times, and the military wouldn't provide U.S. special-operations experts to help plan actions against al-Qaida.


When Scheuer wrote his book, he was initially only allowed to be identified as "Anonymous." He did a series of television interviews with his face darkened and print interviews on the condition he not be identified. Gradually, his identity has come out.


In an AP interview in June, speaking anonymously, the author said he saw a "denigration in my responsibilities" over the last five years. This week, his editor, Christina Davidson of Brassey's Inc., said he is considering leaving the agency.


"The anonymous author of Imperial Hubris is very close to resignation for a number of reasons, including denial of interviews," said Davidson, who is still bound by an agreement with the CIA not to identify Scheuer."

B E L L A C I A O - Neocons go bananas over AIPAC spy scandal, but there�s a method to their madness -

B E L L A C I A O - Neocons go bananas over AIPAC spy scandal, but there�s a method to their madness -: "Neocons go bananas over AIPAC spy scandal, but there’s a method to their madness
2 comment(s).
by Justin Raimondo

"F*cking crazies" - that’s how Colin Powell described the neoconservatives to Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw during the run-up to the Iraq war, according to The Accidental American : Tony Blair and the Presidency, by BBC broadcaster James Naughtie, due to be released this week in the U.S. To which one can only add : you got that one right, brutha.

The neocons are certainly crazed in the megalomaniacal sense to suggest that the American response to 9/11 must be to somehow "democratize" at gunpoint a region that has never gotten out of the Middle Ages and launch a worldwide struggle against a religion of a billion-plus adherents. But crazy also implies out-of-control, and that is most certainly not what is occurring here : in the case of the neocons, we’re talking crazy like a fox....

Sure it was crazy to go into Iraq, with no credible plan, against the advice of senior military commanders, in a way that virtually ensured the disaster we are now seeing unfold in all its bloody, criminal futility. Powell and his realist confreres in the national security bureaucracy saw this early on. But what they didn’t see - or didn’t let us in on at the time - is that there’s a method to this madness.

The rationale for an increasingly costly and unpopular war has shifted with changing circumstances. As the official lies - Iraq’s ever-elusive "weapons of mass destruction," its alleged links to al-Qaeda and utterly fictitious connections to the 9/11 terrorist attacks - have been debunked, the War Party has fallen back on other, more ideological arguments, which don’t require any basis in fact and can’t be tested : the spread of "democracy" throughout the Middle East, the "flytrap" theory, and any number of other makeshift mental constructs that are supposed to somehow comfort us with the knowledge that we’re doing the right thing, after all.

But as the war proceeds, and the War Party begins to direct our attention to new targets - Iran, Syria, and Lebanon - their real agenda is becoming so obvious that a dissident faction of officialdom is in open rebellion : As General Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, put it to CBS News :

"Somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most."

Although responsibility starts at the top - Zinni clearly wants Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to be handed his walking papers - he is also talking about the second- and-third-tier Pentagon officials, of the civilian "chickenhawk" variety :

"’Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.’

"Zinni is talking about a group of policymakers within the administration known as ’the neo-conservatives’ who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel. ...Zinni believes they are political ideologues who have hijacked American policy in Iraq.

"’I think it’s the worst kept secret in Washington. That everybody - everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.’"

The AIPAC spy scandal has given this agenda a name, a focus, and an overarching explanation for a war strategy that seems bent on creating chaos on the Middle East.

What seemed, at first, a straightforward case of a mid-level Pentagon official, Lawrence A. Franklin, passing classified documents to Israel, has revealed the existence of a much larger investigation - ongoing for at least two years - into Israeli penetration of the U.S. government. As to what provoked this investigation to begin with, or what course it is presently taking, we are left largely in the dark - although I have my own theories as to the former. But the point to be made here is that the AIPAC spy imbroglio has brought to the forefront the suspicion that U.S. foreign policy is being directed, not from Washington, but from Tel Aviv.

The belief that Israel exerts undue influence on American policy in the Middle East is increasingly widespread. This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with the apparent inability of the United States to effectively combat a terrorist conspiracy against its very existence. Citing al-Qaeda’s contention that "the close link between America and the Zionist entity is in itself a curse for America" and a strategic mistake, the brilliant (albeit anonymous) author of Imperial Hubris : Why the West is Losing the War on Terror notes that this "does not seem too far off the mark." The lack of daylight between American and Israeli policy in the Middle East "has turned the attack against America into an attack against the Zionist entity, and vice-versa," in the words of al-Qaeda’s propagandists. This unites all Muslims in a supranational jihad directed against the "Crusaders and Jews," as the Ladenites would have it. "Anonymous," a currently serving CIA analyst, writes :

"One can only react to this stunning reality by giving all praise to Israel’s diplomats, politicians, intelligence services, U.S.-citizen spies, and the retired senior U.S. officials and wealthy Jewish-American organizations who lobby an always amenable Congress on Israel’s behalf. In an astounding and historically unprecedented manner, the Israelis have succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to the tiny Jewish state and its policies ; as Anatol Lieven has written, the Israelis have been so successful that Israeli nationalism ’for many Americans has become deeply entwined with their American nationalism.’"

Since the last U.S. citizen-spy for Israel was arrested in 1985, one tends to doubt that Mr. Anonymous is here referring to Jonathan Pollard. Did the author of Imperial Hubris, identified by the Boston Phoenix as Michael Scheuer, have some prior knowledge that the Franklin spy scandal was about to break - or, more ominously, is the existence of a network of U.S.-citizen spies for Israel common knowledge in the U.S. intelligence community?

The neocons are in panic mode, as evidenced by a memo written by Michael Rubin, a former Coalition Provisional Authority official who fell out with Paul Bremer and now snipes from the sidelines from his perch at the American Enterprise Institute. The Forward cites Rubin’s memo, essentially a polemic against the Bushies :

"If there is any truth to any of the accusations, why doesn’t the White House demand that they bring on the evidence? On the record. There’s an increasing anti-Semitic witch hunt. I feel like I’m in Paris, not Washington. I’m disappointed at the lack of leadership that let things get where they are, and which is allowing these bureaucratics (sic) to spin out of control."

But whose control are these "bureaucratics" spinning out of? Rubin doesn’t say. But playing the anti-Semite card isn’t going to win the neocons this hand. As American Prospect writer Matthew Yglesias quipped :

"Clearly, a rough time for the Jews. Although somehow we Jews who never worked within the Pentagon on dubious Iraq- and Iran-related matters are doing okay. No one’s arresting Ari Fleischer. Franklin, meanwhile, isn’t Jewish (but you know how unreasonable these anti-Semites are), and the only targeted Jews happen to be directly above him in the Department of Defense chain of command."

It’s hard to believe that even a hard-line neocon ideologue like Rubin believes AIPAC ought to be allowed to act as a conduit for the passage of classified information from Washington to Tel Aviv. But a larger issue - the decisive influence Israel’s operatives inside the U.S. government had and continue to have on the policymaking process - is what’s really at stake here.

One rather expected Michael Ledeen to whine that AIPAC-gate amounts to the "criminalization" of differences over foreign policy. After all, he said the same sort of thing at the height of the last very similar scandal he was deeply involved with, the Iran-Contra affair. But to listen to Matthew Yglesias, a liberal, echo this same lame excuse-making, albeit from a different (pro-Kerry) angle, is a bit too much to bear :

"Whatever the facts of the Franklin matter, the wider inquiry he’s now cooperating with looks an awful lot like an effort to advance a policy agenda by means of the criminal justice and counterintelligence system. Either way, it’s hard to see how this reflects well on the Bush administration. Either the Pentagon is chock full of spies, or else the administration’s policy process is so screwed up that bureaucratic rivalries have become massive witch hunts centered around spurious allegations of criminality. Most likely the truth is that there’s some combination of the two going on.

"Now here’s the thing to consider. What if we had a president who didn’t disdain nuance, detail, policy, and book-learning? The sort of president who would resolve an Iran policy dispute by asking the various players to write up their arguments, read what both sides have to say, ask a few more questions, read a few more memos, make up his mind, and then tell everyone they either need to get with the program or leave his administration."

But it doesn’t matter who’s president, at least in this context, because all of these embarrassments - the outing of Valerie Plame, the Chalabi-Iranian intelligence connection, the Niger uranium forgeries, Abu Ghraib, Operation Copper Green - were rogue operations, just like in Iran-Contra. As in Iran-Contra, the neocons’ foreign policy cadre didn’t just advocate neoconservative policy prescriptions, they broke the law. It’s no accident that the same characters who starred in that little docudrama are making a comeback in this latest production of "Hijacked ! - or, The Neocons’ Excellent Adventure."

The neocons are really really good at writing up their arguments, and certainly can’t be accused of disdain for detail, policy, and, least of all, book-learning. Although one has to admit that nuance is not their forte, their entire philosophy - the achievement of what one of them called "benevolent world hegemony" by the U.S. - is a floating abstraction untethered to reality, or common sense.

If we put Kerry in the White House, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen, or at least that’s what the usually perceptive Yglesias would have us believe. Partisan sentiments aside, however, I wonder how he can honestly guarantee that. Since the neocon method is to establish a parallel, or - as Colin Powell characterized it to Carl Bernstein in Plan of Attack - "a separate government," and launch rogue operations to achieve their objectives, the only way to stop it is by excluding the neocons entirely from administration councils. While Kerry would presumably clean house at the Pentagon, that would not necessarily result in a significant diminution of their considerable influence.

It’s not out of the question that the neocons - or some of them - could switch to the Democrats in desperation, especially if the White House is deaf to their entreaties to spike the investigation into the AIPAC spy nest. This "entryist" strategy - derived from their Trotskyist heritage - is yet another arrow in the neocons’ quiver, and one they have launched before with much success. While their influence might be reduced under a Kerry regime, it is unlikely to be entirely absent from Washington. Working in tandem with Israel’s intelligence apparatus, the Israeli lobby in the Democratic party would take up where Franklin, Feith, and Wolfowitz left off.

In any case, how weird is it that a major spy operation has been uncovered in the midst of the most hotly contested election since the Civil War era, and the challenger has not a word to say about it?

If "the Pentagon is chock full of spies," as Yglesias puts it, then why oh why is the Democratic presidential candidate averting his eyes? John Kerry can read dozens of detailed policy reports, and listen to his learned advisors spin nuance after nuance all he wants, but if he is struck dumb by the sight of treason in the camp of his ostensible enemies, then what are we to make of him? As far as I’m concerned, his silence is complicity.

I caught John McLaughlin’s One On One show last week, an interview with Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Daniel Ayalon, and McLaughlin made a key point :

"Now AIPAC denied any involvement [in passing secrets to Israel], but I want to read you the language :

"’Any allegation of criminal conduct by AIPAC or our employees is false and baseless. Neither AIPAC nor any of its employees has violated any laws or rules, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified.’

"Does that sound like a categorical denial to you?

AMB. AYALON : "I think so. I cannot speak, of course, for AIPAC. I think it’s a very, very good American organization, and we very much appreciate its activity on behalf of the U.S. - American strategic alliance. It is very important."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN : "But is it not curious that there is wiggle room in that statement, and the operative words are ’they believed was secret or classified?’ This puts the monkey on Mr. Franklin’s back. AIPAC doesn’t deny passing the information on to Israel ; it denies that it did so knowing that the information was classified. They didn’t know it was classified. So are you putting - are you putting Franklin out to dry?"

AIPAC is going to need plenty of wiggle room, as the results of a two-year investigation come down on their heads, but even the most strenuous wriggling isn’t going to do them much good, I am happy to report. Yglesias has argued that what AIPAC did may not even have been illegal, although, if the charges stick, the group may be finished as an effective force in Washington. It’s the leakers, not the leakees, who get the book thrown at them. But surely this cannot be the case : at the very least, AIPAC is guilty of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, a charge that, during wartime, is quite serious. It also seems to me that being an accomplice to espionage can land one in some fairly hot water, as Ethel Rosenberg discovered.

In any case, the neocons are going into overdrive, revving up their propaganda machine to cover up, or at best minimize the damage done by the AIPAC spy scandal. All the usual suspects are fulminating and frothing at the mouth, with Norman Podhoretz, David Frum, and even novelist Philip Roth enlisting in the mobilization. Roth’s new novel, The Plot Against America, excerpted in the Guardian, of all places, reads like a political pamphlet written by some monstrous amalgam of Morris Dees, Roy Carlson, and the Reverend Leon M. Birkhead. It’s an alternate history in which the U.S. stayed out of World War II : as the rise of "isolationist" (i.e., antiwar) sentiment propelled the old America First movement to power, it wasn’t long before a bunch of blonde Aryan-looking isolationists, waving "America First" flags, were goose-stepping down Madison Avenue. The supposedly evil Charles A. Lindbergh, the antiwar aviator and American hero, is demonized as a pro-Nazi fifth columnist : Roth’s fictional premise is that Lindbergh is elected president and undertakes - you guessed it - a pogrom against the Jewish people. Distortion of the historical record and poetic license are utilized - unconvincingly, in my judgement - to not only smear a man and a movement, but also to make a larger point : anyone who opposes wars of "liberation" is really a Nazi, a fascist-sympathizer, and a very very bad person

As fiction, The Plot Against America is a flop, but entertainment, in this case, isn’t the point. Can it be a coincidence, however, that Roth gave his book the same title as a 1946 political potboiler written by a hack by the name of David George Kin, a.k.a. Plotkin, whose other works include Women Without Men : True Stories of Lesbian Love in Greenwich Village (1958)? Kin-Plotkin’s book was a polemic directed at antiwar Senator Burton K. Wheeler, a Montana Democrat, the last of the Midwestern populist progressives. Wheeler appears in Roth’s novel as Lindbergh’s scary vice president, and it could be that Roth is unaware of Kin’s tome, but, from the excerpts I have read, Roth’s book appears to have been modeled after it.

After the war, Wheeler was targeted by Communist-led labor unions for standing up to the centralizers of the New Deal, opposing Roosevelt’s drive to war, and dissing "Uncle Joe" Stalin. The Communists and their allies published The Plot Against America : Senator Wheeler and the Forces Behind Him, which was such a crude farrago of lies (complete with illustrations showing Wheeler in tow with Hitler) that the Saturday Review of Literature called it "a classic of the smear technique," and Harper’s magazine declared it the worst book of the year - a prize which, if there is any justice left in the world, Roth’s polemic would easily win hands down today.

In any case, the neocons may be in deep doo-doo, and may even be on their way out of power - although I tend to doubt it - but they aren’t going to go quietly. If the grand jury currently empaneled to examine the charges in the Franklin case indicts anyone, you can bet the howling that this is an "anti-Semitic" plot will grow louder, and shriller. Although Israel’s amen corner in Washington may take some comfort in the early release of the recently uncovered Israeli spy nest in New Zealand, where two Mossad agents convicted of identity theft - trying to procure a New Zealand passport in the name of a paraplegic confined to home care - are serving only three months of their six month sentence.

In New Zealand, at least they arrested them : not only that, but Prime Minister Helen Clark and her government publicized the case, denounced it as an outrage, downgraded diplomatic contacts, and demanded an apology (one was not forthcoming). If only our own government - which is, after all, Israel’s sole means of support - showed the same insistence on openly defending American sovereignty, secrets, and security from our grabby "friends" in Tel Aviv.

Michael Rubin complains that "I feel like I’m in Paris," which we are supposed to think is equivalent to the Berlin of Weimar Germany, i.e., a hotbed of rising anti-Semitism. But the most celebrated recent case of an alleged "anti-Semitic" act in that city turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a supposedly deluded woman and her boyfriend. The woman claimed to have been attacked on the subway, where hoodlums derided her for being a Jew - she is not - and no one would help her. A reenactment of the legend of Kitty Genovese, but with a distinctively political point this time around. The same theme is dramatized in Roth’s ridiculous novel : Hitlerism is on the march, always and forever. Lurking in the subways, and in the FBI, and the Justice Department : lurking in the hearts of evil men (and women) everywhere, but especially in the West, from Paris to Washington and everywhere in between : anti-Semitism is rising, a dark tsunami overwhelming the world.

What a bunch of malarkey.

The myth of rising anti-Semitism is good as a fundraising device, and I see that AIPAC is utilizing it to maximum effect : it is also a way of evading or downplaying the hard kernel of treason at the heart of the Franklin case. I doubt, however, that it will do much to improve the results of the campaign undertaken by the Israeli government to persuade Jews to move to Israel : I don’t see much of anyone, least of all Rubin, taking up Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s exhortation to the diaspora that the best way to support Israel is to make aliyah - although that’s one way for at least some of the neocons to beat any charges that come out of AIPAC-gate."

Jerusalem Post | Last Word: Is Bush an Israeli shill? Or a Saudi one?

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World: "Last Word: Is Bush an Israeli shill? Or a Saudi one?
By BRET STEPHENS


Pretty soon, the Anyone But Bush crowd is going to have to decide: Is the American president an Israeli shill or is he a Saudi shill? Does he do the bidding of the insidious pro-Israel neocons or of the insidious pro-Arab oil lobby? Is his foreign policy everything his father's was not – and therefore disastrous – or is it an extension of it – and therefore equally disastrous?

A LONG time ago – this would have been 2002 and the early months of 2003– the first set of views held sway. "The Bush administration paints a rosy scenario for the upcoming war in Iraq," wrote University of Chicago professor Fred Donner in the Chicago Tribune. "It is a vision deriving from Likud-oriented members of the President's team – particularly Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith." On MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews observed that the war party consisted of "conservative people out there, some of them Jewish, who... believe we should fight the Arabs and take them down. They believe that if we don't fight Iraq, Israel will be in danger." In the pages of The Nation, the venerable organ of Leftist certitude, writer Jason Vest spun elaborate theories about the nefarious influence of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, or JINSA, on administration policy.

At the same time, alarms were being sounded about some of the lunatic ideas making the rounds at Club Neocon. In July 2002, Rand Corporation analyst Laurent Murawiec gave a briefing to Mr. Perle's Defense Policy Board, in which he called Saudi Arabia "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" of American interests in the Middle East. Tom Ricks, the Washington Post reporter who broke the story about the briefing, noted the anti-Saudi line was gaining traction in such magazines as The Weekly Standard and Commentary, which, he helpfully added, "is published by the American Jewish Committee."

The president's critics went into a tizzy. Crown Prince Abdullah had only recently proposed an Arab-Israeli peace plan, and the Saudis were still in pretty good odor. Mr. Murawiec, wrote Jack Shafer in Slate, "lights out for the extreme foreign policy territory," and sounds like "an aspiring Dr. Strangelove."

Finally, 2002 was the year when administration critics rediscovered the sublime genius of Bush pere and his foreign policy team. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Secretaries of State James Baker and Larry Eagleburger, and retired General Norman Schwarzkopf all cautioned against the rush to war. Invidious comparisons were made between their statesmanlike prudence and the callow impetuousness of Bush fils.

HOWEVER, THAT was then. These days, everyone knows that President Bush is nothing if not his father's son – not to mention Prince Bandar's poodle.

"The links between the House of Bush and the House of Saud," wrote Michael Steinberger in the October 2003 issue of the American liberal monthly, The American Prospect, "are deep, overlapping and notoriously opaque: The Saudi investment in the Carlyle Group, the private equity firm whose rainmakers include George Bush Senior; the Saudi bankrolling of Poppy's presidential library; the lucrative contracts the Saudis doled out to Halliburton when Dick Cheney was at the company's helm. The main law firm retained by the Saudis to defend them against the 9-11 families is Baker Botts – as in James Baker, the Bush family consigliere. And, of course, there's oil, the black glue connecting all the dots."

These arguments were picked up in Craig Unger's bestselling House of Bush, House of Saud, and amplified in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. For Mr. Unger, the point of departure is the White House's post 9-11 decision to allow members of the bin Laden clan to leave for Saudi Arabia, while Mr. Moore makes much of the $1.4 billion Saudi Arabia paid over the years to Carlyle-connected enterprises.

True, the guy who gave the go-ahead for the flight of the bin Ladens was Richard Clarke, neither pere nor fils was ever shown to have profited from a Carlyle-orchestrated/Saudi-connected deal, and Carlyle is run by Carter administration official David Rubenstein. Also, the Clinton administration, like every administration since Franklin Roosevelt's, had been close to the House of Saud: In his memoirs, Bill Clinton reports that in February 1994 "We got a piece of good news when Saudi Arabia agreed to buy $6 billion worth of American planes, after intense efforts by Ron Brown, Mickey Kantor and Transportation Secretary Frederico Pena."

But never mind. What's really interesting is how much Messrs. Moore, Unger and Steinberger sound like those scary neocons of yesteryear. "The desert kingdom leads the way in financing and inciting Muslim holy warriors the world over," wrote Mr. Steinberger in his American Prospect article. So what's the difference between him and Mr. Murawiec? Answer: politics.

"It wouldn't take much for the Democrats to turn [the Saudi] issue into a political bonanza...." Steinberger writes. "The Saudi issue is a winning one on every count for the Democrats, and they need to take advantage of it – now." Which is just what Mr. Moore has done.

Of course, Mr. Steinberger is right – as Mr. Murawiec was right – that Saudi Arabia is no friend of the United States. He is also right that the Bush administration hasn't formulated a musular or even coherent policy toward the Kingdom, and so is vulnerable to criticism on the subject.

Then again, wasn't one of the main points of the war in Iraq to remove US military bases from Saudi Arabia, and therefore extricate America from an entaglement begun during the first Bush administration? And don't the shortcomings of administration policy stem in part from the neuralgic reaction by the Arabist wing of the State Department to Mr. Murawiec's ideas and the ideology he represents? Presumably, if the neocons had been allowed to run the show in the Bush White House, the 82nd Airborne would now be stationed in Mecca selling tickets to the next Hajj. Maybe that's something we can soon look forward to in the Kerry presidency.

IN ITS review of Fahrenheit 9/11, al-Jazeera.net noted "the implicit suggestion that the Saudi government is somehow driving the Bush administration's policies toward the region flies in the face of Washington's unprecedented support for Israel as well as strong regional opposition to the invasion of Iraq."

It's a good thing at least some people have got their stories straight. Because either you believe the Jews are behind it all, or you believe the Saudis are. But not both. This is one conspiracy theory on which flip-flopping is not allowed.

bret@jpost.com"