Dreaming in Kabul

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

New York Times

October 10, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan

I'm sorry, President Bush. Although I searched all over Pakistan and Afghanistan, I couldn't find Osama bin Laden - except in my dreams:

There I was, checking my e-mail at a Starbucks in Kandahar, when I spotted a slender 6-foot-5 figure in a burka, going this way and that, obviously lost. There was a dead giveaway - "she" wasn't asking for directions. Another clue was the dialysis machine trailing behind.

So I sat Osama down for an interview:

ME: Tell me, which candidate are you endorsing in the U.S. presidential election?

OSAMA: I try to be nonpartisan. But Al Qaeda will benefit if Bush is re-elected, inshallah.

Because Bush is no good at fighting terrorism?

No, not at all. Where's your objectivity? Even I know that journalists are supposed to be fair, so show it, ya kalb! Bush did plenty, beginning with his invasion of Afghanistan, which sent me fleeing into Waziristan in the mountains of Pakistan. Then he leaned on Musharraf to send troops into Waziristan, sending me on the run again.

Brass tacks: Easier or harder to hit the U.S. now?

Harder. Lots harder. Ayman wanted to drop sarin in New York's subways, but Homeland Security tightened controls on chemical precursors. With F.B.I. scrutiny, our sleeper agents still have to sleep. We've talked about a dirty bomb, but Bush tightened controls for radioactive materials. Bush has actually done much more for security than the Democrats give him credit for.

So I don't get it. Why is Bush good for Al Qaeda?

Recruitment, recruitment, recruitment. Look, the biggest challenge we face isn't getting chemical precursors. It's getting recruits - and Bush has become our v.p. for recruitment.

Ayman made a PowerPoint chart showing our intake. You see an uptick each time Bush embraces Ariel Sharon or talks about a "crusade" - and Iraq, that was a real gift. That new book by my nemesis at the C.I.A. got it just right. Here it--

WATCH IT! Keep your hands where I can see 'em, or I'll blow you away.

You're not armed. Even I know that your paper bans reporters from carrying guns. I'm just showing you a photocopy from "Imperial Hubris." Remember, this is from the C.I.A.'s top expert on Al Qaeda: "U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world. ... I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden's only indispensable ally."

Have you seen the polls? People who like the U.S. are down to 13 percent in Egypt and 3 percent in Saudi Arabia. Even in Morocco and Jordan, two-thirds of the people say that suicide bombings against Westerners are justifiable.

So what's your strategic aim? To kill lots of Americans?

No. If we wanted to do that, we'd have our agents open up McDonald's franchises. After all, by some accounts, excess salt kills 150,000 Americans a year. No, our ultimate aim is to recreate a powerful caliphate in a true Muslim nation, one that doesn't kowtow to the Yankees.

Which nation? And why bring baseball into it?

Saudi Arabia, if we topple the royals. Or Pakistan. We eliminate Musharraf, and we'll have a real Islamic bomb. I won't have to go begging for uranium or plutonium for my next attack on America.

Back up. Why would a new Pakistani government be Islamist?

Plenty of people in Pakistan, including in its intelligence agency, already support me. That's how we plotted all those assassination attempts against the traitor Musharraf, and that's how I've stayed safe for three years. You infidels thought I was hiding in an Afghan cave. I chuckled about that as I watched TV in my safe house in Waziristan.

Look, infidel, that's the most important reason I want a Bush victory: the historic prize would be an Islamic revolution in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, and that would give us a base and perhaps nuclear weapons. And Bush's talent for antagonizing Muslims makes such a revolution more likely. You know, I'm now a believer in Pakistani democracy because a Pew poll found that only 7 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of Bush, while 65 percent like me.

So let the Pakistanis choose their own government! And then, when I have my nuclear weapons, look out. Thank you, President Bush!