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Christopher Dickey, 'The Sleeper'

Christopher Dickey is Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor for Newsweek.. His new novel, The Sleeper, is a thriller about a former terrorist living the United States who hunts down his former al Qaeda comrades after Sept. 11.


Other segments from the episode on September 15, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 15, 2004: Interview with Christopher Dickey; Review of composer Paul Hindemith's 3-CD box set.


DATE September 15, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Christopher Dickey discusses his new book, "The

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

After reporting on terrorism for many years, my guest, Christopher Dickey, has
written his second novel about it. Dickey is Newsweek's Paris bureau chief
and Middle East regional editor. He led the magazine's investigation of the
first World Trade Center plot in 1993, and since September 11th, he's played a
key role in Newsweek's coverage of the war on terror. His non-fiction books
include "Summer of Deliverance," a memoir about his relationship with his
father, the poet and novelist James Dickey. Christopher Dickey's new novel,
"The Sleeper," is a sequel to his novel "Innocent Blood." In "Innocent
Blood," Kurt Kurtovic, a young man from Kansas, becomes a radical Islamic
terrorist. In the new novel, he's renounced terrorism, he has a wife and
child and just wants to be left alone. But after September 11th, he knows his
days of being left alone are over. For the sake of his family's and his
country's security, he goes back to the terror network to hunt down the people
planning the next attack. This short reading will describe his background.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER DICKEY (Author): (Reading) `I, Kurt Kurtovic, 34 years old,
born in Kansas, have seen war and death and more than once have caught sight
of the eternal hereafter. I have been a soldier of the American government
and of God Almighty. Righteousness followed me many days of my life, and
there was a time when I believed that I, with the help of the Lord, could
change the face of America and the world. Killing was something I did well.
I was trained as a US Army Ranger, specialized in demolition. I first saw
action in Panama, then the Gulf War. After that, I embraced Islam, the
unremembered religion of my immigrant father, and I went to Bosnia to find my
family's roots and myself. But I found nothing except a new place to practice
my skills at slaughter. Sickened to death by death, I wanted to find a way to
stop the killing once and for all, and I let myself be persuaded that only by
making the United States feel the pain of the rest of the world could there
finally be peace and justice for all. I have held in my hand a terror to end
all terrors, and yet I could not do the thing that I had prayed to do, could
not bring myself to unleash a plague that would decimate the nation's
children. And I had killed the man who would.'

GROSS: That's Christopher Dickey reading from his new novel, "The Sleeper."
What is the plague that he had considered unleashing, but...

Mr. DICKEY: Smallpox, which especially if he had unleashed it at the time of
the first novel, in which he appears in the mid-1990s, would have had an
absolutely devastating effect because nobody would have been prepared for it,
and nobody would have been--especially no young people would have been
immunized against it.

GROSS: One of the creepy things about your novel is he still has some of

Mr. DICKEY: Yes, in the first novel, yeah.

GROSS: And that makes me wonder, do you think that there's somebody in the
United States who actually has a vial of smallpox germs hidden away in a

Mr. DICKEY: I hope not, but it would be--if you could get the culture, if
you could put your hands on the smallpox virus, then you would have the most
effective terrorist weapon imaginable. It's not very good for military uses,
but it's fairly easy to handle. It can be stored in a regular freezer. It
doesn't have to be supercooled, and it can be released into the air in a
crowded area, in a stadium, say, an indoor sports arena, which was part of the
plot of the first novel, in such a way that lots of people would be infected,
but they wouldn't know for several days.

GROSS: Do you feel like a terrorist in training, researching all of this

Mr. DICKEY: Yes. Well, in fact, the whole idea of "Innocent Blood" and now
"The Sleeper" is not only to imagine the world of the terrorists but to
imagine the world as they imagine it, to get deep inside the way they think so
that I can understand it better. Both these novels were written in real time.
They were written in the midst of the events that they describe. And the Kurt
Kurtovic figure, this man who first becomes a terrorist, then backs away from
it and then hunts down the terrorists in the second novel, is sort of an
exploration of the possibilities inherent in the stories that I cover

GROSS: Now your main character, Kurt Kurtovic, becomes an Islamist, you know,
a radical, in Bosnia. You know, he's gone to fight there, his father is
Bosnian, and he becomes radicalized there. Now this strikes me maybe as a
kind of missing chapter in our understanding of the spread of radical Islam.
I know--like, during the war, I remember hearing that the residents of Bosnia,
although of various religions, were on the whole a fairly secular bunch,
secular Muslims, secular Christians, secular Jews. So where does the radical
influence come in?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, on the whole, Bosnians certainly were secular, but as the
war went on, of course, there was a radicalizing process that went on there.
But more importantly, the sort of early al-Qaeda groups and what would become
al-Qaeda itself saw Bosnia just as they had previously seen Afghanistan, just
as they would later see Chechnya and Iraq, as a place where they could rally
their forces and score propaganda victories while waging jihad against some
Christian or heathen or Communist army. And it's part of their ideology to
gravitate toward any place where they can fight an actual holy war. So they
gravitated toward Bosnia. They were not much loved by the Bosnian people, but
Kurt is a foreigner among foreigners. He's not recruited by the Bosnians.
No, he's recruited in Bosnia by a sort of Ramzi Yousef kind of character, as
sort of the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed-type character who sees in Kurt the perfect
agent of terror, because he's blond and blue-eyed and all-American and will
essentially be invisible to the US system.

GROSS: Now about the charismatic terrorist who converts your main character
to terrorism, he says--the character says that this guy was `one of the
preachers who came and went pushing us to fight and die. I never saw him lift
a weapon or even his own bag, but, Lord, how his language moved us. We were
fighting against evil itself,' he said. Have you ever heard one of these
recruiters speak?

Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. You don't even have to go to the
mosques to hear them. You can, in front of many mosques and many stores and
many places throughout the Middle East and also in many Muslim neighborhoods
in Europe and the United States, you can get CD-ROMs and videocassettes of
these preachings. And they constantly emphasize victimhood. `We Muslims are
under attack. We are being attacked by Christians in Indonesia. We're being
attacked by the Americans in Iraq. We're being attacked by the Jews in
Palestine. We're being attacked, we're under pressure. They're out to
exterminate us. They're out to eliminate us.' That's the message, because
it's much better to get people fighting what they think is a defensive war.
People will make much greater sacrifices to defend their home and hearth and
faith than they will for anything else, and that's the message of radical

GROSS: Are the speakers who you've heard very good speakers?

Mr. DICKEY: Some of them are very good speakers, and of course, many times
they're speaking in Arabic, and I don't speak Arabic well enough to fully
appreciate their rhetoric. I just speak a little getting-around Arabic. But
they are very compelling. You can see the effect that they have on the crowds
and on the people who are listening to them. And there is a kind of
incantatory rhetoric in Islam, like in some Christian churches that's very
moving, very compelling, just almost musically as well as rhetorically.

GROSS: Now your main character makes several stops in trying to--what he's
trying to do is to find some of the people who he used to know in al-Qaeda and
find out what's really happening, because this is after September 11th, and he
wants to unravel what is going on and do his best to infiltrate the
terrorists. You have him going to several places, including Spain. Why is
Spain one of the places?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, I started writing this book in December of 2001, and I had
written about two-thirds of it by March 2002. I was writing it as things were
happening, but I had been covering al-Qaeda for more than 10 years and its
development, from before we had the name al-Qaeda through the bombings and the
attacks of September 11th. I happened to be in New York then. And so I was
taking my recent experience in these places, in east Africa, in Spain, in
London, and applying that to Kurt's journey. There are characters in London
whom I know personally who resemble the man, Abusaif(ph), in the novel. They
are still operating in London. Some of them are still operating in London.
Some of them are in jail in Great Britain now. There are characters in
Grenada who have been arrested by the Spaniards, but only in the last year,
but whom I knew before all this happened.

GROSS: Were you surprised at the terrorist attack this spring in Spain?

Mr. DICKEY: No, I was not surprised that it happened. I mean, I couldn't
have predicted the precise timing or the location or anything like that, but
that there would be major attacks in Europe is not surprising. And that they
would focus on a government attacking a state that was supporting the United
States in Iraq was also fairly predictable.

GROSS: How much is left, do you think, of al-Qaeda now, and how much does
that matter in terms of our future?

Mr. DICKEY: Well...

GROSS: Because there seem to be a lot of other terrorist organizations
stepping up to the plate.

Mr. DICKEY: Well, unfortunately, the al-Qaeda we're talking about today is
not the al-Qaeda we were talking about three years ago. We had learned a lot
about that al-Qaeda. About the new organizations, we know much less. I think
the easiest way to understand it is to think of al-Qaeda as a kind of a
cancer. In 2001, it was pretty much contained in Afghanistan. You had to go
in there, you had to cut out the Taliban, you had to cut out al-Qaeda, and you
had to try and keep it from spreading, just like performing surgery. We did
cut it out, but we didn't keep it from spreading. We literally missed a lot
of cells, because we didn't put enough men on the ground and we didn't sustain
the offensive adequately through December of 2001. A lot of people got out
through Pakistan, and a lot of people got out through Iran. And they were
able to start regrouping immediately. By December of 2002, you had al-Qaeda
cells linked, for instance, to the now-infamous Abu Musab Zarqawi, were
regrouping in Europe, in Milan, in Munich, in London, in Spain. And they have
taken on a new form. It's a new disease.

What we could have done--this was a critical mistake, and I think this is what
you've heard from Richard Clarke, this is what you read in the book like
"Imperial Hubris." What we could have done and should have done is once we
had gone after the cancer and cut it out, we had to make the whole organism
healthy again. We had to calm things down, not keep driving toward more war.
But that's not what we did. We went to war in Iraq, and that has also fed the
mutation of these organizations so that now we really are up against it.

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and
Middle East regional editor. His new novel about terrorism is called "The
Sleeper." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Christopher Dickey. He's the
Paris and Middle East regional editor for Newsweek magazine. He has a new
novel about terrorism that's called "The Sleeper," and it's a sequel to his
previous novel, "Innocent Blood."

Now we've been hearing from Homeland Security that there's a hot plot now to
attack the United States most likely before the election. Am I
misrepresenting that?

Mr. DICKEY: No, you're not misrepresenting what Homeland Security is saying.
And they certainly have better confidential intelligence than I do. On the
other hand, looking sort of broadly at the way al-Qaeda has operated, they
calculate these things very carefully. The assumption of Homeland Security is
that al-Qaeda would want to attack before the elections in order to somehow
prejudice the American people against George Bush.

GROSS: And a lot of people say that's what happened in Spain.

Mr. DICKEY: Well, that was a much more complicated situation in Spain.
Aznar, the outgoing prime minister of Spain, his party had supported the war
in Iraq, and 90 percent of the Spanish people opposed it. When the bombings
took place, Aznar essentially lied about who was behind it. He started
pointing at his political enemies in the Basque country and Basque terrorist
organizations and tried to divert attention away from the possibility and then
what was the likelihood and then the positive certainty that it was a group
connected to al-Qaeda or its followers. And it was the lying that got Aznar
defeated. It was as if--in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, which was
I think three days before the election, it was as if the whole country turned
out in the streets to reject terrorism, not Aznar. But when they felt that he
was playing with them and misleading them and misguiding them, then they
turned against him vehemently and voted him out of office. So I don't think
that on the ground in Spain that was the case.

That doesn't mean that al-Qaeda didn't read it that way. It doesn't mean that
they wouldn't try and influence the American elections, but ideologically, you
have to ask yourself whether Ayman Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden want Bush out
or want to keep him in. From their point of view, this whole project of
creating a war of civilizations is going very well, and the politics of the
Bush administration and the policies of the invasion of Iraq and especially
the enduring occupation of Iraq, all of that works to their benefit.


Mr. DICKEY: Well, because occupation is the central issue in much of the
world but especially the Arab world. It is the Israeli occupation of
Palestine that has been a terrible issue in the Muslim and Arab world forever.
It is the history of colonial occupation that many of these people have never
forgotten, because occupation is about humiliation. And now the United
States, which had never been involved in occupying an Arab country before, is
in up to its eyeballs in a morally ambiguous occupation of a conquered Arab
country in the heart of the Arab world. And this is all great grist to the
mill for al-Qaeda and for people who say, `That's what the US always wanted to

GROSS: Well, what you're saying is paradoxical, because what you're saying is
al-Qaeda's goal is to recruit people for al-Qaeda as opposed to al-Qaeda's
goal is to end occupation. I mean, if its goal is recruitment, then the war
in Iraq might be a great thing. If its real goal is to end occupation, the
war in Iraq is a terrible thing.

Mr. DICKEY: From al-Qaeda's--the goal of the Iraqi insurgents is to end the
occupation. The goal of al-Qaeda is to get recruits, so you're right. Those
are conflicting goals, and there are conflicts between Zarqawi's group and the
al-Qaeda-linked groups and people in Iraq and the actual insurgents. The
insurgency in Iraq is much bigger than the al-Qaeda group, but what we usually
see and pay attention to, because they have a flair for spectacle, are the
actions of the al-Qaeda-linked people who probably represent only about 3
percent of the actual numbers fighting the US and other coalition forces.

GROSS: You are based in Paris and in the Middle East. You were in Iraq as
recently as a few weeks ago.

Mr. DICKEY: Yeah.

GROSS: Now you're in the United States on a visit. Have you been watching
the news on TV, and if so, how does Iraq, from watching TV, compare to the
Iraq that you were actually in?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, the sense in Iraq is that things are deteriorating very,
very quickly, that the environment is extremely dangerous, and while you can
know that in an abstract sense from here, actually the sense of danger, the
sense of deterioration, even though it's reported in the American media, is
much less than what you feel on the ground once you're there. Just a number
that's probably relevant, a year ago when I was there, something like 13 to 15
attacks a day on Americans were taking place. Now it's more than 80 a day. A
year ago, you had a bomb here and there, rather amateurish, a little bit
erratic, seemed very disorganized. More recently, you've had very carefully
staged ambushes. And now we're into sort of the third phase of the insurgency
where they seem to be confident enough to fight in certain circumstances and
to fire back with guns and other arms that way. So we've got an insurgency
that's more and more organized every day and more and more effective every
day. That is not good news, and I don't think the American people understand

GROSS: Now you're saying that you think it was foolish to go into Iraq
without a very clearly thought-out exit strategy. What kind of exit strategy
could we have in a war like this?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, the mistake was to try and ignore the issue of occupation.
First of all, there was the idea that it was going to be a liberation, not an
occupation, so because of this semantic trick, it was all going to be OK.
Everybody was going to love us for that. Well, this was a huge
miscalculation. Secondly, we didn't begin to have enough troops on the ground
to maintain order. The Army had been saying all along, from 2001 at least,
`If we go in, we're going to need a lot of troops on the ground, not to defeat
Saddam but to stabilize the situation once he's gone.'

In the defense universities around the country, there are case studies on what
happens when a dictator goes down. We knew in Panama, where we had every
advantage, we knew what happened. Noriega went down, there was looting and
chaos in the streets. Now Panama's a fairly small and easy-to-occupy country.
Iraq is a big country and not easy to occupy, and yet we didn't prepare for
any of these eventualities. And what the Iraqis won't forgive us for is that

GROSS: Well, we have officially handed sovereignty back to the Iraqis.
There's a new prime minister in place, Ayad Allawi. Who is he?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, first of all, Ayad Allawi is a longtime client of the
British secret services and of the CIA. They groomed him and developed him
into their potential leader after he defected from Saddam Hussein's Baath
Party in London back in the 1970s.

GROSS: And why did he defect?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, he seems to have had some personal differences with other
Baathi officials. It doesn't seem to have been a great hunger for freedom.
But he was seen as the man who could organize Baathi resistance to Saddam,
dissidence within the party, dissidence within the military during the 1990s.
He never was able to do any of that during the 1990s. He was a singular
failure, but he was good at politicking with the CIA, and the CIA made him its
alternative to Ahmed Chalabi, who was the candidate of the Pentagon. So all
of this has kind of become the inside baseball that everybody knows of Iraqi
politics. But Ayad Allawi wound up the winner in a situation where no due
process was found to create an interim government to meet the deadline of June
28th for the handover of sovereignty.

GROSS: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and Middle East
regional editor. His new novel is called "The Sleeper." He'll be back in the
second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music; credits)

GROSS: Coming up, why Christopher Dickey tries to disguise that he's American
when he's reporting in Iraq. We'll also talk about the new prime minister of
Iraq. And Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new box set collecting music composed and
conducted by Paul Hindemith.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Christopher Dickey,
Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor. His new novel
"The Sleeper" is about a former terrorist who hunts down his former al-Qaeda
comrades to try to stop the next attack. Dickey has been covering the war on
terror and the insurgency in Iraq. He was last in Baghdad a few weeks ago.
When we left off, we were talking about Iraq's new prime minister, Ayad

You've described him as this. You've said, `He's best understood as the
anointed dictator in waiting.'

Mr. DICKEY: That's right.

GROSS: We want him to be the face of democracy.

Mr. DICKEY: No, we want him to establish order. We say we want him to be the
face of democracy, but we don't care. Even the Bush administration doesn't
care anymore about democracy. And nobody expects that to happen in Iraq.
What they expect is that somehow the situation will be stabilized, and to do
that is going to require a lot of force, a lot of bloodshed. Once you get
into this stage of the insurgency, one of the most critical things is to show
that you can protect your own people. Right now, systematically and
effectively, the insurgents are showing that the Americans cannot do that.
And as a result, people are choosing sides, and they are not choosing our side
or Allawi's side. When he came in, he had a burst of popularity for a few
weeks. Why? Because he flooded the streets with police. Because people
spread rumors--very possibly his people--spread rumors that he had personally
shot some evildoers, maybe hacked off the hands of a couple of them.

GROSS: And that was helpful to have that rumor spread?

Mr. DICKEY: That was very helpful to him. That didn't play too well in the
Western press, but it sure played well in Baghdad. People said, `OK, he's a
tough guy. He's going to restore order.' The priorities for the Iraqi people
are different than the priorities for us. We watch these beheadings on
television of foreign hostages and we say, `This is really horrible.' Iraqis
look at it and say, `That's horrible,' too, but it's not a big issue for them.
The big issue for them is that kidnapping is a huge industry in Iraq right
now, not kidnapping Americans or Italians or anybody from foreign countries;
kidnapping Iraqis, kidnapping cab drivers, kidnapping schoolchildren,
kidnapping wives, kidnapping husbands. This is an industry in Iraq right now.

GROSS: As a reporter, is it safe for you to go out and report?

Mr. DICKEY: No. It's extremely dangerous. It's the worst place, most
dangerous place that I or any of my colleagues, who are very seasoned war
correspondents, have ever reported. Rod Nordland, who's our Baghdad bureau
chief--he and I have been covering wars for almost 30 years. And Melinda Liu,
who's there a lot; now Scott Johnson, a little bit younger reporter; and
Babak Dehghanpisheh. It's very hard for us to go out. You go out literally
in disguise.

GROSS: How do you go about trying to get the story if it's unsafe to go out?

Mr. DICKEY: Well, you have to calculate your moves very carefully. And in my
case--we all have slightly different techniques, but in my case, I've had the
advantage of having covered Iraq for a very long time. My first visit to Iraq
was in 1985. So I know my way around to a certain extent, and I know people
and I know--even people I don't know, I know where they've come from. So the
phones are working better now and cell phones are working better now. And you
make appointments; you call up people and you go and you see them at their
houses is usually what you do. And with considerable trepidation and at great
risk, sometimes you go to places like Najaf or Sadr City or Fallujah. Most of
the people who go to Fallujah now go embedded with American forces.

This is actually something I wrote about at the beginning of the year in the
Shadowland column.

GROSS: That's your Web site column...

Mr. DICKEY: That's the Web site column...

GROSS: ...the Newsweek Web site column that you write.

Mr. DICKEY: ...which I do almost every week. And it struck me--there were
stories at the beginning of the year, the end of the last year, about a couple
of journalists who were carrying guns in Iraq. So I started to examine the
question of what it takes to report there and what the likelihood would be of
the evolution of reporting. And it's turned out, unfortunately, exactly as I
predicted, although the elections have made the story in some ways more and
more important. The dangers of reporting on the ground and the airtime
available for non-election coverage has meant that the story's actually
steadily been downgraded. You don't see as much as you used to. You don't
learn as much as you used to.

GROSS: And you're talking about in the American press.

Mr. DICKEY: In the American press, but also in the global press. It's
becoming so dangerous that it's--the historical analogy that's closest to Iraq
is Lebanon in the 1980s. We are in the position now of Israel in 1982 and
1983. It went into Lebanon. Ariel Sharon drove into Lebanon to change the
government, to put a more friendly government in power, to end the supposed
terrorism and real terrorism of Yasser Arafat--although there had been a
cease-fire agreement for a year at that time--and to solve permanently what
had been an aching problem for Israel for a long time. A year later, the
solution had become a problem. The occupation of Lebanon was a disaster and,
as you know, Israel remained in parts of Lebanon for many years afterwards,
and whole new terrorist organizations grew out of that experience to fight
Israel and to fight the West. We now are doing exactly the same thing, with
very much the same arguments and the same motives. And as a result, we've
gotten stuck in a situation from which it's very, very hard to extricate

But what happened in Lebanon to the press was that by 1985, you just couldn't
cover Lebanon. The kidnappings that began in '84 and that started to really
increase in 1985 made it impossible to go to West Beirut and work without
such a risk that it became implausible. So then the question was: What made
the risk worthwhile? And this is the problem in Iraq. If the American public
has gotten a little bit bored with the carnage in Iraq, wants to change the
channel, wants to turn away from it, wants to read about Kobe Bryant or Laci
Peterson or whatever, is it worth risking your life to go out and cover the
story? Are people going to pay attention? Are you going to change? Are they
going to listen? And in Lebanon, the conclusion was, in 1985, no. After the
United States pulled out in '84, everybody wanted to forget Lebanon.

GROSS: Have you or your colleagues felt that kind of frustration, that you're
risking your life in Iraq and it's not getting enough play in the magazine or,
in other reporters' case, in the newspaper or on the TV news, or the listeners
or readers aren't reading more than the headlines anymore?

Mr. DICKEY: No, absolutely, absolutely. You sometimes don't realize it when
you're in Iraq. I have to say, I think Newsweek's coverage of this--and I'm
not just patting my own organization on the back. I mean, I think Newsweek's
coverage of this has been really consistently good, and we have devoted a lot
of space to these issues and asked a lot of the tough questions all along.
But I think when you come back to the States and you see how sick people are
of the war and how much they want to turn away from it and forget it, I think
that's very demoralizing. It certainly affects the amount of space we get and
the amount of time that's devoted to our coverage on air. But it's also
demoralizing because you see that eventually it's going to be background noise
for American society.

GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and
Middle East regional editor. His new novel about terrorism is called "The
Sleeper." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Christopher Dickey is my guest. He's the Paris bureau chief and
Middle East regional editor of Newsweek; he also writes their online column,
Shadowland. He has a new novel called "The Sleeper"; it's a novel about
terrorism that's a follow-up to his previous novel about terrorism, which was
called "Innocent Blood."

As you said earlier, you had been covering--you know, you had first been to
Iraq in 1985; you were one of the people who thought Saddam really needed to
go and that, you know, it would be a good thing for Iraq and the world if he
were gone. Now the argument the Bush administration used was that we would
find weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq had direct ties to al-Qaeda.
We haven't found evidence of either of those yet. But you had an interesting
piece--I think this was on your Web site column--where you wrote that the
Paris bureau was moving, so you were going through all your old stuff,
including your old writing, and you found some interesting memos that you had
written years ago, one or two of them having to do with ties between Iraq and
other Islamic groups of...

Mr. DICKEY: And al-Qaeda type groups, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, al-Qaeda type groups. And should I read one of these?

Mr. DICKEY: Sure.

GROSS: This was a note you wrote to editors in--a few years ago. You wrote,
`Saddam's regime is essentially secular and doesn't trust the Islamists, and
they don't trust him. They may not be great reserves of trust, but active and
extensive cooperation with radical Muslim groups dates back to 1990. Saddam
had long-standing ties to the Muslim brothers of Syria, with whom he'd
intrigued for years to undermine his ideological rival in Damascus. And when
the shooting started over Baghdad in '91, his most vocal support came from the
ideologues of the Islamic revolution. After the war, Saddam continued to
gather around him the flotsam and jetsam of the Islamic tide. In '93, I went
to a jihad conference in Baghdad attended by Islamic radicals who hailed from
Jakarta to Dakar, as they liked to say. We're talking Chechens and Moroccans,
Filipinos and Algerians, all sorts.'

So you're saying that, in your eyes, there really was some connection between
Iraq and the jihadist groups.

Mr. DICKEY: Yeah. I think Americans make a big--the reason that I call the
Shadowland column Shadowland is because it deals with these gray areas. And I
think Americans make a mistake on any side of this debate when they are
looking for absolute answers. On the issue of connections between al-Qaeda
and Saddam, were there contacts? Absolutely there were. In the early 1990s,
were there efforts to recruit people from these Islamic movements? I think
there's no question of that. Did Saddam want to have weapons of mass
destruction? Had he had an active program to develop it? Has he succeeded in
deceiving the world about his nuclear program and subsequently about his
biological program? Yes. All of that is true.

The question was how best to address that threat. It's a mistake to be saying
there just was no threat, there was no problem there. There was a problem.
The question was: Was the most effective way to deal with that to invade
Iraq, occupy it and put ourselves in the position we're in now. And the
answer to that from the get-go was, no, that wasn't the most effective thing
to do. President Bush did a very, very good thing in 2002 when he went to the
United Nations, threatening to act unilaterally, and forced the UN to assume
its responsibilities vis-a-vis Iraq. That was great.

The inspectors were returned. And in fact, the inspectors had always
been--when they had been there up until 1998--our main source of accurate
intelligence about Saddam and his intentions. Now they were returned with an
absolute carte blanche, an ability to go places, investigate things and pry
into Iraq in ways that they have never been allowed to do it before. This was
a great moment and a very positive thing. In fact, if you combine the fact
that the inspectors were back in Iraq, that Iraq was internationally isolated
and facing the threat of war, and that meanwhile the CIA had been so
successful in rounding up al-Qaeda operatives directly involved with planning
September 11th and the big, theatrical operations of al-Qaeda like Khalid
Sheik Mohammed, then you can say probably by early 2003, we were much safer
than we had been in 2001, much safer.

GROSS: And now in the summer of 2004?

Mr. DICKEY: And now we are--well, no. Now in the summer of 2004, we are in
much greater danger because, by pushing too far, by rushing into the war--and
it's still not clear what the agenda was for this war. Why were we in such a
rush in March of 2003 to go to war? Was it because Saddam was refusing to
cooperate? It wasn't up to the United States to determine that. The terms of
the resolution were clear. It was up to Hans Blix to say, `He is in material
breach again, and we will go to the Security Council.' And we couldn't wait
for that. We had to go to war, I think probably because of the
administration's concern about the domestic political agenda here.

GROSS: Do you have your eyes on Iran now?

Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. I think that Iran poses a huge problem for us. I
think that Iran is moving in fits and starts, but the curve is fairly
consistent, toward the technology to produce nuclear weapons. I think it
feels that that's the only way to ensure the longevity of the regime. And I
think it's also a big problem because the occupation of Iraq was supposed to
intimidate Iran, but in fact, as we predicted in Newsweek in 2002, it had the
opposite effect. The mullahs in Iran said, `Great. Welcome to our
neighborhood. We can really get at you now.' They have all the tools at
their disposal. They have the ability to penetrate Iraqi society, to act
covertly through what's called false-flag agents. They can take a frontal
approach in the confrontation. They can pretend to help us and then undermine
us. And they do all those things. And what can we do in response? The fact
is: nothing. Apart from possibly bombing or endorsing an Israeli bombing of
some nuclear sites in Iran, there's virtually nothing that we can do at this

GROSS: Sanctions?

Mr. DICKEY: Sanctions--first of all, Europe's not going to go along with
sanctions because they don't think it's effective. But the real problem is
that the sanctions do have to be backed up by some kind of threat of force.
And the great irony is that the Bush administration was much more powerful
threatening force when it hadn't used it. Now Iran and everybody else knows
we're not going to be able to invade Iran and occupy Iran. The US public
won't be behind it, but we don't have the military resources to do it unless
we reinstate the draft, and that's not going to happen, I hope.

GROSS: Do you think the Bush administration feels the same way, that we can't
invade Iran?

Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely they feel that way. That's why they deal with Iran so
gingerly. Every so often there's a sort of midlevel statement about Iran and
a little bit of sword-rattling, but they're very cautious, just as they're
very cautious with North Korea. Now with North Korea, they're confronting a
power that almost certainly has some nuclear devices. With Iran, they're
confronting a power that certainly is developing them. They're trying to use
diplomatic means. They're trying to use covert means against Iran. I hope
that is effective. It's not a bad plan to try and approach it that way. But
our essential weakness stems from the fact that we are in Iraq and we have
140,000 American men and women who are vulnerable to the plots of Iran every
day and every night.

GROSS: You're in the States for a few weeks; you're here a few more days.
You've spent a lot of time in the past few years in Iraq and other parts of
the Gulf and the Middle East. You covered the war. You've been exposed over
the years to places where terrorism is a pretty constant thing, and you've
also been in war zones a lot. So I'm wondering while you're here in the
States and you're picking up, I'm sure, on your book tour, of Americans' fears
that another attack is imminent, what advice do you have for them? What
advice do you have for us?

Mr. DICKEY: I would say that Americans should not be unduly concerned. There
is a chance of another attack. There is very little that the individual
American can do about it except to stay alert. Al-Qaeda will try to do its
worst, and the government, whatever government, will try to do its best to
defend us. But I was talking to a recently retired CIA agent, field
operative, just a couple of weeks ago, and he made a point that I think is
good for everybody to remember, and that is that the terrorists cannot change
America. The only thing that's going to change the way we live in America is
Americans overreacting to the terrorism, becoming paranoid, turning on each
other. You see this fear contributing to the kind of high pitch of anger that
exists in this country, and that's all bad. None of it's going to stop the
terrorism, and it's all going to hurt us.

GROSS: You mentioned Americans turning on each other, and I wonder if you
feel like you're seeing a lot of that in a way that you didn't before, because
you were gone from America so much, abroad covering Paris and the Middle East.
Coming back to America now, do you feel like there is more infighting, you
know, the whole red-state, blue-states things or the culture wars or the
really--the presidential campaign, which...

Mr. DICKEY: There's a level--I see a level of anger in this country that I
really don't remember seeing since Vietnam. There is a level of hostility and
intolerance for other views. And this is on both sides of these issues. I
get hundreds of e-mails when I write controversial columns on the Web; it's a
very interactive medium. And the level of vitriol in those e-mails is
unbelievable, whether they're attacking Bush or attacking me or attacking
Kerry. And it defies reason. If we want to fight against the
fundamentalists, we have to exalt reason. And I see that just slipping by the
boards in this election. I don't see anybody addressing the issues that are
of concern to people. We talked to people, soldiers in Iraq, and they say,
`Why on earth are we debating the Vietnam War right now? What does that have
to with the issues at hand in Iraq?' And I think it's just part of a kind of
irrational anger that has surged up as a result of a fear and a sense of
betrayal by those people who hate Bush and a sense of a fear of treason in a
different direction by those people who hate Kerry.

GROSS: Christopher Dickey, a pleasure to talk with you, as always. Thank you
so much for talking with us.

Mr. DICKEY: Thank you, Terry. It was a pleasure.

GROSS: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and Middle East
regional editor. His new novel about terrorism is called "The Sleeper."

Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new box set collecting the recordings of
Paul Hindemith conducting his own compositions. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New three-CD box set of recordings by composer Paul
Hindemith conducting his own works

Paul Hindemith was one of the most serious 20th-century musicians, but a new
Hindemith collection reminded critic Lloyd Schwartz of one of his favorite


A guy comes into a bar with his dog. The bartender tells him he can't bring
the dog into the bar, but the guy says that this is a special dog; he can
talk. `Go ahead, ask him a question.' The bartender is dubious, then he asks
the dog, `What do you call the outside of a tree?' `Bark,' the dog answers.
`Hmm,' the bartender says. `Ask him another question,' the guy says. `OK,'
the bartender says, `what do you call the top of a house?' `Roof,' the dog
replies. The bartender isn't convinced. `Well, ask something harder,' the
guy with the dog says, `more intellectual.' `OK,' says the bartender, `but
one more answer like that and you're out. Let's see. Who was the greatest
composer of the 20th century?' The dog thinks for a minute and answers,
`Orff.' `Well, that's it,' says the bartender. `Take that mutt and get out.'
The guy picks up his dog and, as they leave, the dog turns back to the
bartender and says, `You think it's Hindemith?'

Paul Hindemith probably wasn't the very greatest composer of the 20th century.
His range is narrower than Stravinsky's, say, or Bartok's. There's something
more than a little academic about him. But though his reputation seems to
have declined, he was certainly a major figure, not only a composer, but a
wonderful violist and violinist and an important music educator. He thought
music should be composed for use, not just out of inspiration. Many of his
pieces are for unusual instrumental combinations, to give those players more
opportunities to perform, though his best music, the Symphonie "Mathis de
Maler," which used music from the opera he was working on about the
16th-century German painter Matthias Grunewald; the opera "Cardillac,"
about a goldsmith who murders his customers and steals back the pieces they
bought; and the "Four Temperaments for Piano and Strings", which George
Balanchine commissioned, then later choreographed, are among the most inspired
works of the last century.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHWARTZ: Hindemith was also a superb but underrated conductor and worked
with some of the major recording companies. Deutsche Grammophon has just
brought out a three-CD box set of all of the recordings of his own music
Hindemith made for them. Here he's conducting the third movement of
"Mathis der Maler," "Matthias the Painter," which depicts the hallucinatory
vision of St. Anthony on Grunewald's great religious triptych, the "Isenheim

(Soundbite of "Mathis der Maler")

SCHWARTZ: By all contemporary descriptions, Hindemith wasn't a showy
conductor, but his formal technique had two admirable qualities: lucidity and
intensity. Hindemith was a master of counterpoint, so he allows you to sort
out every interweaving line in even the densest texture. And since the music
itself is intense, he never forces it.

Even though he wasn't Jewish, he had to leave Germany because Hitler hated
so-called `decadent modern music.' Eventually he became an American citizen
and for many years taught at Yale. Hindemith's music certainly sounds modern,
but it's also darkly compelling and followable, impressive without being
intimidating. Deutsche Grammophon wasn't the only company Hindemith recorded
for, but he was particularly satisfied with the results of their
collaboration. I know I'm very grateful to have these beautiful and powerful
performances available again.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix. He
reviewed "Hindemith Conducts Hindemith: The Complete Recordings on Deutsche

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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