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Iraq, Al Qaeda, and what constitutes a 'relationship'

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For the past few days, the dialogue in this town has sounded more like "Sex and the City" than "The McLaughlin Group." Suddenly the question of what constitutes a relationship has come to the fore. We're not talking J. Lo here, we're talking about the Bush administration and whether its definition of "relationship" fits with everyone else's.

Last week, the 9/11 Commission released a report saying, among other things, that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The press jumped on the story, saying the Bush administration has been proven wrong. The White House, however, quickly countered that it had never said that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; it had simply argued that there was a connection.

"There was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda," President Bush said. "The evidence is overwhelming" that there was a relationship, Vice President Cheney said.

What kind of relationship? Well, that's not clear. The commission reported that, beyond the Sept. 11 attacks, there were indeed contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq but that Iraq rebuffed Al Qaeda's entreaties. Late last week, however, the vice president hinted that might not be the whole story.

When asked if he knew things the panel didn't, Mr. Cheney said, "probably," leaving some to wonder whether the administration has shared all it knew with the panel. Just as quickly, however, a spokesman also said the administration "cooperated fully with the commission," and "the president wants the commission to have the information it needs to do its job."

It may still turn out that there is some bit of bombshell evidence showing a "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Iraq. It's not really clear though, why the White House would keep such information secret. This administration, like many others, has not been shy about leaking sensitive information that helps its cause.

All of which means, what we probably have here is an issue of semantics. What exactly qualifies as a relationship in the early 21st century? Is it chatter that doesn't lead to anything, or something more? Where are Carrie Bradshaw and her friends when you need them?

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