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US must regain moral ascendancy

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One day in Moscow, armed only with a business card, I managed to talk my way past half a dozen gatekeepers and walk into the office of a senior Russian government official. This official was also a retired Soviet Army general who fought the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Few knew Afghanistan and its military geography as well as he. The general strode across the room and shook my hand. I asked for his help. He shook his fist, and said something unprintable about the terrorists who had murdered thousands a few days before. He then made one phone call. He told me to come back in the evening, and suggested that I bring my boss. I did. We had a nice chat. We found the observations of the general's associates interesting, as did the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs a couple of days hence.

When a nation enjoys moral ascendancy, the government-to-government cooperation critical to fighting a global threat is fast-tracked. What was once impossible or unimaginable becomes simple and straightforward:

• Intelligence cooperation? "Here's what we've got, and more is on the way."

• Overflight permission? "No problem."

• Refueling stops? "Absolutely."

• Support to military operations? "Yes, but - due to the sensitivity - on the QT."

These are the simple, often mundane things that are nevertheless essential to conducting a global war against terrorists. Lose moral ascendancy, and such intergovernmental cooperation becomes problematic:

• Intelligence cooperation? "We'll let you know if we hear something."

• Overflight permission? "Perhaps our ministers can discuss this in Brussels next month."

• Refueling stops? "My government is under considerable pressure to terminate our support of your ongoing military operation."

• Support to military operations? "We regret to inform you that we will withdraw our contingent from Iraq in the coming weeks."

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