WASHINGTON – Why is Osama bin Laden still a threat to America two years after President Bush promised to capture him “dead or alive”?

Why does Bush continue to appease Pakistan, where bin Laden is hiding, even when Pakistan bars our military from joining the hunt for him there?

Why does the president continue to cover for the Saudis, despite mounting evidence of their complicity in 9-11?

And why did he take a sharp turn into Iraq in the middle of a war on al-Qaida, when his own intelligence dossier ruled out Iraqi sponsorship of any “attacks against U.S. territory,” including 9-11, and concluded Saddam Hussein wouldn’t even try to join forces with al-Qaida unless “sufficiently desperate” and provoked by U.S. attack?

My new book, “Crude Politics: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism,” answers these disturbing questions and others, such as the ones raised by the principals at Barnes & Noble.com in their recent interview with me. Here is the full exchange:

Barnes & Noble.com: “Crude Politics” is subtitled “How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism.” Who are these “cronies”?

Paul Sperry: They include onetime Caspian energy industry lobbyist Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush’s broker for regime change in Kabul and now Baghdad; Dick Cheney, whose Halliburton Co. has long been a player in both the Caspian and in Iraq; Condi Rice, longtime director of ChevronTexaco, the Caspian’s biggest investor and also a player now in Iraq; Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage, formerly a powerful Caspian lobbyist in Washington; Commerce Secretary Don Evans, whose former oil firm is partly owned by Unocal, the original lead investor in the trans-Afghan pipelines that Khalilzad lobbied for and which are now on the fast track to development. The rest of the cronies are listed in the “Players & Power Brokers” section in the front of “Crude Politics.” Many of them were among the principals who crafted the post-9-11 war strategy.

B&N.com: You’re politically conservative, yet you criticize the approach Bush has taken to the war on terror. At what point did you start to feel that Bush wasn’t doing the right thing?

PS: My doubts really crystallized in December 2001, when Osama bin Laden escaped from Afghanistan and many of my Special Ops and CentCom sources began griping about the Bush administration’s odd military strategy of focusing on the Taliban and “regime change,” while using local Afghan proxy fighters to hunt down bin Laden.

B&N.com: You cite our relationship with Pakistan, an ostensible “ally” in the war on terror, as an “unholy alliance.” Why is that?

PS: Pakistan is the world’s epicenter of anti-American terror. As I document in “Crude Politics,” almost every terrorist act against the U.S. or its interests abroad has had a Pakistani connection. That includes September 11th. Pakistan is where terrorists, including senior members of al-Qaida, meet, train, study and hide out – all under the nose of Pakistani strongman [Gen. Pervez] Musharraf.

Why is Bush so deferential to Musharraf? Why has he bought him off with billions of dollars in U.S. aid? One reason is he agreed to sign a deal with U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai in Kabul, also a onetime energy consultant, to develop the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, or TAP, which continues on through Pakistan. The Taliban, which Musharraf backed, was blocking its development. The multibillion-dollar gas pipeline is now on the fast track – unlike the hunt for bin Laden.

B&N.com: Should Saudi Arabia be included in any “axis of evil” when it comes to harboring and fostering terrorism? Why did the administration whisk Osama’s relatives out of the country only days after 9-11?

PS: If the Bush Doctrine were applied evenly and apolitically, which it isn’t, we would count Saudi Arabia among our enemies, not allies. In fact, there is far, far more evidence linking Riyadh to al-Qaida and September 11th than Baghdad. Of course, don’t tell that to Bush, who has fudged the evidence in both cases. The main reason he allowed Osama’s relatives to be whisked out of the country after September 11th is the same reason he won’t declassify those 28 pages on Saudi in the 9-11 report: Prince Bandar. He and the Bush family go way back, and it was Bandar who lobbied the White House to spirit the bin Ladens out of the country, and it is Bandar and his wife and brother-in-law, Prince Turki, who are cited in the 9-11 report as possible co-conspirators.

What’s more, it’s a fact, not a rumor, that Bush’s father and consigliere James Baker personally have done business with the bin Laden family. In “Crude Politics,” I produce a secret letter between a top Bush administration official and a Saudi official that reveals the alarming degree of access and clout the royal family has with this administration. Bottom line: Bush is covering for the Saudis, and it’s not just for strategic geopolitical reasons.

B&N.com: Is Bush guilty of exploiting one of the worst American tragedies of all time?

PS: I’m afraid so. The book’s subtitle is not just for effect. They really did hijack this war to pursue their hidden agendas. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t want to bring al-Qaida leaders to justice, their royal benefactors notwithstanding. They did, and still do, it’s just that the war provided a golden opportunity to do other things at the same time – namely, to open up new oil frontiers – and that’s where they blew it. Trying to kill two birds with one stone sewed such a high degree of complexity into the operation that it caused them to take their eye off the main quarry, bin Laden, and now he’s still threatening us two years after he attacked us.

I pray we get him tomorrow, before he can order another major hit on us. That would be the real victory, though it would still be somewhat pyrrhic. If we had caught him in the winter of 2001 – when we had a bead on him in southern Afghanistan, and a golden chance to take him out – I doubt the American people would have countenanced this messy Iraqi dogleg in the war on terror, or the further erosion of our civil liberties. And I’m certain our economy and mutual fund balances would look better.

B&N.com: Why didn’t Bush send a massive number of ground troops into Afghanistan to get Osama, as he later did to get Saddam? Was it fear of a “quagmire,” something we may well now be facing in Iraq?

PS: Well, that’s the reason he gave, anyway. But the Afghan plan as drafted by senior White House security adviser Khalilzad, who staffed the Pentagon during the early 2001 transition, called for using local Afghan proxies to give the different tribal factions a stake in the new U.S.-approved regime. Unfortunately, they betrayed us by letting Osama escape across the border into Pakistan. Bush followed Khalilzad’s blueprint right down to installing him as Afghan envoy and lifting the Pressler Amendment and other sanctions on Pakistan. The blueprint is documented in two policy white papers Khalilzad wrote, one of which is revealed for the first time in “Crude Politics.”

And now Bush is following Khalilzad’s plan in Baghdad, where he’s grooming an oil-tied Iraqi defector to replace Saddam Hussein. The influential Khalilzad, an Afghan native and a Muslim, is not exactly a household name, and the White House likes it that way. He is a shadowy operator. He gets no mention whatever in Bob Woodward’s book on the war, but readers will become well acquainted with Mr. Khalilzad in “Crude Politics.”

B&N.com: The question of whether the Bush administration lied about the threat Iraq posed to us is running rampant in the headlines. Do you feel Bush and his people deliberately misrepresented the situation in order to get the American people behind the Iraq war?

PS: Absolutely, there is no question now that Bush sold the American people a bill of goods about the alleged Iraqi threat to them. And even if they stumble on some evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program or a clear al-Qaida link at this late juncture, it still won’t confirm Bush’s prewar rhetoric, because we now know the intelligence underlying the rhetoric was soft – and in some cases fabricated. The cat’s officially out of the bag: We went into Baghdad on a hunch, not on hard intelligence. Any evidence we find now in Iraq isn’t confirmation, it’s luck.

That’s no way to prosecute a war, and certainly no way to start a war. And it’s the height of irresponsibility to do so in the middle of a war on al-Qaida, the real threat to America. Bush diverted resources – such as troops, intelligence assets, Arabic translators – from the hunt for bin Laden and his top henchmen like Dr. Zawahiri. That’s inexcusable, and Bush supporters with any modicum of intellectual honesty should be mad as hell about it. And that’s coming from someone who voted for Bush.

B&N.com: Considering that both Bush and Vice President Cheney, as well as a fair number of their appointees, have worked in the oil business, should we be all that surprised that they seem so eager to establish oil supplies in both Afghanistan and Iraq?

PS: Actually, as cynical as I am, I thought this would be one crisis in which politicians would shove their ulterior motives, hidden agendas and special interests down a deep dark hole and just do what’s right for the country for a change. But the oil motive is something anti-war protesters assumed right off the bat – and it turns out they were right. They’ve been easy to dismiss, however, because they’ve failed to articulate the who-what-when-where-why-and-how when they have charged, “It’s about oil!” “Crude Politics” documents it, chronicles it, provides new dots, makes all the connections, providing the actual road map to the conspiracy.

But again, the war has not been all about oil, as many protesters charge, and I should note that I viewed the Afghanistan counterstrikes as morally justified, and am more hawk than dove, but it certainly has been a good piece of it. To make any real sense of the administration’s war strategy, you have to follow the oil. It really is that simple, although how they’ve gone about it is quite complicated. The political and corporate connections alone are fascinating.

B&N.com: Both Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be falling apart, after U.S. intervention was supposed to stabilize things there and “liberate” the civilians. What will both countries look like a year from now, in your opinion?

PS: The only thing that will be liberated in those Islamic nations is the U.N. economic sanctions on their rogue regimes – sanctions that until now had precluded U.S. oil companies from investing there. That’s why “regime change,” something you’ll recall candidate Bush considered a bad word, suddenly became so important. Though there have been some successes, all we’ve really done in Afghanistan is scatter al-Qaida terrorists, like so many angry red ants, without killing their queen. Bush might as well have just taken a big stick and stirred up a giant anthill.

Same goes for Iraq, though we didn’t even scatter al-Qaida there. We displaced a lot of Iraqi citizens, families, children, many of them Shiites who weren’t at all a part of Saddam’s regime and who are growing increasingly resentful of the U.S. occupation. But there’s too much oil money at stake in both countries for us to leave. Our military will be there to provide security for U.S. investments for decades to come. Tragically, instead of just getting bin Laden and getting out, Bush only drove us deeper into a part of the world that already hates us.

I pray there will be no Bush blowback, like the blowback from his father’s Saudi-centric actions in the Gulf 12 years earlier. I pray our young soldiers whom Bush put in harm’s way over there won’t continue to be sitting ducks. But I am not optimistic.

B&N.com: With Bush running hard for re-election, is it safe to assume he won’t be getting your vote? Do you see anyone on the Democratic side you’d feel comfortable voting for instead?

PS: Like I said, I voted for Bush, but I don’t plan to vote for a Republican or a Democrat this time. Both parties disgust me now, quite frankly.

Related offer:

Wonder why Osama bin Laden is still on the loose as we near the second anniversary of 9-11? Paul Sperry’s explosive new book, “CRUDE POLITICS: How Bush_s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism,” answers that disturbing question and more. Order your copy now in WorldNetDaily’s online store, ShopNetDaily!

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.