The conversation began harmlessly enough.
Sunday morning, after breakfast, I walked out of the cafe and passed a gentleman sitting at an outdoor table. The man intently scribbled on a legal pad, engrossed in his subject. On the table among a stack of papers sat a book titled "Black History for Beginners." I smiled and said, "What do you want to know?"
The gentleman, a Mexican living in America for two years, laughed heartily at the offer by this black man to help him out.
"O.K.," he said. "When did blacks get the right to vote in America?"
"Well," I said, "it depends on what you mean by the right to vote. In some Northeastern states, some blacks voted from the founding of the republic. If you mean all blacks, this did not occur -- at least legally -- until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870."
So far, so good. The man, I soon learned, worked for a major news organization. "So," I said, "what do you think of the war in Iraq?" Before he responded, I told him I supported it, and that, in my opinion, nothing short of civilization stands in the balance.
He frowned and called the "pre-emptive war" unjust, wrong and built on a foundation of lies. He said that Bush sold the war on the assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD, and that the president connected the dictator to the events of 9/11.
"Yes," I said, "Bush did indeed, as did the international intelligence community, assume Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. Weapons hunter David Kay called Iraq a more dangerous place than he originally thought and said that based on consensus of international pre-war intelligence, he does not see how Bush could have reached any other conclusion but that Saddam constituted a 'grave and gathering threat.' And Clinton's CIA director talked about a decade of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda."
"No," he said. "Bush lied. Condoleezza Rice accused Saddam Hussein of involvement in 9/11. I know. I had a transcript." Furthermore, he said, America helped create Saddam Hussein by supporting his regime in the Iraq/Iran war, and Osama bin Laden worked for the CIA!
"Worked for the CIA?" I said.
"Yes, during the Afghanistan war with the Soviet Union, America sided with the mujahideen whom Osama bin Laden supported."
"If you mean this country supported Iraq against Iran, a country that seized American hostages and shouted 'Death to the great Satan,' and we supported Afghanistan against the Soviets, primarily by giving them intelligence, point taken," I said. "If, by 'worked for the CIA,' you mean bin Laden possessed a CIA hall pass and drank coffee in the commissary, we part company.