By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Oh, as it turns out, they’re not on the run.
And, oh yeah, they can fight us here even if we fight them there.
And oh, one more thing, after spending hundreds of billions and losing all those lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re more vulnerable to terrorists than ever.
And, um, you know that Dead-or-Alive stuff? We may be the ones who end up dead.
Squirming White House officials had to confront the fact yesterday that everything President Bush has been spouting the last six years about Al Qaeda being on the run, disrupted and weakened was just guff.
Last year, W. called his “personal friend” Gen. Pervez Musharraf “a strong defender of freedom.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be Al Qaeda’s freedom. The White House is pinning the blame on Pervez.
While the administration lavishes billions on Pakistan, including $750 million in a risible attempt to win “hearts and minds” in tribal areas where Al Qaeda leaders are hiding and training, President Musharraf has helped create a quiet mountain retreat, a veritable terrorism spa, for Osama and Ayman al-Zawahiri to refresh themselves and get back in shape.
The administration’s most thorough intelligence assessment since 9/11 is stark and dark. Two pages add up to one message: The Bushies blew it. Al Qaeda has exploded into a worldwide state of mind. Because of what’s going on with Iraq and Iran, Hezbollah may now “be more likely to consider” attacking us. Al Qaeda will try to “put operatives here” — (some news reports say a cell from Pakistan already is en route or has arrived) — and “acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material in attacks.”
(Democrats on cots are ineffectual, but Al Qaeda in caves gets the job done?)
After 9/11, W. stopped mentioning Osama’s name, calling him “just a person who’s now been marginalized,” and adding “I just don’t spend that much time on him.”
This week, as counterterrorism officials gathered at the White House to frantically brainstorm on covert and overt plans to capture Osama, the president may have regretted his perverse attempt to demote America’s most determined enemy.
W. began to mention Osama and Al Qaeda more recently, but only to assert: “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.” His conflation is contradicted by the fact that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, as the Sunni terrorist group in Iraq is known, did not exist before 9/11.
Fran Townsend, the president’s homeland security adviser, did her best to put a gloss on the dross but failed. She had to admit that the hands-off approach used by Mr. Musharraf with the tribal leaders in North Waziristan, which always looked like a nutty way to give Al Qaeda room to regroup, was a nutty way to give Al Qaeda room to regroup.
“It hasn’t worked for Pakistan,” she conceded. “It hasn’t worked for the United States.”
Just as we outsourced capturing Osama at Tora Bora to Afghans who had no motive to do it, we outsourced capturing Osama in Pakistan to Mr. Musharraf, who had no motive to do it.
Pressed by reporters on why we haven’t captured Osama, especially if he’s climbing around with a dialysis machine, Ms. Townsend sniffed that she wished “it were that easy.” It’s not easy to launch a trumped-up war to reshape the Middle East into a utopian string of democracies, but that didn’t stop W. from making that audacious gambit.
The Bushies, who once mocked Bill Clinton for doing only “pinprick” bombings on Al Qaeda, now say they can do nothing about Osama because they can’t “pinpoint” him, as Ms. Townsend put it. She assured reporters that they were “harassing” Al Qaeda, making it sound more like a tugging-on-pigtails strategy than a take-no-prisoners strategy.
We’ve had it up the wazir with Waziristan. Surely there are Army Rangers and Navy Seals who can make the trek, even if it’s a no-man’s land. If it were a movie, we’d trace the saline in Osama’s dialysis machine, target it with a laser and blow up the mountain.
W. swaggers about with his cowboy boots and gunslinger stance. But when talking about Waziristan last February, he explained that it was hard to round up the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders there because: “This is wild country; this is wilder than the Wild West.”
Yes, they shoot with real bullets up there, and they fly into buildings with real planes.
If W. were a real cowboy, instead of somebody who just plays one on TV, he would have cleaned up Dodge by now.
Photo Credit: (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)