Sunday, February 25, 2007

Frank Rich on Al Qaida

Iraq didn't have a nuclear program worthy of the name but we attacked anyway. We attacked and Iran decided it might be time to at least pretend to have a nuclear program. We haven't attacked them yet but Cheney is thinking about it while Bush.... handles public relations?

The organization that attacked us on 9/11 was al Qaida, led by Osama bin Laden, all of whom were largely in Afghanistan at the time. Osama bin Laden escaped. Into Pakistan. Which has nuclear weapons. Which has a military that may not be totally loyal to President Musharraf. Afghanistan, which seemed to be a winnable war back in late 2001, has been dangerously neglected. The Taliban is threatening to make headway again. Al Qaida, in the meantime, seems to be growing strong again by basing itself across the Afghan border in the Northwest Territories of Pakistan, where the Pakistani military refuses to go. And Bush and Cheney are digging a hole in Iraq debating whether to support the Sunnis or the Shiites or some secular coalition that exists only in their imagination. We have a problem.

Frank Rich of The New York Times has an article on the serious potential threat of a regrouped al Qaida (via Truthout):
The White House doesn't want to hear it.... That's why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, "are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States" ... Al Qaeda is "on the march" rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces - it's "not ready for transition," according to the Pentagon's last report - but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

This is why the entire debate about the Iraq "surge" is as much a sideshow as Britney's scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what's going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war's critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?

The record so far suggests that this White House has done so twice. The first defeat, of course, began in early December 2001, when we lost Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora. The public would not learn about that failure until April 2002 (when it was uncovered by The Washington Post), but it's revealing that the administration started its bait-and-switch trick to relocate the enemy in Iraq just as bin Laden slipped away. ...


... It is precisely by pouring still more of our finite military and intelligence resources down the drain in Iraq that we are tragically ignoring the lessons of 9/11. Instead of showing resolve, as Mr. Bush supposes, his botch of the Iraq war has revealed American weakness. Our catastrophic occupation spawned terrorists in a country where they didn't used to be, and to pretend that Iraq is now their central front only adds to the disaster. As Mr. Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official, reiterated last week: "Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that's where it is." It's typical of Mr. Bush's self-righteousness, however, that he would rather punt on that threat than own up to a mistake.

That mistake - dropping the ball on Al Qaeda - was compounded last fall when Mr. Bush committed his second major blunder in the war on terror. The occasion was the September revelation that our supposed ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, had negotiated a "truce" with the Taliban in North Waziristan, a tribal region in his country at the Afghanistan border. This truce was actually a retreat by Pakistan, which even released Qaeda prisoners in its custody. Yet the Bush White House denied any of this was happening. ...

I'm not sure what to make of Scheuer's statements, but there is this to consider: Bush and Cheney have bluffed and lied and bluffed again so often in the last five years that they can't even keep track of the consequences and permutations anymore. In foreign policy, you don't bluff unless you know exactly what you're doing; that does not describe George W. Bush or Dick Cheney this late in the day. Some potentially dangerous bluffs have been called. I won't say which ones though some of the more obvious ones are apparent to most people. The incompetence and ideological recklessness of Bush and Cheney is clearly endangering the United States.

We have a choice: we either regroup and begin serious talks with our enemies and friends in the Middle East or we drift into wider wars necessitating a draft and the neglect of any real future for years to come. Bush and Cheney, as things now stand, are on a slippery slope that may lead to a greater disaster of their own making in two or three trouble spots in the Middle East. And they have neglected al Qaida, to our nation's peril. Bush and Cheney have shown us how not to fight the 'war on terror.'

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