Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bush makes al Qaeda stronger

The National Intelligence Estimate contains some utterly damning facts that, to any honest reader, condemn the Bush Administration for its single-minded failure to effectively confront the terrorist threat against the United States. Al Qaeda has reconstituted and found a new base in Pakistan, just over the border from their old base in Afghanistan. Much like a patient who stops taking the antibiotics after a couple of days because he feels better, Bush now faces an al Qaeda that will be much more difficult to root out than the one we faced in 2001. Consider just for a moment the blow to the global jihadist movement if in the winter of 2001–2002, we had made the same commitment of resources to the hunt for bin Laden. But no, Bush wanted to go after the same enemy he had in mind well before 9/11, Saddam Hussein, who had absolutely zero to do with the terrorist threat against our nation.

Yesterday's Countdown on MSNBC led with this story, presenting video clips of the President, homeland security advisor Fran Townsend, and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, in which the administration claimed that up is down, black is white, and ignorance is bliss.

Al Qaeda is strong today, but they‘re not nearly as strong they were prior to September 11, 2001 and the reason why is, is because we've been working with the world to keep the pressure on, to stay on the offense, to bring 'em to justice, uh, uh, so they won't hurt us again. — President George W. Bush, 2007-07-17
But that is precisely the point, Mr. President: we have not kept the pressure on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. We shifted our focus to Iraq, very much at the expense of fighting the actual terrorists of 9/11 in Afghanistan. We haven't even stayed on the offense against al Qaeda, and it is absolutely certain that al Qaeda will hurt us again, precisely because you failed your nation.

Reports have recently been released, showing that the President was warned before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that the invasion would help, rather than hurt, al Qaeda, and that prediction has come true. The National Intelligence Estimate says that al Qaeda is as strong as it has been at any point since 9/11. The President says, in effect, "well, it didn't say al Qaeda was as strong as it was before 9/11!" but the reality is that it does say exactly that. The only difference in al Qaeda's operational strength from 9/11 to 9/12 was that they lost 19 people, none of them in the upper echelons of the organization. If they are as strong as they were on 9/12, then they are as strong as they were on 9/10. The next MSNBC clip showed the lengths to which the administration will go to deny the obvious:
Ed Henry, CNN Correspondent: The President was warned before the war that this was actually going to help al Qaeda gain influence and now you have a report suggesting that maybe it has gained influence from the war in Iraq. Isn‘t that something that the President ignored?

Fran Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor: But you're assuming this is a zero-sum game, which is what I don‘t understand. The fact is, we were harassing them in Afghanistan. We‘re harassing them in Iraq. We're harassing them in other ways, non-militarily, around the world.

And the answer is every time you poke the hornets' nest, they are bound to come back and push back on you. That doesn't suggest to me that we should not be doing it. It suggests — we hardly need to be warned that they‘re going to use this for propaganda purposes. They‘re going to.
First of all, we must not let our guard down against the insidious attempts by the Bushies to pretend that Iraq had something to do with al Qaeda before we invaded. In Ms. Townsend's terms, there was no "hornets' next" in Iraq before 2003. Therefore, we didn't poke a hornets' nest, we created a hornets' nest, all the while giving the original hornets breathing room to regroup and evolve their organization into something much more difficult to root out. But then there's the "zero-sum" comment. A zero-sum game is one in which one player's winnings must be matched by another player's losses — an ordinary game of poker, for example. The situation with regard to al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, is manifestly not a zero-sum game, and nothing in Ed Henry's question suggested that it is. In Iraq, in particular, the United States has lost far more than al Qaeda has gained. However, that doesn't change the fact that al Qaeda is considerably better off as a direct result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We created a safe haven for al Qaeda in Iraq, and we created a safe haven for them in Waziristan (the "tribal area" of western Pakistan). We gave them a steady stream of new recruits and a steady stream of financing. Our U.S. taxpayer dollars, sent to Iraq ostensibly to build a better life for the Iraqi people, have been siphoned off to the benefit of al Qaeda. Furthermore, nothing the United States has done in Iraq has harmed al Qaeda in any material way. Sure, we killed Zarqawi, but he was a bit player, and really an al Qaeda "franchisee" anyway; he was never part of the leadership of al Qaeda central. He had to bargain for the right to use the al Qaeda brand name.

Furthermore, Ms. Townsend inadvertently said something entirely truthful: she said that we were harassing them in Afghanistan. Then we pulled out a large part of our intelligence and military assets from Afghanistan, from the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the senior leadership of al Qaeda, to go fight a war of choice against Saddam Hussein. As for "harrassing them in other ways, non-militarily, around the world," I'm sure they cry themselves to sleep every night. We've given them more recruits than they could have hoped for, not just one but two safe havens, and access to millions of dollars of untraceable cash money. The entire 9/11 plot cost less than $500,000 from start to finish. What could al Qaeda do with just 1% of the money that has "gone missing" in Iraq?

Press Secretary Tony Snow continued with the point-blank denial of the obvious:
[The N.I.E.] does not say that [al Qaeda] has a stronger hand; what it says it is going to try to exploit for political and also for recruiting purposes, anything it possibly can out of the ongoing conflict in Iraq.
Well, actually, Tony, yes, it does say that al Qaeda has a stronger hand as a result of our invasion of Iraq. If al Qaeda is stronger than it has been at any time since 9/11, then it is also stronger than it has been at any time since 2003-03-18, the day we invaded Iraq. Even one of Bush's own former staffers at the National Security Council said so:
Roger Cressey, NBC Terrorism Analyst, NSC counterterrorism staffer until Dec. 2003: [W]e took our eyes of the prize when in 2002 and 2003, we shifted our focus and emphasis to Iraq. We created the conditions that allowed al Qaeda to establish this de facto sanctuary inside Pakistan; that‘s one key part of it.

The other part of it is, this area on the Afghan border favors al Qaeda from a geography perspective, the tribal populations are sympathetic to al Qaeda, and we also have the bigger issue of President Musharraf and how limited he is in dealing with this problem on his own border. ... [E]ven if Iraq and al Qaeda magically disappeared, the real threat is al Qaeda central, which is based inside Pakistan right now. That is the main group that is trying to attack us. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a significant problem, but it‘s a local problem right now.
The right-wing talking heads are fond of asking "Don't you think that President Bush deserves some credit for the fact that we haven't had a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11?" No, I don't think so. Not in the least. President Bush has magnified the terrorist threat that America will face for decades, or perhaps even generations, as a result of his inept and staggeringly wrong-headed policies, as a result of his refusal to heed clear warnings, as a result of his pigheaded refusal to rethink a policy based primarily on his "gut feeling." He is not merely a little bit off the bullseye, he's not even aiming at the right target.

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