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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Wrong War on Terror

Does George Bush have the best strategy for fighting the "war on terror"?

Given his campaign strategy (and polling strength), this seems like a vital question for the President's reelection bid and may well be centrally important to the country's security over the next four years.

I've blogged often about the unprovoked and disastrous attack of Iraq. And I've very frequently criticized the the so-called "Bush Doctrine" of preventative war outlined in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States.

But I haven't nearly as often addressed the "war on terror" directly.

In my own defense, I do not think the President has focused much attention on the real war either.

Quite obviously, from the very beginning, this administration has hopelessly focused the "war on terror" on alleged state sponsors like Iraq and still doesn't take too seriously the threat of terror from truly decentralized non-state actors.

Bluntly, they have a fundamentally flawed worldview that diverts attention and resources from the actual people who attacked the US on September 11, 2001.

That's why we hear more from the White House about Iranian proliferation than we do about port or rail vulnerability, shoulder-fired missiles...or Osama bin Laden.

Indeed, Dan Froomkin had a great piece making this latter point about the President's oversights in the August 12, 2004, "The Unnamed Enemy."

Osama bin Laden, of course, is the unnamed one. Bush almost never talks about the terror leader:
Since the beginning of 2003, in fact, Bush has mentioned bin Laden's name on only 10 occasions. And on six of those occasions it was because he was asked a direct question.

In addition, there were four times when Bush was asked about bin Laden directly but was able to answer without mentioning bin Laden's name himself.

Not once during that period has he talked about bin Laden at any length, or said anything substantive.
It has been a very long time since the tough-talking Texan in the White House quipped that he wanted Osama "dead or alive." Indeed, Bush inspired this image on September 17, 2001, which was 35 months ago to the day:

So what does Bush talk about when he's emphasizing ways to make America more secure against terror? The fact is, Bush seems focused on one man "like a laser beam."
During the same period [since January 2003], for comparison purposes, Bush has mentioned former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on approximately 300 occasions.
Just in 2004, Froomkin reports that Bush has mentioned bin Laden's name just 8 times (and talked about him on one other occasion in response to a question), but uttered Saddam Hussein's name 125 times.

Think about that. Saddam Hussein has been in prison since December 2003, Osama bin Laden is presumably at-large, and Bush still talks about Saddam 15 times as often!

The last time Bush talked about bin Laden at length was in March 2002 [Froomkin writes 2003, but links to this exchange], when reporter Kelly Wallace of CNN asked him these questions:
Q Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that? Also, can you tell the American people if you have any more information, if you know if he is dead or alive? Final part -- deep in your heart, don't you truly believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won't really eliminate the threat of --

THE PRESIDENT: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not; we haven't heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission.

Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match. He is -- as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death and he, himself, tries to hide -- if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. I'm more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear...

We have a good strategy. We are showing the world we know how to fight a guerrilla war with conventional means.

Q But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.

But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became -- we shoved him out more and more on the margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers anymore. And if we -- excuse me for a minute -- and if we find a training camp, we'll take care of it. Either we will or our friends will. That's one of the things -- part of the new phase that's becoming apparent to the American people is that we're working closely with other governments to deny sanctuary, or training, or a place to hide, or a place to raise money...
Given what they say, in contrast, I'm certain John Kerry and the Democrats understand the appropriate priorities.

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