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Rich: 'Surge' debate is same kind of 'sideshow' as Britney's scalp; Bush ignoring urgent warning about Qaeda 'comeback'
Published: Saturday February 24, 2007
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Comparing the debate on the "surge" or escalation of US troops in Iraq to a "sideshow" like media coverage of pop star Britney Spears' shaving of her head, New York Times columnist Frank Rich worries that, just as in August of 2001, President Bush is ignoring urgent warnings by counterterrorism officials about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Referring to "last week's terrifying but little-heeded front-page New York Times account (link) of U.S. 'intelligence and counterterrorism officials' leaking urgent warnings about al Qaeda's comeback," Rich writes in his latest Sunday Times column, "ask yourself: Haven't we been here before?"

"If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks," Rich writes. "The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week's Times, culminating in the President's Daily Brief titled 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.' The system 'was blinking red,' as the CIA chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it."

Rich believes that the Bush administration "doesn't want to hear it now, either," which is "why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public."

As RAW STORY reported last Sunday, US officials told the New York Times that "mounting evidence" indicates Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda deputy are building an operations hub in Pakistan.

"Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials," Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde reported for the Times.

The article continued, "American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda."

"Officials said that both American and foreign intelligence services had collected evidence leading them to conclude that at least one of the camps in Pakistan might be training operatives capable of striking Western targets," the Times reported last Sunday.

Rich writes that Prime Minister Tony Blair is pulling troops from Iraq "not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces...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," Rich writes. "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."

Excerpts from column:


...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 was on Dec. 9, 2001, that Dick Cheney first floated the idea on "Meet the Press" that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It was "pretty well confirmed," he said (though it was not), that bin Laden's operative Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague months before Atta flew a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.


...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 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 Scheuer, the former CIA official, reiterated last week: "Al-Qaida is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that's where it is." It's typical of Bush's self-righteousness, however, that he would rather punt on that threat than own up to a mistake.