Thursday :: May 15, 2003

How the Saudi Bombings Can Hurt The Rove Reelection Strategy


by Steve

The conventional wisdom so far from the hero-worshiping Beltway press corps is that the Saudi bombings and the renewed terrorism will benefit George Bush as voters remind themselves of the “protector” complex that Karl Rove has built around him. Yet this may not be true.

First, the Bush White House was quick to put out word that this was the work of Al Qaeda, and such an act curiously cuts both ways. In Rove’s mind, it helps to reinforce the thought in voters’ minds that we need George Bush to keep us safe and deal with terrorists. Since Rove will be running his candidate next year on only two issues, taxes and terrorism, such a resurgence of terrorism can be spun to Bush’s benefit by his Svengali. Yet while we try and lay blame on the Saudis, they in effect are calling us liars.

Responding to Mr. Jordan's claim that the United States had requested additional security at the compounds, Prince Saud said that he doubted that it could be true. "At no time have there been requests for added security in which we haven't afforded that security," he said at a news conference today. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, Nail al-Jubeir, said later that he did not know of any specific request made by the United States for additional security around the Riyadh compounds.

In fact, the attack shows how little we have to show in terms of intelligence since 9/11 on Al Qaeda, which only confirms that Bush has wasted the months since 9/11 fixated on Hussein and abdicating his responsibility to get Al Qaeda and specifically Bin Laden “dead or alive.”

But unlike the relatively unchecked previous spin from the White House about terrorism, the Bushies find themselves facing immediate criticism about their commitment to fighting terrorism from someone who has as much knowledge in this area as they do: Bob Graham.

(T)he attacks also renewed criticism from some Democrats that the Bush administration's efforts against international terrorism have gone astray.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, a Democratic presidential hopeful, charged that such attacks "could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of Al Qaeda."

For months, Graham has claimed the war in Iraq diverted U.S. military and intelligence resources from their ongoing battle against terrorist threats, allowing Al Qaeda to regenerate.

The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has made criticism of the Iraq war a central theme of his presidential campaign, told reporters that Al Qaeda is stronger now than it was a year ago.

"We've been engaged in a manhunt to find their past leadership," Graham said. "But what we're also finding is that Al Qaeda has a deep farm team and they're able to replace those who are killed or detained."

And the overseas media is now also criticizing the Bush Administration for its single-minded and erroneous conviction that toppling Saddam would reduce the threat of terrorism.

The impact of the terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia began to reverberate through US politics yesterday as the Bush administration defended itself against charges that it had taken its eye off the ball over al-Qaida because of its obsession with Iraq. With George Bush's critics alleging that serious counterterrorism efforts had become "lost in the shuffle", analysts warned that by fostering the widespread perception that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida were closely linked, the White House may have created unrealistic expectations that in destroying the Iraqi regime, it was also crushing the terrorist threat.

Mr. Fleischer was responding to a coruscating attack from Senator Bob Graham, who had argued earlier that the Saudi bombings "could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of al-Qaida". "I think from the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, which was in early October of 2001, until about February or March 2002, we were making good progress in dismantling the basic structure of al-Qaida," Mr. Graham said. "Then we started to redirect our attention to Iraq, and al-Qaida has regenerated."

His remarks were echoed by a Wisconsin Democrat, Russ Feingold, who invoked the deaths of Americans in past terror attacks to chastise Mr. Bush. "In many ways, the actual business of combating the terrorist organisation or organisations responsible for the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for the attack on the USS Cole, for the horror of September 11, and now, possibly, for [the] attack in Riyadh, seems to be lost in the shuffle," Senator Feingold said. "The absence of clarity and the absence of data are dangerous. It endangers the American people."

The hot-tempered debate is closely interwoven with the run-up to the 2004 presidential election: Mr. Graham, an outside candidate for the Democratic nomination, is running almost exclusively on his conviction that the administration has been dangerously distracted from the real fight against terrorism.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, has been widely expected to benefit from continued discussion of Iraq and terrorism, since it prevents the Democrats from discussing the economy. As a result, he may even benefit from the Saudi attacks. Alternatively, though, more attacks on Americans could solidify a perception that Mr. Bush is powerless to win his declared "war on terrorism", said Peter Bergen, an expert on al-Qaida and author of the book Holy War Inc.

"Of course Iraq wasn't going to do much damage to al-Qaida, because there isn't much evidence they're linked," he said. "Setting up the expectation that this was going to further the cause is a mistake."

Republicans have consistently sought to present the conflict in Iraq as one part of the larger war on terrorism, even to the extent that the White House has refused to declare an unequivocal end to the recent war. Al-Qaida's failure to mount a major terrorist attack during the Iraq war as it had threatened was proof that "progress has been made", Mr. Bergen said. But "it's a fact of human nature that one tends to think of one thing at once. Clearly, the administration in its upper reaches was preoccupied with Iraq, and Bin Laden and al-Qaida fell off the radar-screen.

"Now this comes along and shows they are far from down for the count."

While overseas papers in their editorials mock the Bush Administration’s focus and claims on terrorism, Maureen Dowd spanks the Bushies on their now-premature “victory lap” claiming the demise of Al Qaeda.

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."

Members of the U.S. intelligence community bragged to reporters that the terrorist band was crippled, noting that it hadn't attacked during the assault on Iraq. "This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up, and they have failed," Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week.

Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run. Al Qaeda has been weakened by the arrest of leaders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But Osama, in recent taped messages, has exhorted his followers to launch suicide attacks against the invaders of Iraq. And as one ambassador from an Arab country noted, the pictures of American-made tanks in both Iraq and the West Bank of Israel certainly attracted new recruits to Osama.

The administration's lulling triumphalism about Al Qaeda exploded on Monday in Riyadh, when well-planned and coordinated suicide strikes with car bombs and small-arms fire killed dozens in three housing complexes favored by Westerners, including seven Americans.

Buried in the rubble of Riyadh are some of the Bush administration's basic assumptions: that Al Qaeda was finished, that invading Iraq would bring regional stability and that a show of American superpower against Saddam would cow terrorists.

So, the quick claims by the Bushies that this was Al Qaeda, along with the Saudis’ initial beliefs that the perpetrators were from Saudi cells only undercuts Bush by confirming two more lies. Not only has the toppling of Hussein done nothing to make the region safer from terrorism, but it makes Bush’s assertions of a Hussein/Al Qaeda connection all the more laughable, given that we are allegedly in total control of Iraq. I mean, it couldn’t possibly be that Iraq wasn’t the threat after all, it was our friends in Saudi Arabia all along, could it?

Let’s see how Rove’s “father protector” strategy is working six months from now after more attacks from a supposedly suppressed Al Qaeda that has allegedly lost its main sponsor in Iraq, under fire from a candidate with credibility and as much knowledge as the Administration.

Karl, be careful what you wish for.

Steve :: 12:00 AM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!