All The Bush Administration Knows About The War On Terror Is This: Re-election
Remember all the talk about how integral the invasion and liberation of Iraq was to the global war on terror? Remember all the talk about how fighting the terrorists in Iraq was better for us than fighting them here, because at least we could keep terrorists in our sights in Iraq? Remember all the talk about how George W. Bush was the right guy to fight this war because he knew what he wanted to do and how to do it, whereas John Kerry was a flip-flopper whose instincts couldn’t be trusted? Well, it appears that without directly admitting it, the Bush Administration still doesn’t know what to do next in the so-called war on terror and is also waiving the white flag on the notion that the Iraqi invasion was a critical step to keep terrorists bottled up in that country.
Who is saying these things? The liberals? No.
The Bush administration has launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism, aimed at moving away from a policy that has stressed efforts to capture and kill al Qaeda leaders since Sept. 11, 2001, and toward what a senior official called a broader "strategy against violent extremism."
The shift is meant to recognize the transformation of al Qaeda over the past three years into a far more amorphous, diffuse and difficult-to-target organization than the group that struck the United States in 2001. But critics say the policy review comes only after months of delay and lost opportunities while the administration left key counterterrorism jobs unfilled and argued internally over how best to confront the rapid spread of the pro-al Qaeda global Islamic jihad.
In many ways, this is the culmination of a heated debate that has been taking place inside and outside the government about how to target not only the remnants of al Qaeda but also broader support in the Muslim world for radical Islam. Administration officials refused to describe in detail what new policies are under consideration, and several sources familiar with the discussions said some issues remain sticking points, such as how central the ongoing war in Iraq is to the anti-terrorist effort, and how to accommodate State Department desires to normalize a foreign policy that has stressed terrorism to the exclusion of other priorities in recent years.
"There's been a perception, a sense of drift in overall terrorism policy. People have not figured out what we do next, so we just continue to pick 'em off one at a time," said Roger W. Cressey, who served as a counterterrorism official at the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "We haven't gone to a new level to figure out how things have changed since 9/11."
Much of the discussion has focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"
Swell, so the assumptions about how important the toppling Saddam was to defeating terrorism are now proven to be garbage. Taken in tandem with the lack of finding WMDs, this means that the entire war was a colossal failure. But at least you guys are showing a real commitment to fight the war you still don’t understand three years later, right?
(M)any of the key counterterrorism jobs in the administration have been empty for months, including the top post at the State Department for combating terrorism, vacant since November, and the directorship of the new National Counterterrorism Center. "We're five months into the next term, and still a number of spots have yet to be filled," Cressey said. "You end up losing valuable time."
The counterterrorism center was created nearly a year ago by Bush to serve as the main clearinghouse for terrorism-related intelligence but is not yet fully operational, and has been run by an acting director and caught up in the broader wave of bureaucratic reorganization that resulted in the creation of the new directorate of national intelligence, whose fiefdom the center will join.
As part of the reorganization, a new office of strategic and operational planning is slated to become the focal point for operations aimed at terrorists, but that, too, has yet to start working fully, the senior counterterrorism official said.
"They recognize there's been a vacuum of leadership," said a former top counterterrorism official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "There has been a dearth of senior leadership directing this day to day. No one knows who's running this on a day-to-day basis."
OK, so even if you don’t have this staffed up yet, you at least will remain ready to stop Al Qaeda from attacking us again, right? I mean, the entire last presidential campaign was built on Bush being the best guy to protect us from another 9/11, and we got a fresh reminder of Al Qaeda just days before the election, so it only confirmed that we needed Bush more than Kerry because Al Qaeda was still a big threat, right?
In general, current and former officials familiar with the discussions said, the challenge is to reorient U.S. efforts when the immediate threat from al Qaeda seems to have receded, though it is still far from disappearing. Osama bin Laden and other top lieutenants remain at large, but many U.S. experts appear to now agree with the assessment of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who told a reporter recently that "we have broken the back of al Qaeda."
"No doubt al Qaeda as an organization has been destroyed," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Washington Post reporters and editors last week. "No doubt it is no longer capable to launch the kind of attacks that they did on all of us a few years ago. Their capability is limited only to sporadic individual acts, suiciders and things like that."
Until recently, the Bush administration resisted any broadening of its mission against al Qaeda, insisting on what Townsend once called a "decapitation" strategy. The policy review marks what many experts regard as a belated shift. "The administration has appropriately taken the broad view," said an intelligence official who had urged the review. "It's not going to be a matter of just trying to roll up more al Qaeda guys. What we still know as the al Qaeda organization -- they've taken a terrible beating."
But even that notion remains controversial when assessing the continuing threat from al Qaeda will shape the policy against it. "I just don't accept the idea that the whole organization is completely gone and morphed into an amorphous global jihad movement," said Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism analyst at the Congressional Research Service. "They could still try to reconstitute the centralized structure of before 9/11."
So despite what you told us during the election, Al Qaeda isn’t a threat anymore? And the Iraq war rationale has fallen apart? But we haven’t figured out what to do next? And we haven’t staffed up the anti-terror effort yet either?
So exactly how important is the war on terror, or was it all a campaign tool to get reelected?