Thursday, December 29, 2005

What about Bin Laden?

Remember Osama Bin Laden? You know, the terrorist mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, the leader of Al Qaeda, the one President Bush promised to deliver to justice “dead or alive”? Four years ago, Bin Laden was public enemy number one. Now, we rarely hear about him, and the President hardly ever mentions him.

To some extent, Bin Laden is a symbol. He may not personally be in a position to orchestrate new attacks; he may be sick, or even dead, for all we know. What Bin Laden reminds us of, however, is that the Bush administration took its eye off the ball when it made Iraq the focal point of its vaguely defined “war on terror.” The administration exploits the vagueness of this undeclared war by repeating, over and over, that we are fighting “terrorists” in Iraq (none of whom, by the way, operated there before the war began). Americans most likely understand this to mean that the insurgency is largely, if not completely, made up of Al Qaeda members doing Bin Laden's bidding.

Earlier this month, Congressman John Murtha, who gets his information from top Pentagon officials, said that only about 7% of the insurgents are foreign fighters. Whether or not Congressman Murtha is correct, Iraq is hardly the only place in the world where Al Qaeda operates. In fact, it is probably misleading to refer to Al Qaeda as if it were one cohesive entity. Many commentators compare it to a franchise operation that spawns copycat groups who are only loosely connected with Bin Laden, if at all.

Whatever Al Qaeda’s precise contours, it is clear that it does not limit itself to political boundaries. The administration’s rallying cry of “let’s fight them in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them here” makes no sense given that there have been attacks in Britain, Spain, Jordan, and elsewhere since the war in Iraq began. The nebulously defined “terrorists” will not obligingly agree to stay within the confines of any one country while we engage them in conventional warfare.

The fact is, Americans have no way to know if the Bush administration is actually addressing the most imminent threats to our nation. Over the past three years, the administration has clearly acted as if the greatest threat is in Iraq, whether in the person of Saddam Hussein or in the form of the insurgency. We just don’t know if this is correct. We don’t have access to intelligence. We must take it on faith that the administration has done the right thing by concentrating the bulk of our military manpower, along with hundreds of billions of dollars, in Iraq.

I do not mean to suggest that the administration is unconcerned with the safety of the American people. I am sure it is concerned. Whether it has done everything it can to protect Americans is a different matter. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission recently gave the administration a “report card” on preparation against attacks that included 5 F’s, 12 D’s and two incompletes. The administration likes to rest on the most happy fact that there have been no attacks on American soil since 9/11. Like all Americans, I am very glad of this and hope for much more of the same. However, reasoned scrutiny reveals the logical flaw in the administration’s claim that we are safe because there have been no additional attacks. Based on the administration’s logic, we were all very safe on September 10, 2001, as there had been no previous attacks on American soil. Obviously, the relevant issue, looking ahead, is not what has happened, but what threats are out there. Again, ordinary Americans do not know.

What we do know is that this administration went to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 or Bin Laden, our sworn enemy. We have committed the bulk of our military to the war in Iraq for an undefined period of time. By definition, this means that we did not focus our full efforts on pursuing Bin Laden and Al Qaeda operatives outside of Iraq. Is it too much to ask the President to convince us that he understands there are threats beyond Iraq? Is it too much to ask that the President remembers his pledge to bring the people who attacked us on 9/11 to justice, including Bin Laden himself?

2 Comments:

Anonymous michele missner said...

Perry Missner, my son, gave me your blog site. When are you running for office? Let us know and we will send you a check! (No this is not Jack Abramoff.)

Thank you for no being afraid to use the word "liberal."

Michele Missner

10:01 PM  
Blogger Chris Edelson said...

that is extremely kind of you! and I appreciated the entertaining Abramoff reference!!

I am hoping to write something longer on the "liberal" issue. Glad you appreciated the use of what, for some reason, has become a dirty word.

Really appreciate the comment.

1:13 AM  

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