Friday, July 13, 2007

That Old Black Magic

In a Kafkaesque, rambling press conference Thursday, President Bush invoked the name of al Qaeda so many times (over 30) it made even the semi-attached heads of the White House press corps spin. Initially doing that thing that, of course, he has never done (just ask Tony Snow)—linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks—even the assembled reporters had to groan (audibly, apparently).

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq,” [Bush] said, “were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”

In a move that I don’t think you would have seen even a few weeks ago, reporters challenged this assertion, explaining to the president that there was a difference between the “al Qaeda” and what has come to be known as “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” (sometimes called “al Qaeda in Iraq” or AQY—don’t ask me why Y), and even going so far as to point out that AQY didn’t even exist before the 2003 US invasion. Or, to quote a front-page article from today’s New York Times:

[Bush’s] references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.

. . . .

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sunni group thrived as a magnet for recruiting and a force for violence largely because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought an American occupying force of more than 100,000 troops to the heart of the Middle East, and led to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Which is what many in the blogosphere have been saying for god knows how long now. . . but never mind. . . onward and upward!

Bush’s response to this challenge was to claim that, well, um, y’know, al Qaeda in Iraq had “sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.” (Oh yeah, him. . . .)

Well, that settles it, right?

Wrong on so many counts.

First, as the Times points out:

But while American intelligence agencies have pointed to links between leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the top leadership of the broader Qaeda group, the militant group is in many respects an Iraqi phenomenon. They believe the membership of the group is overwhelmingly Iraqi. Its financing is derived largely indigenously from kidnappings and other criminal activities. And many of its most ardent foes are close at home, namely the Shiite militias and the Iranians who are deemed to support them.

“The president wants to play on Al Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat Al Qaeda poses,” said Bruce Riedel, an expert at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a former C.I.A. official. “But I don’t think he demonstrates that fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq precludes Al Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.”

Which brings us to the second problem: on the same day that Bush was waving the bloody 9/11 flag and trumpeting his never-ending war on terror, his own administration released (leaked?) an intelligence assessment which posited that OBL’s group—from hereon in known as Famous Original al Qaeda™—had pretty much reconstituted and was again up to pre-9/11 strength. I don’t have the time to pick apart the way the administration tried to spin that news—it was truly through the looking glass, people—but, suffice it to say, while Bush and Cheney continue to waste blood and treasure in Iraq, something completely separate is going on in the hills of northwest Pakistan.

Which points to a third problem: if this troublesome, nefarious, expanding, and seemingly intractable group in Iraq is somehow motivated by or connected to Famous Original al Qaeda™, why not go after Famous Original al Qaeda™? Hell, if we are to believe the intelligence report, we probably have a better idea of where Osama bin Laden’s group is than how to snuff out the shadowy (and, to my mind, far less cohesive) Iraqi tribute band.

I mean, you’d think the millions we’ve funneled to military dictator and nuclear proliferator Pervez Musharraf would buy something—if not his own forces going into Waziristan, at least permission to send ours.

Not that I am advocating another Bush/Cheney-led military action—god, I shudder to think what these cock-ups would do with the chance—I’m just saying, if this is the threat, the threat that would “follow us home,” as the Bush boys like to claim, then what are we doing spending money, time, lives, and limbs chasing our tails around select Iraqi provinces?

Do they—Bush, Cheney, Gates, et al.—really like going ‘round and ‘round like that?

Maybe cold hard facts just aren’t as much fun as the magical thinking. Really, given the facts, why would they be? So, instead, we’re all left to just be lovin’ that spin. . . lovin’ that spin we’re in.

‘Round and ‘round we go. . . down and down we go.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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