Friday, September 15, 2006

The useful enemy

It's becoming increasingly clear, I think, why Osama bin Laden is still at large: Because George W. Bush needs him to be.

It's not a pretty thought. But it's the only one that makes sense.

Atrios yesterday pointed out the strange contrast between Bush's incessant waving of the Bloody Bin Laden Shirt as the epitome of the Islamofascist Threat and his alternately peculiar disinterest in hunting him down:
Bin Laden is Hitler:

He said the world had ignored the writings of Lenin and Hitler "and paid a terrible price" -- adding the world must not to do the same with al-Qaeda.

Mr Bush has been defending his security strategy as mid-term elections loom.

His speech on Tuesday - the day following the US Labor Day holiday - coincided with the country's traditional start date for election campaigning.

"Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them," he said.

Bin Laden is not a top priority:

Barnes said that Bush told him capturing bin Laden is "not a top priority use of American resources." Watch it.

On the surface, this back-and-forth has always been somewhat baffling. As Faiz at Think Progress noted the other day:
Bush's priorities have always been skewed. Just months after declaring he wanted bin Laden "dead or alive," Bush said, "I truly am not that concerned about him." Turning his attention away from bin Laden, Bush trained his focus on Iraq -- a country he now admits had "nothing" to do with 9/11.

The bafflement doesn't end there. There is long string of puzzling behavior on the part of the Bush administration in this matter:
Why did Bush do nothing but clear brush after the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."?

Why did Bush let Bin Laden escape at Tora Bora?

Why did Bush divert the prosecution of the "war on terror" -- which should have focused on the pursuit of Al Qaeda and Bin Laden in particular -- into a war with Iraq?

Why did Pakistan's truce with the Taliban -- which, according to initial reports (later denied unconvincingly) allows Bin Laden to remain within its borders largely unmolested -- raise nary a protest from the White House?

Why did Bush and Co. allow the trail to Bin Laden to grow "stone cold" since 9/11?

Now, consider briefly what would have happened to Bush's "war on terror" if, say, Bin Laden had been captured or killed at Tora Bora. Al Qaeda and the terrorist threat, no doubt, would have continued to exist, but it would have been akin to a hydra with its strategic head chopped off -- dangerous, but far less so, and decidedly on the run. There would have been no identifiable but elusive boogie-man to scare the public with. Instead of being able to hype the nation into an attack on Iraq under false pretenses, Bush would have had to deal with terrorism as the asymmetrical threat that it actually is.

I have no idea whether, in fact, letting Bin Laden remain at large is a conscious strategy on the part of Team Bush or not -- although, given the utterly Machiavellian way the administration has leveraged the "war on terror" into every conceivable corner of its agenda, from the outrageous expansion of executive powers and concomitant lawbreaking in its wiretapping and torture programs to the smearing of all his opponents as "Islamofascist" apologists (and all points in between, including environmental policy like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge drilling plan), it certainly is not inconceivable. Nor, for that matter, is it beyond the realm of possibility that it's just another aspect of his grotesque incompetence.

More likely, it's identical to the same Bush traits that wrought the Katrina debacle:
[T]here is a reason that, after being properely warned, Bush stayed on vacation and, essentially, sat on his hands, both before 9/11 and Katrina: It was in his best interests to do so.

The mistakes that were made in the runup to both events were in fact a direct outgrowth of policies that benefited Bush's cronies and his political allies. Counterterrorism -- derided in the early Bush administration as a "Clinton thing" -- was deemphasized in favor of the greatest defense-spending black hole ever devised, "missile defense." Preparing for a federal emergency in the event of a real disaster -- whether a terrorist attack or a hurricane in New Orleans -- was forsaken on behalf of pursuing a needless war in Iraq. The outcomes of both have been nothing but a huge bonanza for Bush's cronies.

Those policies were a product of this administration's priorities, which in the end are always about promoting the well-being of the moneyed class at the expense of the middle classes and poor, while effectively driving a wedge within those classes. That's no conspiracy; it's just the way the world works, especially with men like Bush in charge.

Osama bin Laden has been a very, very useful enemy for George W. Bush. So it should not surprise us that he remains in our faces -- and probably will as long as Bush is president.

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