[Hpn] WHERE is Usama bin Laden?

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 11 Sep 2005 13:45:48 -0400

Day 1,461 And Counting

>From our September issue: It's the fourth anniversary of September 11 -- and 
Osama bin Laden is still at large.

By Michael Tomasky
Web Exclusive: 09.08.05


This September 11 will mark the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks 
on the United States. The media will focus on the ceremonies at the former 
World Trade Center site, the Pentagon, and other cities and towns around the 
country that will honor the dead. The Bush administration, meanwhile, will 
do its best to remind Americans that today's George W. Bush -- except for 
the Watergate-era Richard Nixon, the most unpopular two-term president, at 
this point in his tenure, since scienti?c polling began in the 1940s -- is 
the same man who led the country through tragedy.
In truth, the anniversary should be the occasion for a thoroughgoing 
discussion of how America has combated terrorism in the last four years. And 
on that front, even the disaster Bush has created in Iraq takes a back seat 
to one overwhelming fact: By the time night falls on September 11, Osama bin 
Laden will have been at large for 1,461 days.
America vanquished world fascism in less time: We obtained Germany's 
surrender in 1,243 days, Japan's in 1,365. Even the third Punic War, in 
which Carthage was burned to the ground and emptied of citizens who were 
taken en masse into Roman slavery, lasted around 1,100 days (and troops 
needed a little longer to get into position back in 149 B.C.).
* * *
Yes, yes: It can be harder to find one stateless man than to defeat an army 
whose troop movements can be tracked. And that would be a good excuse -- if 
the Bush administration had bothered to make capturing bin Laden a priority.
John Kerry can't be accused, alas, of having offered a coherent foreign 
policy in last year's campaign, but he was dead right when he said the 
administration had "outsourced" the job of ?nding the man responsible for 
the most deadly attacks ever on American soil. As the journalist Peter 
Bergen wrote in The Atlantic last October, we were closing in on al-Qaeda 
leadership in December 2001. But the United States decided to leave the 
crucial two-week battle of Tora Bora chie?y to local Afghan ?ghters. It was, 
Bergen wrote, "a blunder that allowed many members of al-Qaeda, including 
Osama bin Laden himself, to slip away."
And, of course, we know why that battle was left to locals -- and why, 
relatedly, we never had more than about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan in 
2001. (How's Afghanistan going today? We now have 18,000 troops there, and 
2005 has been the deadliest year for U.S. forces since the ?ghting began.)
The Bush administration had already decided, at the very least, to ?nd an 
excuse to invade Iraq. We know from Richard Clarke's testimony and other 
sources that administration officials, including Bush himself, started 
asking the counterterrorism chief to ?nd an Iraqi link to 9-11 from the day 
following the attacks. On December 11, 2001 -- right around the time bin 
Laden began his escape, possibly the very day -- Vice President Dick Cheney 
told FOX News, "If I were Saddam Hussein, I'd be thinking very carefully 
about the future, and I'd be looking very closely to see what happened to 
the Taliban in Afghanistan."
Whatever the apologists say, the truth is simple: The administration held 
back troops from Afghanistan so that it could send 150,000 to Iraq. That, 
and nothing else, is the reason bin Laden is still at large.
* * *
But listen closely to the silence: Outside of magazines like this one and a 
handful of liberal Web sites, the subject is rarely discussed.
Just imagine bin Laden having been at large this long in President Al Gore's 
administration. In fact, it's impossible to imagine, because President Gore, 
under such circumstances, wouldn't have lasted this long. You probably didn't 
know, until you read this column, the number of days bin Laden has been at 
large. But I assure you that if Gore had been president, you and every 
American would have known, because the right would have seen to it that you 
knew, asking every day, "Where's Osama?" If Gore hadn't been impeached, it's 
doubtful he'd have survived a re-election campaign, with Americans aghast at 
how weak and immoral a president had to be to permit those 2,700 deaths to 
go unavenged this long.
To be sure, the difference is partly a Democratic failure -- they're afraid 
of the right-wing noise machine, pure and simple. That's a failure of nerve, 
and it's an appalling one.
But the moral failure belongs to Bush and his subordinates and their amen 
chorus of slatternly propagandists and so-called intellectuals, who made 
great political advantage of 9-11 but spit on the grieving families by 
pretending that there is no imperative in seeing justice done for their 
losses. They may be able to control the dialogue, but they can't control the 
facts -- and the facts condemn them all.
Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's executive editor.