The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Bombshell in The New Republic:
This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials--from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official--have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf's government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a "sanctuary" for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. "The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better," he said.

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.
Let's stop there for a moment. Yes, their motivation in wanting to nab one of those guys before November is electoral, but I'm willing to cut them some slack there. Any administration of any party wouldn't mind being able to point to the capturing/killing of Bin Laden going into an election, and when everything is weighed, getting him or one of the others would be a net good thing.

If Gore or Clinton were President right now, either of them would have a strong interest in getting Bin Laden before the election. Of course, Gore and Clinton would have made a more concerted effort than Bush did to get Bin Laden two and a half years ago, since they would have listened to the recommendations of people like Richard Clarke to not wait two months to get ground troops into southeastern Afghanistan, and... ok let's have that discussion another time.

I stopped the excerpted paragraph early, maybe we should look at the rest of it:
...The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections." (These sources insisted on remaining anonymous. Under Pakistan's Official Secrets Act, an official leaking information to the press can be imprisoned for up to ten years.)
Again, other than the obvious complaint that they should have been seriously looking for Bin Laden in 2002 and 2003 (and 2001 for that matter), I can't get myself that worked up that the Bushies want to catch him before the election. However, I can, nay, WILL get worked up about this:
A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.


This is cynical, crass, and awful. Look, the horrors of September 11th were shared by all of us. The bringing to justice of those who masterminded the attack should be for all our sakes, and not for use by a political party with an eye on politically disadvantaging another patriotic political party. It's that simple. There is no comparable ploy of any sort on the Democratic side of the aisle, and don't come to me with quotes from Patty Murray, Cynthia McKinney, etc.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum thinks the money quote -- "twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July" -- sounds a little too perfect. Either way, we'll find out soon.


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