Terrorism's Elusive Refuge

What's up with Osama bin Laden? Remember when capturing him "dead or alive" and eliminating his Afghanistan-based al Qaeda, as President Bush promised, was what the war on terror was all about?

Instead, the president got distracted with his idiotic invasion of Iraq where al Qaeda had been effectively banned by Saddam Hussein, the secular dictator the United States deposed. Now we are left holding the bag in two desperate countries with bleak futures where perpetrators of Sept. 11 are reportedly thriving and guerrilla warfare and terrorist bombings have continued to increase.

"Al Qaeda is quickly changing, and we are not," Timothy J. Roemer, a member of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission appointed by Bush, warned last month. "Al Qaeda is highly dynamic, and we are not. Al Qaeda is highly imaginative, and we are not."

Yet, in his speeches, Bush clings to the notion that the battle against terrorism is going well because, according to his spin, we have been able to eliminate it in Afghanistan and are now destroying the last vestiges of this scourge in Iraq. On his visit to Kabul last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elaborated on this absurdity by declaring bloody, backward Afghanistan as a "model" of progress in the war on terrorism -- even as he was admitting that "Iraq is several years behind."

Rumsfeld's claim of progress was treated as ridiculous by Afghan security officials interviewed by the BBC following the defense secretary's visit. "We are very worried now," one senior police official told the BBC. "The Taliban and al Qaeda are getting more threatening."

Last Sunday, U.S. sources claimed to have targeted Osama's second-in-command with the bombing of a village on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan. But, as is so often the case when applying air power to nonmilitary targets, the corpses left in the debris of a devastated village did not include the intended target. In the aftermath, American flags were once again burning in the region as anti-American protests swept Pakistan.

Meanwhile, next door in Afghanistan, a new rash of suicide bombings -- 25 in four months, according to the Los Angeles Times -- is providing evidence that al Qaeda's old partners in crime, the Taliban, are back with a vengeance. Over the weekend, 20 civilians were killed by a suicide bomber, while a Canadian diplomat was killed in another attack. This month is on pace to be the bloodiest the country has seen since the U.S. invasion.

NATO members, with troops operating out of Kabul, are balking at sending more; at least one, Holland, is considering pulling out altogether of a much-hyped occupation that seems to be accomplishing little.

"What happened to the new roads and irrigation canals, the jobs we were told about?" village elders plaintively inquired of a BBC correspondent.

Indeed, five years of "nation-building" has left Afghanistan a festering wound, with primitive warlords still dominant, an isolated capital with no control of the countryside, no national infrastructure and a once-again booming opium trade the country's only economic bright spot.

"Of course we're growing poppy this year," one district chief told the BBC. "The government, the foreigners -- they promised to help if we stopped. But where is it?"

This occupation is only the latest in centuries of cynical or, at best, ineffective meddling in Afghanistan. From the British to the Soviets to the Republicans, everybody has seen the place as useful to achieve ends that have nothing to do with making it a better place to live. As we once again draw down our annual economic commitment to Afghanistan's rebuilding from $1 billion to $600 million annually, it is clear the Bush team is hoping the country will once again recede from the global stage into unseen anarchy.

After our dramatic initial stab into Afghanistan after Sept. 11, the Bush administration has shown no willingness to do the heavy lifting that would be required to make the country once again the functioning nation it was before Cold War games tore it apart. Rather, as with the rest of its policies, a token effort has merely been a cover for conning the American public into believing Bush is effectively pursuing the war on terrorism.

Since most Americans could not find the country on a map, this deeply cynical approach will continue to work -- at least until the next time a gang of marauders trained in the primitive badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan and funded by our "allies" in Saudi Arabia launch another devastating attack on U.S. soil.


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