Hunt for al Qaeda “undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration” and Iraq War

Last week, John McCain’s top adviser, Charlie Black, made news when he said a terror attack would be a “big advantage” to McCain’s chances of winning the election in November. Republican really think that. The sick thing is that it’s the Bush administration’s failure to destroy al Qaeda that makes another attack even possible. A blockbuster in today’s New York Times explains how the Bush and his top aides have continuously screwed up the anti-terror efforts:

The story of how Al Qaeda, whose name is Arabic for “the base,” has gained a new haven is in part a story of American accommodation to President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, whose advisers played down the terrorist threat. It is also a story of how the White House shifted its sights, beginning in 2002, from counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to preparations for the war in Iraq.

Just as it had on the day before 9/11, Al Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States. Officials say the new camps are smaller than the ones the group used prior to 2001. However, despite dozens of American missile strikes in Pakistan since 2002, one retired C.I.A. officer estimated that the makeshift training compounds now have as many as 2,000 local and foreign militants, up from several hundred three years ago.

Publicly, senior American and Pakistani officials have said that the creation of a Qaeda haven in the tribal areas was in many ways inevitable — that the lawless badlands where ethnic Pashtun tribes have resisted government control for centuries were a natural place for a dispirited terrorism network to find refuge. The American and Pakistani officials also blame a disastrous cease-fire brokered between the Pakistani government and militants in 2006.

But more than four dozen interviews in Washington and Pakistan tell another story. American intelligence officials say that the Qaeda hunt in Pakistan, code-named Operation Cannonball by the C.I.A. in 2006, was often undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the C.I.A., including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas.

These screw-ups are the people who claim they’ll make us safer. It’s never been true (although the media laps it up and too many Democrats still cower at the idea of standing up to Bush’s failed national security policies.)

It wasn’t just the in-fighting, that undermined the anti-terror efforts. As many predicted back during the rush to war in 2002, Iraq was a major distraction from the effort to destroy the real enemy who attacked the U.S. in 2001:

Current and former military and intelligence officials said that the war in Iraq consistently diverted resources and high-level attention from the tribal areas. When American military and intelligence officials requested additional Predator drones to survey the tribal areas, they were told no drones were available because they had been sent to Iraq.

The Bush administration is a national security disgrace. John McCain backed Bush’s policies all the way. This is their failure.

Of course, for Republicans, there is a silver lining. If something really bad happens, like another terrorist attack on the U.S., it could help McCain. Maybe that’s been part of the strategy all along.

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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