Will Osama Help W.?

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

October 31, 2004

WASHINGTON - Some people thought the October surprise would be the president producing Osama.

Instead, it was Osama producing yet another video taunting the president and lecturing America.

After bin Laden's pre-election commentary from his anchor desk at a secure, undisclosed location, many TV chatterers and Republicans postulated that the evildoer's campaign intrusion would help the president.

O.B.L., they said, might re-elect W.

They follow the Bush strategists' reasoning that since President Bush rates higher than John Kerry on fighting terror, anytime Americans get rattled about Iraq and Al Qaeda, it's a plus for the president. And Republicans can keep claiming that Al Qaeda wants the "weak" Democrat elected, even as some intelligence experts suggest the terrorists prefer that the belligerent Mr. Bush stay in power because he has been a boon to jihadist recruiting, with his disastrous occupation of Iraq and his true believer, us-versus-them, my-Christian-God's-directing-my-foreign-policy vibe.

The Bushies' campaign pitch follows their usual backward logic: Because we have failed to make you safe, you should re-elect us to make you safer. Because we haven't caught Osama in three years, you need us to catch Osama in the next four years. Because we didn't bother to secure explosives in Iraq, you can count on us to make sure those explosives aren't used against you.

You'd think that seeing Osama looking fit as a fiddle and ready for hate would spark anger at the Bush administration's cynical diversion of the war on Al Qaeda to the war on Saddam. It's absurd that we're mired in Iraq - an invasion the demented vice president praised on Friday for its "brilliance" - while the 9/11 mastermind nonchalantly pops up anytime he wants. For some, it seemed cartoonish, with Osama as Road Runner beeping by Wile E. Bush as Dick Cheney and Rummy run the Acme/Halliburton explosives company - now under F.B.I. investigation for its no-bid contracts on anvils, axle grease (guaranteed slippery) and dehydrated boulders (just add water) .

Osama slouched onto TV bragging about pulling off the 9/11 attacks just after the president strutted onto TV in New Hampshire with 9/11 families, bragging that Al Qaeda leaders know "we are on their trail."

Maybe bin Laden hasn't gotten the word. Maybe W. should get off the trail and get on Osama's tail.

W. was clinging to his inane mantra that if we fight the terrorists over there, we don't have to fight them here, even as bin Laden was back on TV threatening to come here. The president still avoided using Osama's name on Friday, part of the concerted effort to downgrade him and merge him with Iraqi insurgents.

The White House reaction to the disclosures about the vanished explosives in Iraq was typical. Though it's clear the treasures and terrors of Iraq - from viruses to ammunition to artifacts - were being looted and loaded into donkey carts and pickups because we had insufficient troops to secure the country, Bush officials devoted the vast resources of the government to trying to undermine the facts to protect the president.

The Pentagon mobilized to debunk the bunker story with a tortured press conference and a satellite photo of trucks that proved about as much as Colin Powell's prewar drawings of two trailers that were supposed to be mobile biological weapons labs.

Republicans insinuated that it was a plot by foreign internationalists to help the foreigner-loving, internationalist Kerry, a U.N. leak from the camp of Mohamed ElBaradei to hurt the administration that had scorned the U.N. as a weak sister.

In their ruthless determination to put Mr. Bush's political future ahead of our future safety, the White House and House Republicans last week thwarted the enactment of recommendations of the 9/11 commission they never wanted in the first place.

While pretending to be serious about getting a bill on reorganizing intelligence agencies before the election, the White House never forced Congressional Republicans to come to an agreement. So the advice from the panel that spent 19 months studying how the government could shore up intelligence so there wouldn't be another 9/11 may be squandered, even though Dick Cheney's favorite warning to scare voters away from Mr. Kerry is that we might someday face terrorists "in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us," including a nuclear bomb.

Wow. I feel safer. Don't you?