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Wednesday | May 14, 2003

Osama's back

Let's get to the heart of the matter, the Saudis are scared to death of Osama and even more scared that we will find out how deeply supported Al Qaeda is in Saudi society.

The Bush Administration can neither protect the Saudi princes from themselves nor destroy Al Qaeda.

In the same year that the US devoted its entire military and intelligence apparatus to finding and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which has now boiled down to a mobile brewery and some scrapings from a tank, Al Qaeda is not only not destroyed, but nearly as strong as it was on September 10, 2001.

Stories of the return of the Taliban ran in the papers during the Iraq war and were ignored by most people. The pronoucements from Osama have been treated like a trick from the last couple of episodes of 24 and not a real and ongoing threat to national security.

Throwing hundreds of people into our Cuban gulag at Gitmo may have been able to prevent some immediate attacks, but it clearly has not killed the Al Qaeda organization, much less the driving force of Islamic revivalist thought (the proper name for what we call fundamentalism) rampant in the region. Tossing out thousands for minor immigration violations has only caused hardship and resentment in Pakistan and around the Arab world.

And given the absolute ineptness of US policy in Europe over the last year, we find ourselves more isolated and alone than ever. Our president is hated by the citizens of our allies, our inept management of Iraq is about to take another turn for the worse:

New Policy in Iraq to Authorize G.I.'s to Shoot Looters
By PATRICK E. TYLER

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 13 United States military forces in Iraq will have the authority to shoot looters on sight under a tough new security setup that will include hiring more police officers and banning ranking members of the Baath Party from public service, American officials said today.

The far more muscular approach to bringing order to postwar Iraq was described by the new American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, at a meeting of senior staff members today, the officials said. On Wednesday, Mr. Bremer is expected to meet with the leaders of Iraqi political groups that are seeking to form an interim government by the end of the month. "He made it very clear that he is now in charge," said an official who attended the meeting today. "I think you are going to see a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control."

Asked what this meant, the official replied, "They are going to start shooting a few looters so that the word gets around" that assaults on property, the hijacking of automobiles and violent crimes will be dealt with using deadly force.

How Iraqis will be informed of the new rules is not clear. American officials in Iraq have access to United States-financed radio stations, which could broadcast the changes.

A tougher approach over all appears to be at the core of Mr. Bremer's mandate from President Bush to save the victory in Iraq from a descent into anarchy, a possibility feared by some Iraqi political leaders if steps are not taken quickly to check violence and lawlessness.

But imposing measures that call for the possible killing of young, unemployed or desperate Iraqis for looting appears to carry a certain level of risk because of the volatile sentiments in the streets here. Gas lines snake through neighborhoods, garbage piles up, and the increasing heat frequently provides combustion for short tempers, which are not uncommonly directed at the American presence here.

That's an understatement to an amazing degree. Killing Iraqis to impose order is not exactly a smart thing to do unless you want to have daily funerals and shias screaming for justice in the streets. Which is an even bigger danger when considering the number of armed people around, which now has to include nearly every adult male and most teenagers.

Every time I hear about the gyrations of the US "administration" in Iraq, one which cannot provide basic services and may well leave the country starving by the middle of June, I get the feeling of watching a failing dotcom go through it's death throws. The ineptitude, the utter cluelessness and the real harm being caused.

Just because a Special Forces team is now protecting Al-Hakim, doesn't mean his victory tour isn't really a "let's show the US how strong we are" tour. What is amazing is that the people who are playing kingmaker in Baghdad actually think they're running the country when it is clear the power has devolved to the clerics and the Kurdish political leaders.

And on top of this, Osama's boys just sent their calling card. The US has failed to find Osama or even put the kind of crimp in his organization which would prevent the second coming of Khobar Towers.

Over the next few days, since I have the space, I'm going to look at the failure of the Bush Admnistration's security policy. It isn't just the near comic blundering of Homeland Security, or the isolation created by the armed diplomats at the Pentagon, but the President's own isolation from geopolitical realities.

Steve Gilliard

Posted May 14, 2003 03:54 AM | Comments (132)





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