Frank Rich: Why Are We Surging in Iraq While Terror Threat Explodes Elsewhere?

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By: E&P Staff

In his Sunday column for The New York Times, Frank Rich sounds a warning: While American are obsessed with Britney’s baldness and the White House surges in Iraq, the real terror threat is exploding in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Times sounds much the same alarm in an editorial on Sunday.

A few excerpts from Rich’s column, available for TimesSelect subscribers via www.nytimes.com, follow.

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Al Qaeda is ?on the march? rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces ? it?s ?not ready for transition,? according to the Pentagon?s last report ? but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

This is why the entire debate about the Iraq ?surge? is as much a sideshow as Britney?s scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what?s going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war?s critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?…

It is precisely by pouring still more of our finite military and intelligence resources down the drain in Iraq that we are tragically ignoring the lessons of 9/11. Instead of showing resolve, as Mr. Bush supposes, his botch of the Iraq war has revealed American weakness. Our catastrophic occupation spawned terrorists in a country where they didn?t used to be, and to pretend that Iraq is now their central front only adds to the disaster….

Far from getting him or any of his top operatives dead or alive, the president has sat idly by, showering praise on General Musharraf while Taliban attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan have increased threefold. As The Times reported last week, now both bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be ?steadily building an operations hub? in North Waziristan. We know that last year?s London plot to bomb airliners, like the bus-and-subway bombings of 2005, was not just the work of home-grown jihadists in Britain, but also of Qaeda operatives. Some of the would-be bombers were trained in Qaeda?s Pakistan camps much as their 9/11 predecessors had been trained in Afghanistan.

All of this was already going on when Mr. Bush said just before the election that ?absolutely, we?re winning? and that ?Al Qaeda is on the run.? What?s changed in the few months since his lie is that even more American troops are tied down in Iraq, that even more lethal weapons are being used against them, that even more of the coalition of the unwilling are fleeing, and that even more Americans are tuning out both the administration and the war they voted down in November to savor a referendum that at least offers tangible results, ?American Idol.?

Yet Mr. Bush still denies reality. Ten days ago he told the American Enterprise Institute that ?the Taliban have been driven from power? and proposed that America help stabilize the Pakistan border by setting up ?Reconstruction Opportunity Zones? (remember that ?Gulf Opportunity Zone? he promised after Katrina?) to ?give residents the chance to export locally made products to the United States, duty-free.? In other words, let?s fight terrorism not by shifting America?s focus from Iraq to the central front, but by shopping for Taliban souvenirs!

Five years after 9/11, the terrorists would seem to have us just where they want us ? asleep ? even as the system is blinking red once again.

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