We’re back home after a great three days in Washington–staying with Deacon and his family, hooking up with the Trunks, touring the memorials and museums with my wife and two of my kids, and, among other social highlights, sharing a great dinner with Jesse and Michelle Malkin.
Everywhere we went, the mood seemed to be one of optimism. And, speaking of optimism: after a couple of days off-line, one of the first news stories I read was this Associated Press account of the devastation that American and allied forces have inflicted on al Qaeda. It occurs to me that the administration may have done the one thing necessary to generate positive press coverage of the war on terror: warn against the likelihood of new attacks and the danger of resurgent terrorist organizations. The AP demurs:
Senior Bush administration officials have warned in recent weeks that al-Qaida is regrouping for another massive attack, its agents bent on acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in a nightmare scenario that could dwarf the horror of Sept. 11.
But in Pakistan and Afghanistan – where Osama bin Laden and his chief deputy are believed to be hiding – intelligence agents, politicians and a top U.S. general paint a different picture.
They say a relentless military crackdown, the arrests last summer of several men allegedly involved in plans to launch attacks on U.S. financial institutions, and the killing in September of a top Pakistani al-Qaida suspect wanted in a number of attacks… have effectively decapitated al-Qaida.
Pakistan’s optimism seems to be backed by senior U.S. military officials in the region. Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan, said he had seen nothing to indicate that al-Qaida was attempting to get its hands on nuclear or biological weapons.
There is “no evidence that they’re trying to acquire a terrorist weapon of that type and, frankly, I don’t believe that they are regrouping,” he told AP in a Feb. 25 interview.
“I think the pressure on them here, the pressure on them in Pakistan, the pressure on them in Iraq, is pretty great and it makes very difficult for them to operate,” Olson added.
The skeptical assessments from officials here fly in the face of warnings out of Washington, where President Bush is pushing Congress to approve a $419 billion defense budget for 2006.
Maj. Gen. Olson, who leaves Afghanistan next month to return to the 25th Infantry Division back in Hawaii, said al-Qaida leaders were unable to use modern communications for fear of detection and were reduced to “16th century” techniques such as couriers. He said he wasn’t discouraged by the success bin Laden and his deputy have had in releasing audio and videotapes filled with threats during the past few months.
“They can deliver all the videotapes they want, as long as they’re not delivering weapons that can kill large numbers of people and I am convinced that their ability to coordinate large attacks like that is severely disrupted right now because of the pressure we have on them,” he said.
Next maybe the Bush administration can issue a warning about a possible economic slowdown, and the press will start reporting how well the economy is performing.