Osama Bin Laden just celebrated his fourth anniversary as the motivator of 19 men who murdered 3,000 Americans. Somewhere in the mountains of Central Asia, he and Dr. Zawahiri, his chief strategist, might have observed Sept. 11 with tea and sweets. Perhaps they received a congratulatory note from Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader who sheltered Al Qaeda while it plotted attacks on Manhattan and Washington, and who also continues to enjoy his freedom. He even has a spokesperson operating openly in Pakistan.
George W. Bush no longer mentions Bin Laden. From chest-thumping boasts of "dead or alive" it's down to "out of sight, out of mind." That way he doesn't have to explain how the most powerful nation in history has been helpless to avenge the worst attack ever suffered on its soil.
It's been more than 1,470 days since Bin Laden's followers crashed hijacked airplanes into the Twin Towers and Pentagon. We defeated both Hitler and Hirohito in less time, and they had huge, modern armies, navies and air forces between us and them.
We have spy satellites that can pick out a man smoking a cigarette on the steps of the Capitol. We have unmanned aircraft that can hover over any mud hut village on the planet with cameras and guided missiles. But our government says it can't find an unusually tall and wealthy Saudi Arabian man with a face known to millions, who requires occasional dialysis for weak kidneys.
Alexander the Great was only 23 when he avenged Persia's sacking of Athens. Alexander had no GPS, Predators, Blackhawks or Delta Force. Yet he tracked down the Persian emperor across unmapped deserts and frozen peaks to the furthest corner of Afghanistan. Our fratboy in cowboy boots, with the world's mightiest military under his command, can't equal what a bisexual Greek in sandals managed in 330 B.C.
We commemorate our losses with staged public relations events, government organized marches and country music. Bin Laden has to settle for success. He wanted us out of Saudi Arabia. Consider it done. He wanted the price of oil to soar. It's more than doubled and headed higher. He wanted us drawn into a costly, intractable conflict that would humble us just as the Afghan quagmire humbled the Soviet empire. Mission accomplished. Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, has now become a greater training ground for terrorism than the Taliban's campus ever was.
Al Qaeda means "the base." It was never a centrally controlled military operation intended to perpetually direct all Islamic terrorism. It sought to sow a thousand seeds of hatred and violence that, under the right conditions, would sprout self-sustaining terrorist cells. Bush's bungle in Iraq has given Bin Laden the hot wind he needed to scatter seeds of terror from the Euphrates to the Thames and beyond. Bin Laden tried to paint the United States as infidels who despise Islamic traditions and Bush gave him Abu Ghraib, a recruiting tool that even experts in the CIA say will resonate for a generation.
Wherever he's holed up, Bin Laden somehow manages to keep abreast of world events. If he watched the embarrassing images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina he saw that, despite all its pompous talk and enlarged powers, the Bush administration still can't handle predictable natural disasters, let alone a surprise terror attack.
The killers spawned by Bin Laden got the same message. They couldn't fail to note that, while one of America's most strategic ports and a center of its energy industry drowned, its president strummed John Lennon's "Imagine" on guitar for cameras, the vice president shopped for a mansion on the Chesapeake, the secretary of defense attended a baseball game in California and the secretary of state shopped for $1000 shoes at Ferragamo on Fifth Avenue.
Rather than protect us, Bush revealed our incompetence. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Bin Laden has been given a pass from this White House, and most of America's print and broadcast media. They'd rather focus our attention elsewhere than on this administration's failure to lasso an evil man who has done us great harm. But, rest assured, soon Saddam will be tried for killing Iraqis in that nation's civil wars more than a decade ago. Nightly news will horrify us with photos of Kurds felled by poison gas (which Donald Rumsfeld had given Saddam to use on Iranians). Count on hours of lame legal analysis and footage of other excesses of Saddam and his psychopathic sons. Yet the man who masterminded the slaughter of thousands of Americans in our very own cities no longer has his face on wanted posters.
If you stumbled upon the right cave in the Hindu Kush, you might hear the chime of teacups touching as Bin Laden toasted his good fortune to have struck America while George W. Bush was in charge. And as Bin Laden enjoys his tea and sweets in his mountain refuge, the bombs explode in Baghdad, Madrid, Sharm-Al-Sheik, Kandahar, Bali, Basra, Riyadh, Peshawar, Istanbul, Kirkuk, Beirut, Cairo, Kabul, Tunis, Ramadi, London ...