Friday, July 09, 2004

Not Surprisingly, GOP Caught "Politicizing" War on Terror

It's been a key buzzword for the GOP -- that John Kerry and the Democrats are "politicizing" the war in Iraq and what the Bush administration calls the "War on Terror."

As the Washington Post reported in May: "The Bush campaign has repeatedly accused (Kerry) of “politicizing” Iraq. Bush-Cheney chairman Marc Racicot told reporters Wednesday that Kerry is relentlessly “playing politics” and exploiting tragedy for political gain."

In truth, this GOP buzzword is meant to scare the ignorant populace into thinking that Kerry doesn't support the troops in Iraq, or that he's against fighting Al Qaeda. It's an easy term to throw out -- anyone who disagrees with the Bush administration qualifies as "politicizing" an issue. Throw in the fact that Kerry is running for president, and you quickly get the additional claim -- not only is Kerry "politicizing," but he's doing so for "political gain." That's a big no-no with the GOP, or so they say.

So it's ironic, although probably not surprising, to hear the gist of an article in The New Republic today that, if true, is an indicator of true "politicizing" by the Bush administration.

The article offers input from multiple Pakistani intelligence sources, who say they were told to caputre "High-Value" Al Qaeda targets in the last ten days of July -- no doubt so that the Bush administration could trumpet their arrests during the Democratic National Convention.

From the article:

This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials--from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official--have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf's government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a "sanctuary" for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. "The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better," he said.

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar. "Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't change because of an election," says National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections." (These sources insisted on remaining anonymous. Under Pakistan's Official Secrets Act, an official leaking information to the press can be imprisoned for up to ten years.)

A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The Bush administration has matched this public and private pressure with enticements and implicit threats. During his March visit to Islamabad, Powell designated Pakistan a major non-nato ally, a status that allows its military to purchase a wider array of U.S. weaponry. Powell pointedly refused to criticize Musharraf for pardoning nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan--who, the previous month, had admitted exporting nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya--declaring Khan's transgressions an "internal" Pakistani issue. In addition, the administration is pushing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for Pakistan through Congress over Democratic concerns about the country's proliferation of nuclear technology and lack of democratic reform.

But Powell conspicuously did not commit the United States to selling F-16s to Pakistan, which it desperately wants in order to tilt the regional balance of power against India. And the Pakistanis fear that, if they don't produce an HVT, they won't get the planes. Equally, they fear that, if they don't deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan's security establishment in facilitating Khan's illicit proliferation network. One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole."

***

That's "politicizing" the War on Terror, folks.

The question is: Will Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer and the like notice? Or are they too exhausted from dancing and dodging and weaving with the conservative pundits trying to spin John Edwards as a "wealthy," "liberal,""disingeneous," "unaccomplished" lawyer who "pocketed" millions? I'll be watching the chatterboxes tonight, and hoping for the best. Something tells me it will be a long night.

David

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