Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Will Osama bin Laden give Bush a lift tomorrow?

Bush strategists say Osama's surprise cameo will tile the election in W's favor. But that's just their usual backward logic

By Maureen Dowd  /  NY TIMES , WASHINGTON

Some people thought the October surprise would be the president producing Osama.

Instead, it was Osama producing yet another video taunting the president and lecturing the US.

After bin Laden's pre-election commentary from his anchor desk at a secure, undisclosed location, many TV chatterers and Republicans postulated that the evildoer's campaign intrusion would help the president.

O.B.L., they said, might re-elect W. They follow the Bush strategists' reasoning that since President George W. Bush rates higher than Senator John Kerry on fighting terror, anytime Americans get rattled about Iraq and al-Qaeda, it's a plus for the president. And Republicans can keep claiming that al-Qaeda wants the "weak" Democrat elected, even as some intelligence experts suggest the terrorists prefer that the belligerent Bush stay in power because he has been a boon to jihadist recruiting, with his disastrous occupation of Iraq and his true believer, us-versus-them, my-Christian-God's-directing-my-foreign-policy vibe.

The Bushies' campaign pitch follows their usual backward logic: Because we have failed to make you safe, you should re-elect us to make you safer. Because we haven't caught Osama in three years, you need us to catch Osama in the next four years. Because we didn't bother to secure explosives in Iraq, you can count on us to make sure those explosives aren't used against you.

You'd think that seeing Osama looking fit as a fiddle and ready for hate would spark anger at the Bush administration's cynical diversion of the war on al-Qaeda to the war on Saddam. It's absurd that we're mired in Iraq -- an invasion the demented vice president praised on Friday for its "brilliance" -- while the Sept. 11 mastermind nonchalantly pops up anytime he wants. For some, it seemed cartoonish, with Osama as Road Runner beeping by Wile E. Bush as Vice President Dick Cheney and Rummy run the Acme/Halliburton explosives company -- now under FBI investigation for its no-bid contracts on anvils, axle grease (guaranteed slippery) and dehydrated boulders (just add water).

Osama slouched onto TV bragging about pulling off the Sept. 11 attacks just after the president strutted onto TV in New Hampshire with Sept. 11 families, bragging that al-Qaeda leaders know "we are on their trail."

Maybe bin Laden hasn't gotten the word. Maybe W. should get off the trail and get on Osama's tail.

W. was clinging to his inane mantra that if we fight the terrorists over there, we don't have to fight them here, even as bin Laden was back on TV threatening to come here. The president still avoided using Osama's name on Friday, part of the concerted effort to downgrade him and merge him with Iraqi insurgents.

The White House reaction to the disclosures about the vanished explosives in Iraq was typical. Though it's clear the treasures and terrors of Iraq -- from viruses to ammunition to artifacts -- were being looted and loaded into donkey carts and pickups because we had insufficient troops to secure the country, Bush officials devoted the vast resources of the government to trying to undermine the facts to protect the president.

The Pentagon mobilized to debunk the bunker story with a tortured press conference and a satellite photo of trucks that proved about as much as Secretary of State Colin Powell's prewar drawings of two trailers that were supposed to be mobile biological weapons labs.

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