CHAKLALA AIR BASE, Pakistan Dec 20, 2005 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he doubts that Osama bin Laden is in position to assert full command over the al-Qaida terror network.
Rumsfeld, who arrived Wednesday morning local time for an unannounced visit to Pakistan, said he found it interesting that bin Laden has not been heard from publicly in nearly a year.
"I don't know what it means," Rumsfeld told a group of reporters traveling with him. "I suspect that in any event, if he's alive and functioning that he's probably spending a major fraction of his time trying to avoid getting caught. I have trouble believing that he's able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al-Qaida operation, but I could be wrong. We just don't know."
Wow, I can't think when I've had so much fun from just a few lines--uh, that is, a couple of stanzas--and I credit the AP for its coup in hiring a 350-year-old Scottish poet as a military reporter. Although "Ye Flowery Banks" is still my favorite.
I mean, I just love this sort of story. First, it's reported as though it means something. And it's reported as though it was pried out of Rumsfeld through some serious traveling ensemble reportage, when it's precisely what Rummy wanted announced.
But mostly there's this: it's a sort of weird twist on the palindrome. The meaning of the sentence runs both forward and backward while you read it! Rumsfeld doubts ObL is in position to assert full command..." Can't that also mean he never was? That al-Q is not the SMERSH of popular imagining? That we've overstated its size, extent, cohesiveness, for oh, I dunno, some political purpose or other I can't quite figure, and bin Laden was the obvious choice to head it since we already knew him? Or did we make bin Laden up, too?
Here's the thing: we all bought all this intel from The Bush Administration. With what we know about this bunch now, isn't it obvious we need to revisit everything they've ever told us, and keep doing so every time they switch realities on us? Inconvenient, I admit; that's two or three times a day when they've really got it cranked. But not only are these guys capable of telling us anything, and that's anything, they deem necessary, they're capable of being fooled by almost anyone. They were swindled by Chalabi, a convicted swindler! That's like giving Willie Sutton a tour of your bank's security arrangements. After you found out he's Willie Sutton.
Yes, I know this is treading mushy ground. We may be within shouting distance of the people who claimed all the Jews were tipped off about the World Trade Center. On the other hand, if you'd bought yourself a couple of Vermeers in 1938 you'd have probably had some bad night sweats after they arrested Han van Meegeren.
Aw, but our pack of yapping news hounds* isn't finished:
The defense chief also discussed a Pentagon announcement that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will drop by about 3,500 to roughly 16,500 next spring. He said the cancellation of a planned deployment there by a Louisiana-based brigade was an example of the way the Pentagon is likely to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq next year.
Rumsfeld and officials at the Pentagon said the 4th Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, from Fort Polk, La., will stay home instead of going to Afghanistan as part of a normal 2006 troop rotation.
The deployment change was described earlier this month by Pentagon officials who had spoken on condition of anonymity because the plans were not finalized.
In an interview aboard an Air Force C-32 airplane carrying him from Washington to Pakistan, Rumsfeld said when U.S. commanders conclude that a smaller U.S. presence is advisable, some units scheduled to rotate into Iraq will have their tours canceled. At other times, units already in Iraq will be sent home early, he added.
So did anybody bother to ask if these troop reductions are actually driven by our inability to support these levels anymore? What's happened in Afghanistan that we can affect a roughly 20% drawdown? Three years ago the CBO said that after December 2005 we'd have about 65,000 troops available for Iraq. We've been making up the difference by extending tours. Is that the reason US commanders are concluding a smaller presence is advisable? Because current levels are no longer supportable whether they're a good idea or not?
* Firesign Theatre, "The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra".