While Nero fiddles...
When President Bush hit a long, low drive on the golf course this weekend with the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background, it was one more sign that major combat operations in Iraq were over. True, it never hurts to visit what will be an important swing state in the 2004 election, of which more later, but Mr. Bush's two days in the high desert air were his first extended downtime since the bombing of Baghdad and showed that the White House was ready to have him seen engaged in some postwar R & R
Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."
Members of the U.S. intelligence community bragged to reporters that the terrorist band was crippled, noting that it hadn't attacked during the assault on Iraq.
"This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up, and they have failed," Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week.
Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run.
Al Qaeda has been weakened by the arrest of leaders like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But Osama, in recent taped messages, has exhorted his followers to launch suicide attacks against the invaders of Iraq. And as one ambassador from an Arab country noted, the pictures of American-made tanks in both Iraq and the West Bank of Israel certainly attracted new recruits to Osama.
The administration's lulling triumphalism about Al Qaeda exploded on Monday in Riyadh, when well-planned and coordinated suicide strikes with car bombs and small-arms fire killed dozens in three housing complexes favored by Westerners, including seven Americans.