WASHINGTON, D.C. -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan has
"tentatively" confirmed reports that Osama bin Laden remains alive and
at-large. McClellan told reporters that intelligence experts have
"authenticated" the terrorist kingpin's voice on the latest audiotape
broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite network. So what.
Al-Jezeera, al-Qaeda's preferred television organ, has often
aired tapes purporting to demonstrate that Osama survived the collapse of
his Taliban allies in Afghanistan. By last April, no fewer than eight
post-Sept. 11 Osama tapes had found their way into public circulation.
Another popped up in October. The latest installment was aired by Al-Jazeera
Osama's potent propaganda value for Islamic militants means that
he'll probably never be allowed to die. And considering the revealing nature
of some of the footage, most memorably Osama's gloating testimonial about
how many of the Sept. 11 hijackers were not told that they were on a suicide
mission, Osama's real or contrived re-emergence reminds us that the war
against terrorism is going to be a long one.
The Senate's lame duck passage of legislation creating a
Department of Homeland Security represented another necessary step in the
war. After stalling the bill for five months, Senate Democrats belatedly
permitted its passage -- 90 to 9 -- before Republicans assume leadership of
the Senate in January.
Sen. Teddy Kennedy, D-Mass., who purported to oppose the bill,
was AWOL in Paris attending a fashion tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,
leaving Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., to fight a surreal, rearguard action
against the measure. Byrd, who has devoted his Senate career to funneling
federal largesse to West Virginia, objected to the "massive new bureaucracy"
created by the homeland security agency. One wonders if Byrd would have
opposed situating the new Cabinet department in his home state.
Ironically, the Democrats' were waging a guerilla war against
homeland security legislation while simultaneously excoriating President
Bush for not having delivered Osama's head on a platter. Tom Daschle,
D-S.D., still smarting from the Nov. 5 elections, had the temerity to
declare that, "We've got to find Mohammed Omar, we've got to find Osama bin
Laden, we've got to find other key leaders of the Al Qaeda network or we
will have failed." Tough talk for someone who complicated President Bush's
efforts to prosecute such a fight.
Byrd, the Senate's ranking curmudgeon, declared the war against
terrorism a flop. "We went to Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists," Byrd
whined, "but we do not know where Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar are
hiding." This defeatism was too much even for San Francisco liberal and
incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The war on terror is
about more than Osama bin Laden," Pelosi plagiarized, without crediting
President Bush with the quote. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer wryly
remarked: "Individuals are free to focus on any one person if they think
that's the best way to conduct foreign policy. That's a different approach
than the president has."
Protecting America's citizens from terrorism will require much
more than capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. Some may wish to reduce the
scope of the threat to Osama's singular evil. But, as Thomas Hobbes
recognized long ago, times of tranquility are remarkable exceptions to
mankind's much longer history of war. Like the misnamed "Cold War" against
Soviet totalitarianism, the struggle against terrorism is likely to be a
protracted endeavor, requiring steadfastness, perseverance -- and sometimes,
The "Cold War" was, after all, very "hot" for the U.S. soldiers,
sailors, airmen and Marines dispatched to fight it between 1945 and 1989.
Whether Daschle and Byrd like it or not, the logical next step in this new
war is to disarm Saddam Hussein. His fixation with weapons of mass
destruction does not represent his only, or even his primary, menace to
peace and security. The fascist Iraqi dictator has long sponsored and
sheltered terrorists who have targeted American, European and Israeli