We know we're a little early, but as George W. Bush settles into the first full day of his five-week vacation in Crawford, Texas, we want to be the first to wish him a happy anniversary. It was four years ago this week, also in the midst of a Crawford vacation, that Bush received the presidential daily briefing that warned, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US."
Bush has, quite literally, gone to war over much more speculative intelligence. But when the president received the bin Laden PDB on Aug. 6, 2001, he went bass fishing instead. We don't know if he caught anything that day. We do know, however, that he still hasn't caught Osama bin Laden.
We wonder if the president will spend much of his time at Crawford this month thinking about the big one that got away. Back in June, Bush's CIA director, Porter Goss, said the United States has an "excellent idea" where bin Laden is, but that "weak links" in the war on terrorism are hampering the hunt. "We are making very good progress on it," Goss told Time. "But when you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play."
Goss was almost certainly referring to the problem of Pakistan. As former 9/11 committee co-chairman Lee Hamilton noted at a hearing Tuesday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "has not been all that helpful, really, in helping us hunt for Osama bin Laden." Late last month, Musharraf said said that his "gut" tells him that bin Laden is still alive and hiding somewhere in the "border regions" between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But bin Laden remains a popular figure in Pakistan -- in a recent poll, 51 percent of Pakistanis said they had confidence that he'd do the right thing in world affairs -- and Musharraf doesn't sound particularly eager to hunt him down. Musharraf said that Pakistani forces are "capable" of capturing bin Laden "if" they get intelligence that leads to him, but he said that he wouldn't allow U.S. troops to chase bin Laden in Pakistan, and he was equivocal about whether he'd hand over the al-Qaida leader to the United States if Pakistani forces ever catch him themselves. "We hope he's found in Afghanistan by the Americans," he said. "I would much prefer that somebody else handled him."
At a White House press briefing last week, Scott McClellan brushed aside questions about Musharraf's commitment to the hunt. "He is a good partner in the global war on terrorism," McClellan said of Musharraf. "He recognizes the enemy and the nature of the enemy that we are up against."
If only the same could have been said about Bush four years ago.