A year before the war in Iraq began, George W. Bush declared that Osama bin Laden was "marginalized" and "on the run" -- "if he's alive at all." "We shoved him out more and more on the margins," the president said at a press conference in March 2002. "He has no place to train his al-Qaida killers anymore. And if we -- excuse me for a minute -- and if we find a training camp, we'll take care of it."
Five years later, bin Laden seems very much out of the margins. As the New York Times reported last week, American officials say they've seen "mounting evidence" that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, have set up training camps and an "operations hub" in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
In an editorial Sunday, the Times warned that "graduates" of these new camps are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq now and "may well be plotting new terrorist strikes in the West." Calling al-Qaida's "comeback" a "devastating indictment of Mr. Bush's grievously flawed strategies and misplaced Iraq obsession," the Times said: "Unless the president changes course, the dangers to America and its friends will continue to multiply."
The response from the White House: No worries -- Cheney's on it.
The vice president made a visit today to a U.S. airbase in Pakistan, where he is said to have warned Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he'd best be doing more to crack down on al-Qaida operations in his country. One sign of how powerful al-Qaida has been allowed to become: Although Bush made a public trip to Pakistan just last year, Cheney's trip was kept secret until after he had come and gone.
Cheney is said to have delivered an "unusually harsh" message to Musharraf, but it seems he was playing the old "good cop, bad cop" routine -- the bad cop being the U.S. Congress, which Cheney reportedly said might cut off aid for Pakistan if it doesn't see some progress on the al-Qaida front. No word on Musharraf's reaction yet -- he's made promises before -- but we're waiting for the trip that isn't going to happen: The one where Cheney flies into Baghdad (or even into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) and warns that Congress might cut off funds unless it starts seeing some progress in Iraq.