It was report card time this week, never one of George W. Bush's happier moments, and the news was anything but good.
Never mind the usual grades on English and math or coloring inside the lines, or those teacher notes on the bottom about plays well with others. It was that big fat "D" in the column War on Terror that had them sweating at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Remember how President Bush had al Qaida and Osama bin Laden "on the run" and how it was only a matter of time until we found and brought to justice that elusive 6 foot 7 inch Saudi Arabian terror mastermind who attacked the United States and killed some 3,000 of our people?
Well, six years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, Osama's back and he's bigger and badder than ever, according to a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released this week-the first in years that sounded like it was written by someone other than Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.
The intelligence community's assessment is that, far from making the United States a safer place, the Bush administration has actually lost ground in the fight against an al Qaida that has grown significantly stronger in recent years.
Despite much-ballyhooed announcements about the killing or capture of this or that right-hand man, the assessment said that Osama has rebuilt a stronger, more dangerous network that remains focused on attacking the United States and its people.
And where has this taken place? In Iraq, where we have 150,000 troops and another 185,000 private contractors bogged down in the middle of a civil war at a cost of $12 billion and over 100 dead Americans a month? The same Iraq that the President has repeatedly identified as the central focus, the cockpit actually, of his global war on terror?
No. Not really. It has all taken place in Pakistan, where our great and good ally in that war, President/General Pervez Musharraf, has let things literally go to Hell along his border with neighboring Afghanistan, and let Osama and his boys rebuild in a sanctuary beyond reach of American forces.
This while we have poured a couple of billion dollars in aid into Musharraf's coffers, and are now preparing to scrape up another $350 million to better arm and train his army and police, who sit fearfully inside their forts along the frontier.
"It hasn't worked for Pakistan," says Frances Fragos Townsend of the Homeland Security Council at the White House, and "it hasn't worked for the United States."
But it sure has worked for al Qaida and Osama.
The new intelligence estimate also poured cold water on Mr. Bush's latest rhetoric, attempting to confuse Osama's real al Qaida in Pakistan with the much smaller, much newer al Qaida in Iraq.
While the president would have us believe that the real threat to America is in the Iraqi branch office and that it is those pesky Iraqi al Qaidas who attacked us on 9/11, the intelligence experts said those particular terrorists are and have been totally focused on attacks inside Iraq and nowhere else. Period. And, by the way, al Qaida in Iraq only came into being late in 2003 in response to our occupation of Iraq long after 9/11. Sorry, Mr. President.
In short, while our near-total attention, money and military action has been aimed at Iraq for four and a half years, attacking the main enemy where he is not, Osama and his top lieutenants have rebuilt, reinforced and repaired their networks and we now face "a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years."
Osama and al Qaida and Afghanistan were always Job One, the job that had to be done if we wanted to prevent another 9/11 and make America safer. It never got done, and we aren't one bit safer today, six years later.
The president chose instead to divert all our resources to a poorly thought-out scheme to topple a hated dictator and plant a free, democratic nation in the heart of the troubled Middle East. Meanwhile, our main enemy rebuilt and rejoiced in a sanctuary provided by another one of our good friends and allies.
Not even grading on a curve will help George W. Bush this time around.
McClatchy Newspapers 2007