White House homeland security advisor Fran Townsend made the rounds of the TV morning shows on Wednesday – except for NBC, which was too busy chronicling the Senate Democrat stunt on Iraq. ABC’s Diane Sawyer pounded Townsend with criticism from former Clinton adviser Dick Clarke and a quip from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that Bush created a "spa" for Osama bin Laden. CNN’s Kiran Chetry homed in on how critics say Iraq was a diversion from the war on al-Qaeda. On the Early Show on CBS, co-host Hannah Storm pulled a Dan Rather – as in the man who liked to use the words "the group calling itself the Christian Coalition" – and referred to the "so-called War on Terror."
Storm's first question was this: "So we're almost six years after 9/11. Billions of dollars spent on the so-called War on Terror. Thousands of Americans lives lost. And yet we hear this report that we're no safer now than we were then. Why not?" Townsend said "That’s not what the report says," that they are regenerating, but are not at pre-9/11 strength.
On ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Diane Sawyer was throwing hardballs: "There have been some really blistering editorials this morning and statements from people about the report, saying that it is grim, that it shows the administration has a failed strategy, that al Qaeda has not only strengthened and reconstituted, but this is Richard Clarke, the former terrorism czar who said, quote, 'al Qaeda has been recovering and it's on President Bush's watch.'"
This is a bit sleazy, but typical, from Clarke, who Bush retained from the Clinton administration, talking up how bad things are on "Bush's watch." If Clarke had been a George H.W. Bush aide who was retained by Clinton and then attacked Clinton's terror-fighting record, you can bet Diane Sawyer would not be quoting him.
Townsend said Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf is committed to rooting out extremism in his country and wants no safe haven for terror there. Sawyer rebutted with the odd sound of a war-mongering Maureen Dowd: "But on a matter of this importance and one columnist this morning said, in effect, that he has given a spa to Osama bin Laden and also Ayman al-Zawahiri to refresh themselves and get back in shape. And she goes on to say that it's time for the U.S. to go in and do something, that going in for pinpoint exercise is not enough, it's time for the U.S. to go in."
On CNN's American Morning, co-host Kiran Chetry pleased Democrats by keeping the Iraq "diversion" line the main focus of her Townsend interview:
CHETRY: So has the war in Iraq diverted resources, like the American troops needed, to be able to contain and fight al Qaeda in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan?
TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question. Iraq's not a diversion. Bin Laden himself has said it's a central front in the war on terror. And the capture that you're reporting this morning of the senior Iraq al Qaeda official itself confirms the direct links between them. The president gave a speech in May and talked about -- we declassified intelligence. He talked about the connections between al Qaeda's corps, those in the tribal areas, and al Qaeda in Iraq.
Bin Laden had tasked them to plan for external attacks, including the homeland. Bin Laden tried to send Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who's now in custody in Guantanamo, to Iraq to help them. We know that al Qaeda in Iraq has had external operations.
CHETRY: There are those who take issue with that, though, and say that al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist before the U.S. forces went in there. And the argument of critics is that if we could contain or would have contained al Qaeda in Pakistan and Iraq before we got to the point where we are in Iraq now, we would have had much better luck in terms of getting the organization -- decapitating the organization, if you will.
TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question that al Qaeda will look for safe haven wherever they can find it. A base from which they can plan. They've now affiliated themselves with al Qaeda in what they call the Islamic Maghreb in northern Africa. Al Qaeda tries to extend its region, look for these safe havens, whether it's in northern Mali, Somalia, Iraq. The idea is, we have to challenge them. You've heard the president say, we're on offense. Well, we want to challenge them so that we deny them that ability to be at rest where they can plan and train.
CHETRY: You know, is the Iraq War the reason, though, when we saw this National Intelligence Estimate in 2006, they talked about al Qaeda as suffering and this year they talk about a resurgence. Why has that changed in one year?