The WaPo's Joby Warrick was granted an interview this week with CIA Dir Adm Michael Hayden and, dutiful stenographer as ever was, gave him a couple of pages of quotes explaining that al Qaeda is finished and Obi-Wan...sorry, Osama bin...is all but captured even though, of course, Afghanistan is rough country and we don't have him yet. While Warrick isn't quite in the same Toadying for Bush league as, say, Michael Gordon, he still manages not to mention anything much contrary to Hayden's Bushwah.
Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group's core leadership.
"On balance, we are doing pretty well," he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam," he said.
The rest of us might call this "assessment" strikingly predictable rather than strikingly upbeat given that it has been the White House party-line for months that the surge worked and now everything is Okey-Dokey. The troops still being killed might disagree. So do the non-WH analysts Warrick finally went to see. First, though, we get Bush-approved experts.
The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.
Got that? Afghanistan is in better shape because the situation in Iraq has "improved" so much (sotto voce, stage whisper: "since the Bush surge..."). Sure it has. Never mind that al-Sadr is threatening to break the truce or that IED attacks continue unabated. Bush says the situation has improved? Then by golly, Hayden will sit down with this gullible, tanked propaganda specialist and dutifully repeat the mantra which the specialist will then dutifully copy down and print in one of America's two major newspapers with this much of a caveat:
Others warned that al-Qaeda remains capable of catastrophic attacks and may be even more determined to stage a major strike to prove its relevance. "Al-Qaeda's obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. "I agree that there has been progress. But we're indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy."
That single graf is as close as Warrick gets to acknowledging the truth you will likely find only in foreign papers: that there's a very delicate temporary quiet (which isn't all that quiet) that can and most likely will be exploded sooner or later because no one is really working on a settlement. The Iraqi govt is in shambles, warlords rule the countryside just as they do in Afghanistan, tensions are growing beneath the surface, and the religious differences between the rival sects remain as intractable and savage as ever.
Shi'ia warlords have purged their territories of their Sunni populations and vice versa, the occupation troops are hated more than ever and by a greater number of Iraqis, and both civilian and military deaths continue to climb (4000 Americans so far). But what're the Bushies worried about? That Pakistan might not be as pliable without Musharraf.
The Bush administration has been watching political developments in Pakistan with apprehension, worried that the country's newly elected leadership will not be as tolerant of occasional unilateral U.S. strikes against al-Qaeda as was the government of President Pervez Musharraf, a close ally in the U.S. fight against terrorism.
But wait! All is not quite peaches and cream in this best of all possible Bush Worlds. There are still (cue sinister music) THREATS TO OUR SAFETY!
Despite the optimistic outlook, he said he is concerned that the progress against al-Qaeda could be halted or reversed because of what he considers growing complacency and a return to the mind-set that existed before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We remain worried, and frankly, I wonder why some other people aren't worried, too," he said. His concern stems in part from improved intelligence-gathering that has bolstered the CIA's understanding of al-Qaeda's intent, he said.
"The fact that we have kept [Americans] safe for pushing seven years now has got them back into the state of mind where 'safe' is normal," he said. "Our view is: Safe is hard-won, every 24 hours."
So, to sum up, we're making great progress, AQ is almost destroyed (no, we haven't captured OBL but who cares?), the situation is stabilizing, but there remains a serious threat (which means we have to keep spying on US citizens and torturing detainees and trashing the Constitution because that's the only way we can be SAFE) and what scares us most is that US citizens aren't as scared as they used to be (which makes them more difficult to control).
Um, haven't we heard all that before? Like, every single time an administration mouthpiece gives an interview? Since, like, 2003?
So why, exactly, do Bush Administration propaganda ministers like Hayden get all this national space? What exactly is newsworthy here? It's the same dog-and-pony show they all trot out for every (highly scripted) appearance?
NEW RULE (with apologies to Bill Maher):
Any so-called "journalist" who quotes a Bush Administration official or spokesperson about anything and doesn't immediately fact-check every single phrase for lies, distortions, and misdirection will lose all professional credibility and be sentenced to covering town hall meetings in Frog Jump, Montana for the rest of his/her career. OK?
OK. That should do it.