Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”
However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.
So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?
This week, Hayden’s said
On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . 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.
On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said
Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.
The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.