Boris: Sonja, are you scared of dying?
Sonja: Scared is the wrong word. I'm frightened of it
Boris: That's an interesting distinction.
--Woody Allen, "Love & Death"
QUESTION: The intelligence analysts are saying Al Qaida has reconstituted in areas of Pakistan, saying the threat to the West is greater than ever now -- well, as great as 2001.
BUSH: OK, I'm glad you asked. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that opportunity to...There is a perception in the coverage that Al Qaida may be as strong today as they were prior to September the 11th. That's just simply not the case. I think the report will say since 2001, not prior to September the 11th, 2001. Secondly, that because of the actions we've taken, Al Qaida is weaker today than they would have been. They are still a threat. They are still dangerous.
--President George W. Bush, Press conference, July 12, 2007
I must remember to take deep breaths, to exercise regularly, to take my nutrients, to be temperate in all things (including temperance), and to hope, may the Force be with me, that I survive until late January, 2009. I simply have to believe that the United States is a better country than this. Bush must be some sort of statistical anomaly, a singularity, an act of quantum reversal. They say it might happen: an egg, lying splattered on the floor, could reassemble itself and leap up to the counter from which it rolled only moments before. The entropic arrow could reverse itself. Something on that order of probability might account for having a man this stupid as President of the United States of America.
To read an answer such as quoted above is to induce a kind of deep, existential fear in the mind of a common citizen. Such as myself. How could a person like Bush, so elementally confused, lead a country as complex and powerful as the United States? For that matter, how does he navigate his way across a furnished room without killing himself?
What could he have possibly meant by his answer? Only one thing comes to mind. On September 11, 2001, we are fairly certain that 19 members of al-Qaeda were killed instantaneously; thus, their ranks were diminished, to that extent, by late morning, September 11, 2001. They were at their lowest level of strength since earlier that morning. With Bush in charge of America's anti-terrorism efforts, however, they began to recover, beginning the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Therefore, if I read Bush correctly, according to the CIA's latest National Intelligence Estimate, al-Qaeda is at its greatest level of strength since the afternoon of September 11, 2001, although not as strong as it was that morning. This would appear to mean that al-Qaeda is still 19 members short, 20 if you count Khallid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo. Also, "because of the actions we've taken," they've been unable to recover the loss of those 20 operatives.
Still, it is difficult to see how this could be an accurate assessment. I assume among the "actions we've taken" is the invasion of Afghanistan, and our destruction of the jungle gym complexes around Kandahar. We then left, and our ally Pervez Musharraf, democratic dictator of Pakistan, entered into an understanding with tribal groups in western Pakistan that al-Qaeda and the Taliban could have free rein in this cross-border area. Thus, the terrorist sanctuaries, probably including the crucial jungle gym infrastructure essential for teaching Islamic extremists living in Hamburg the art of flying American commercial jets, are back in business. In addition, the group in Iraq known as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which President Bush cheerfully equates with the group "which attacked us on September the 11th," reportedly has about 10,000 new recruits, all of them joining up in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
While math is probably the stronger of Bush's facilities lying along the verbal/quantitative axis, I think he's miscalculated, indeed, misundercalculated. What the CIA may mean is that, as a "result of actions we've taken," al-Qaeda is now at a point where they have at least 9,980 more members than they used to have, plus two strongholds instead of one. By the time this guy's through, we may need a reversal of the entropic arrow just to put the world back together again.