Tuesday, January 24, 2006

He's Baaack!

Osama bin Laden, that is -- and Time ("Osama: Back From the Not-So-Dead") and Newsweek ("What's Bin Laden's Game?") are eager to dish all about it.

Newsweek has the better story of the two. Calling bin Laden "the impresario of 9/11," the mag reports, "After more than a year in which some U.S. officials had speculated openly he might be dead, Osama bin Laden resurfaced in his usual way, unannounced, dressing up threats of death in reasonable tones." The article ties bin Laden's reappearance in with the CIA's attempt last week to take out his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the process reporting juicy operational details about the agency's Predator search drone, such as "CIA officials made the decision to launch the [Damadola, Pakistan] attack themselves. But they notified higher-ups in the administration, including White House officials, who had enough time to veto the strike if they wanted." Newsweek adds later in the piece that the drones send live video back to base so that "officials can watch the satellite feeds in real time on large screens while other officials with headsets bark orders to operatives in the field."

But while the government's Hellfire missiles are taking out targets in Pakistan, its high-tech reach also extends inward, as Newsweek highlights in an impressive story on the Pentagon's three-year-old Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) program. The article is chock-full of government memos and documents on CIFA's activities, including an internal PowerPoint slide presentation shown to Newsweek containing the CIFA motto: "Counterintelligence 'to the Edge.'"

Looking ahead to the State of the Union next Tuesday, Time reports that the president plans to use his address to recast himself as "thrifty": "His staff wants to make 'restraining spending' a defining Bush characteristic, along with spreading democracy around the world and prosecuting the war on terrorism." At every turn, fortunately, the magazine holds the Bush image up to the cold light of reality, saying "Bush himself has a huge credibility problem," as "The $236 billion Clinton surplus of 2000 has become a $400 billion annual deficit," while "The federal debt has risen from $5.7 trillion when Bush took office to more than $8 trillion today." A nifty set of graphics in the print edition gets the point across, as does the subtle detail that budget director Josh Bolten's office "features a Norman Rockwell painting of a runaway train."

Runaway train or not, the president's hands are steady on the wheel, as U.S. News & World Report tells us in "Bush's Third Term": "Ever the optimist, George W. Bush believes that if he sticks to his guns and demonstrates Lincolnesque resolve, everything will turn out just fine."

When times get tough, says U.S. News, Bush thinks of what Honest Abe faced "when the country was tearing itself apart, with brother killing brother and the survival of the United States at stake. Compared with that, Bush likes to say, he has it easy." And now, at the start of his "third term" (that would be 2006, according to the article), "Bush is trying to apply the lessons of Lincoln more seriously than ever as he embarks on what he hopes will be a fresh start for his presidency," which will probably be marked by "drag bunts and singles" this year after the disastrous "big-ball politics" of 2005.

Why so many Lincoln references? It might have something to do with the magazine's extraordinarily long history lesson of a lead story, "Presidents At War," featuring wise old Abe on the cover. For 4,200 words, U.S. News revisits the war exploits of Jefferson, Polk, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Truman (among others), all to hammer home the point that while critics have harped that the current Iraq conflict was "a war of choice," "almost all American wars have been, to a greater or lesser degree, wars of choice." "Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq has been attacked as a departure from the American tradition of war," the magazine argues in summation, "But it is more of a return to the dominant tradition of our history."

U.S. News' readers, likely searching for a Osama-like hideout of their own after taking such a pummeling, cannot help but agree.



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