THE MICHAEL SMERCONISH EXPLAINER: Wiping The Smirk Off Mr. Clean With The Dirty Rag Of Truth


BY JONATHAN VALANIA Michael Smerconish looks like Mr. Clean, or, as he is known to Russian housewives, Mr. Proper. Michael Smerconish is also a country club Republican, a talk-radio host and, as of late, a regular fixture of the Inquirer’s Sunday Op-Ed page. Bully for him, we’re all for equal time and open debate even if we think he has his head up his ass most of the time. Sadly, because of guys like Smerconish — Machiavellian media climbers that will say ANYTHING to ensure their butt space in the game of musical chairs that is the talking head punditocracy — people don’t even expect to hear the truth anymore, let alone demand it. We’re here to change that. Mr. Smerconish is a cunning fellow who likes to pass himself off as too guileless and gee-whiz earnest to have an agenda. It’s a little cat & mouse game he likes to play with the reader. But two can play that game. Which is why we have launched the MICHAEL SMERCONISH EXPLAINER, wherein we will attempt to explain, line by line and in bold, why Michael Smerconish is wrong to, well, Michael Smerconish. Ready? OK, let’s dig into today’s column:

After my boys recently requested new targets for paintball in the backyard, I found myself online, ordering a 25-pack of Osama bin Laden likenesses for $19.97.

Don’t wanna tell you how to raise your kids, but the relentless vilification of bogeymen — real and imagined — is best left to pros like the Vice President and Fox News, and needn’t become a father-son ritual.

They arrived last week, on the same day as reports of an al-Qaeda resurgence in Pakistani training camps. Seems bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are still alive, and apparently not the irrelevancy we had hoped, six years removed from 9/11. As I stood opening the cylinder containing the terrorist’s image, one of my sons asked what had become of the mastermind of the plot that killed 3,000. I found myself parroting the usual lines about the difficulty of finding one man amid rugged terrain. But the more my son prodded, the angrier I became.

Shoulda just told them the truth: Iraq is what happened to bin Laden.

Because I no longer believe we are hunting bin Laden. Worse, no one seems to care. What happened to the days when a Bryn Mawr soccer mom would have yearned to strangle bin Laden or Zawahiri with her bare hands?

While the kneejerk desire for national payback is an understandable reaction to a vicious enemy attack on the homeland, naked bloodlust is neither a sustainable nor healthy impulse for a civilized society. Why are you so nostalgic for the worst instincts that 9/11 brought out in the country?

We’ve been told bin Laden fled from the battle in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan into Pakistan. We know that last September, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reached an accord with tribal leaders that gave them continued free rein. Since July, we’ve known that late in 2005 the CIA disbanded Alec Station, the secret FBI/CIA unit dedicated to finding bin Laden. Sounds discouraging? There’s more.

Michael, it sounds like the Kool-Aid is finally wearing off and you are slowly waking up to the fact that the so-called War On Terror is a cynical game of geopolitical three-card monty — and only fools and suckers play three card monty.

In October, I was one of 45 civilians invited to the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, an incredible, one-week military-immersion program sponsored by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Our focus was the Cent-Com region, comprising 27 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

FYI, insights gained on military-industrial complex press junkets hold about as much journalistic credibility as US Magazine cover stories, Diebold voting machines and the phrase “Heckuva job, Brownie.” Just ask Judith Miller.

We traveled 15,000 miles in one week and visited Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Djibouti. We drove a 10-kilometer obstacle course for humvees on the Kuwait/Iraq border, boarded (by helicopter) the USS Iwo Jima in the Persian Gulf, and took turns firing advanced weaponry in 120-degree sands. We received military briefings from leaders that included Rumsfeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the vice admiral of Cent-Com.

Seriously Michael, this sounds like a fantasy camp for richboy military-porn addicts.

Extraordinary in their detail, the briefings were notable for what was missing – any mention of bin Laden. I later described him as the Lord Voldemort of the trip – He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Good one, Michael. And shrewd, too. That Harry Potter demo is HUGE.

When I asked repeatedly about what we were doing to find him, I was always assured that the hunt continues. But I don’t buy it.

You go, girl!

Deep inside a command center in Doha, Qatar, I found myself in a hangarlike building, watching war in real time. To my left, on an array of giant screens, I watched our military air activity over Iraq, as well as ground images from unmanned predators. Fox News was also on. On my right, it was Afghanistan, plus a live feed of CNN.

Isn’t that interesting. The Pentagon monitors CNN for news on Afghanistan and Fox for propaganda news on Iraq. What does that tell you about your little hunt for bin Laden?

Both maps showed a beehive of activity. Lots of aircraft, plenty of movement. I noted that the activity in Afghanistan was heavily concentrated on its border with Pakistan. But there, all the action stopped. Pakistan, including the north Waziristan region where bin Laden is presumed to be hiding, was devoid of any military presence, at least on the map.

Pakistan is an ally in the so-called War On Terror, as your Decider has said many, many times. We don’t invade allies. Not usually, anyway. Although come to think of it, we did just invade Panama. You remember good ‘ol Pineapple Face? That was the last time we sent the cavalry into a sovereign country to kill or capture one of our old, dear friends. He’s getting out of jail soon, by the way. Isn’t that interesting?

I’d like to think that, unseen, were the movements of some Pat Tillman-type heroes combing the rugged terrain of Pakistan, paying off the locals, cutting deals, using sophisticated spy gear, and doing whatever is necessary to find and kill bin Laden and Zawahiri.

At long last, have you no decency, Sir! Haven’t enough lies and half truths been told about Pat Tillman? The guy was a true blue patriot, killed by military incompetence and then buried in lies. Let the man rest in peace. I know for a fact his mother would prefer that guys like you quit exploiting her son’s memory for partisan gain.

But I doubt it. Instead, I suspect we are completely reliant on Musharraf, who is willing to do only as much as guarantees him the continued support of America, but not enough to undermine his tenuous hold over his nation’s tribal leaders. During my trip, I questioned senior military leaders about my suspicion.

Times like this, reading your column is like having dinner with Mr. Short-Term Memory: There’s food in my mouth! Hasn’t this been common knowledge since the day Pakistan switched sides from the Taliban to the U.S.? Do you even read the papers? He wrote a book about it, fer chrissakes!

One was quick to use the word sovereignty in his reply before describing the search as “difficult and nuanced.” Another told me the hunt was the equivalent of finding one man in the Rockies. Several asked me what would happen if they did find him, insinuating that support for the war in Iraq would further dissipate if that were to occur.

You ever breathe oxygen, Kid? Me? I’m addicted.

I’m not blaming our military. But if I am correct that bin Laden is in Pakistan and not the subject of an aggressive hunt, our political leadership is at fault for not freeing the hands of our soldiers to find him. And I fault the media for banging the Iraq drum, but leaving the bin Laden beat silent. Six years removed from 9/11, and with reports of an al-Qaeda resurgence, it’s time to wonder what we’ve really accomplished and what we do now. Maybe I’m mistaken, but one thing is clear: Whatever we are doing isn’t working.

Hey, there is food in my mouth!

I ran my concerns past Michael Scheuer, former head of Alec Station and author of the best-seller Imperial Hubris. He told me, “Ultimately, we have had neither the focus nor resources to find and capture or kill bin Laden et al., and so almost by default we have had to hope that our Pakistani proxies would come to our rescue. Common sense should have told us that this was never going to occur. Why? Bin laden and his men and the Taliban are heroes to the great majority of Pakistanis – they beat the Soviets and are now beating the Americans – and Pakistani political stability could not survive Musharraf killing the population’s heroes.”

Again, this is something you are just now figuring out? For real?

Which only reinforces my concern that, at this rate, my kids have as much chance of bagging bin Laden in our backyard as Musharraf’s men do in the mountains of Pakistan.

Forget about it, Jake. It’s Waziristan. Besides, your kids don’t need you teach them how to kill, they need you to teach them how to love — and, more importantly, how to think, so that when they grow up and become right wing pundits they aren’t five years too late in stating the obvious.

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