Monday, September 17, 2007

Bringing Them On


It was already tough to believe that White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend was considered for Alberto Gonzales’ slot at Justice. Despite her lengthy and impressive resume, Townsend’s published remarks never seemed very incisive, and when I saw her speak at a recent open-source intelligence conference in Washington, she largely stuck to thanking attendees for showing up and discussing how exciting the conference would be.

Now, trying to downplay Osama bin Laden’s importance in advance of September 11, Townsend mistakenly described bin Laden as “virtually impotent”:

Appearing on the Fox network on Sunday, the White House homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, said Bin Laden was now "virtually impotent" to launch an attack.

"This is about the best he can do," Ms Townsend said of Bin Laden. "This is a man on the run, from a cave, who's virtually impotent other than these tapes," she said. She repeated her claim that he was impotent again on CNN later that day.

The provocative characterisation came just days after Bin Laden attracted international attention with the release of a video in which he ridiculed Mr Bush about the Iraq war.

"There's nothing overtly obvious in the tape that would suggest this is a trigger for an attack," Ms Townsend said.

But her characterisation of al-Qaeda as impotent sits uneasily with the findings of the most recent National Security Estimate released in July, which found that the US faced a persistent and evolving terrorist threat, especially from al-Qaeda.

If you don’t know where bin Laden is, and certainly can’t produce him for trial, it doesn’t make sense at any level to characterize him as impotent. As Cascada Observer puts it, “Congratulations to Ms. Townsend for receiving her Ph.D. from the Bring Em' On College of Public Diplomacy.”

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for putting me on to Cascada Observer.)

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