For a guy thought to be sleeping in some shack in the middle of nowhere, Osama bin Laden is certainly a hot topic of discussion. A front-page headline in the New York Times this week blares: "Bush Advisers See a Failed Strategy Against al-Qaida." Really? Do all the President's men believe that, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, Osama and his killers are prospering? Can that be possible?
Well, it depends on whom you're speaking with.
Despite the Times headline, White House spokesman Tony Snow told me that al-Qaida's capability has been severely diminished in the last six years. But, of course, Snow would say that. So who are we to believe?
A new National Intelligence Estimate released by the White House says that al-Qaida still poses a persistent threat to the United States, and that the primary operating branch of the terrorist outfit is now in Iraq.
The Bush administration thought that assessment might galvanize some Americans to support the President's surge to get the Iraqi al-Qaidas. But, in a nice piece of counter-spin, the left has used the White House's own intel to hammer it.
Thus the Times analysis that President Bush has not only botched it in Iraq but also has done little to diminish the overall threat from Osama's legions worldwide. So what used to be a Republican issue, aggressive action against terrorists, is now being framed by the left as a competency issue: Once again, Mr. Bush has failed.
For independent Americans, the chess game over al-Qaida is interesting but ultimately as frustrating as answering the key question is elusive. Is America winning the overall war on terror? The fog is so thick it is difficult to know.
The private intelligence outfit, Stratfor, scoffs at the New York Times and says, "Bin Laden is probably gone for good, and al-Qaida lacks the ability to strike in any strategically meaningful way."
Stratfor contends that since Sept. 11, Osama and his pals have only been able to launch one major operation - the train bombing in Madrid. All the rest were done by freelance al-Qaida wannabes.
And that seems to be the truth of the matter. Global terrorism committed by fanatics not formally attached to bin Laden but using the al-Qaida banner, remains a potent threat. However, the crazed jihadist himself continues to be incommunicado somewhere in the mountains of northwest Pakistan.
With that scenario in play, ideologues are free to pick their position. The right believes aggressive anti-measures have been effective and have prevented terror attacks on U.S. soil, while the left believes President Bush has made the terror threat worse by invading Iraq and failing to capture Osama.
My belief is that the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped it up and made a sophisticated terror operation in America much harder to accomplish. I also realize that "getting Osama" would involve invading Pakistan, a major escalation of war. I'd very much like to know if Barack Obama and the other Democratic presidential contenders are in favor of doing that, since they are big on getting the big O.
In the end, it is a great disservice to all Americans to politicize the war on terror. I cannot say with certainty whether Osama and his thugs are truly gaining power. I only know that a divided America makes it easier for these savages to do so.