Well, I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall yesterday. My guess is, though, that this wasn’t as “candid” a meeting as advertised–more of a spin operation to help the moderate Republicans in iffy districts. (Note the presence of Karl Rove at the meeting.) A day earlier, Bush held a similar session with 14 Blue Dog Democrats, one of whom told me that it was mostly “Al Qaeda’s coming to get your mama…”
It’s interesting how Bush has shifted on and off the Al Qaeda theme. (Reality check: foreign fighters have never been a big part of the insurgency, fewer than 5% at the very most.) The Al Qaeda scarenario is on in a big way now, despite the fact that real progress is finally being made against the bad guys in Iraq–the foreign fighters in al-Anbar province. Which reminds me of a story: Back in the autumn of 2003, several U.S. military intelligence officers approached CPA administrator Jerry Bremer with a plan: They had negotiated a deal with 19 Dulaimi sub-tribes in Anbar–we give them money and spiffy local police uniforms and they come over to our side, and perhaps even convey some intel about traffic coming across the Syrian border. Bremer’s reaction was negative: “Tribes are part of the past. They have no place in the New Democratic Iraq.”
So now, finally, we’re making some progress by cooperating with the tribes in Anbar. Only took four years. Most important, the actions there could have the effect of undermining Bush’s last big rationale for the war–that the real reason we’re in Iraq is that we’re fighting Al Qaeda. The indigenous Sunnis are fighting the interlopers and there is every reason to believe that Iraqis will finish off the foreign extremists when we leave.
Caveat: The is not to say that Al Qaeda’s central command isn’t a real and continuing threat. In fact, there is growing fear in the intelligence community that AQ is preparing another attack on U.S. assets, perhaps even here at home.