Alexander's Column

Big budgets and bin Laden

Mark Alexander · Feb. 8, 2002

President George W. Bush rolled out his budget proposals early in the week – to the tune of “Money” – $2.13 trillion to be precise, a 3.7 percent increase over this year. Turning the spotlight on needed defense spending for the war against Jihadistan (and, more importantly, to begin the process of rebuilding what was left of our military after the last administration), Mr. Bush spoke to cheering troops at Eglin Air Force Base: “We’re unified in Washington on winning this war. One way to express our unity is for Congress to set the military budget, the defense of the United States, as the No. 1 priority and fully fund my request.” The President’s plan includes a defense-spending rise of $48 billion, a 14 percent increase, to overcome eight years of not-so-benign neglect. Budget projections for the next five years boost Pentagon spending by $120 billion to $451 billion by 2007. (You will, of course, recall that in 1993 Mr. Clinton cut $128 billion out of defense spending.)

Protecting the home front, Mr. Bush nearly doubled planned expenditures for homeland security, to about $38 billion. And he increased DHHS’s budget by about $30 billion – the largest portion of that earmarked for defense against biological attack. (All other spending increased an average of 2%, with the Departments of Labor, Transportation and EPA being cut 3.2%, 3.5% and 3.6%, respectively.)

And CIA Director George Tenet Wednesday reiterated the continuing danger of Jihad attack on U.S. citizens: “We know that they will hurt us again, and we have to minimize their opportunity to do so.” Tenet further noted anti-terrorist progress to date: almost 1,000 al Qaeda operatives are in custody in around 60 countries – many times that number are dead!

But where might head Jihadi terrorist Osama bin Laden be these days? One possibility: “There isn’t any doubt in my mind but that the porous border between Iran and Afghanistan has been used for al Qaeda and Taliban to move into Iran,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday. “We have any number of reports that Iran has been permissive and allowed transit through their country of al Qaeda.”

Our sources say that a November convoy of 50 off-road vehicles spirited 250 senior Taliban and al Qaeda members into Iran on a smugglers’ route through the hills. And one report from Afghanistan is that groups of Taliban and al Qaeda are still traversing the mountains of central Afghanistan to the Iranian border. Haji Mohamad Akram, the Saudi chef who cooked for bin Laden, says he believes that bin Laden planned to escape through Iran and then eventually end up in Azerbaijan or possibly Chechnya: “Osama had three offers of escape. One from Iraq, one from Iran, and another from some mafia types. …We received a lot of Iranian currency, and the commanders distributed it to the soldiers.”

Speaking of Iran, Mr. Bush’s SOTU reference to the “Axis of Evil” is already paying dividends! Regarding the Leftmedia brouhaha over the president’s reference to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “Evil Axis,” only the most nescient of national security observers would suggest that this shoe is not a perfect fit!

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is honored to be the target of wrath and anger of the most hated Satan in the world [America],” replied Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was more conciliatory, saying, “We are doing our utmost effort, but the reality is that it is not possible to control this long border completely.” He further promised to return to their home countries any al Qaeda or Taliban terrorists captured crossing into Iran, and pledged Iran would not develop nuclear weapons.

Although North Korea continued spouting a defiant line, Iraqi diplomats made overtures to the United Nations to discuss that pesky matter of the UN weapons inspectors barred from Saddam Hussein’s enslaved country. Testifying this week before the House of Representatives, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that “regime change” for Iraq is being planned by Team Bush – and with “the most serious set of options” imaginable under consideration. Long past time for that, but better late than too late, given Saddam’s fondness for acquiring – and using – weapons of mass destruction!

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