Of course, this particular reviewer the White House press office may be a little biased. Hoping to impress upon reporters how busy the boss has been since Sept. 11, the White House issued a 25-page report Thursday titled "The Global War on Terrorism: The First 100 Days." Leaving no victory unsung, the report details everything the U.S. has accomplished so far, from freezing $33 million in terrorist assets at home (coalition partners have frozen another $33 million abroad) to air-dropping 2,423,700 food ration packets to Afghan civilians. And only one mention that "much dangerous and difficult work remains to be done" in the hundreds and hundreds of days ahead.
Hard work, indeed: The war in Afghanistan has gone rather swimmingly at least compared to all those glum early predictions of a land-mine-studded Vietnam and the home front has been a whole lot quieter than many had feared. But as Washington heads home for the holidays, the first 100 days of Bush's new war behind it, the heady air of success is starting to disperse a bit, and the pitfalls military, diplomatic and political of Bush's next 100 days are beginning to multiply.
No bin Laden. No Mullah Omar. The suspected top two in the al Qaeda machine are still at large and probably long gone, and the natives are getting restless. In a Washington Post-ABC poll released Thursday, two-thirds of Americans believe the war on terrorism will be a success only with the capture of bin Laden and they want Saddam Hussein out of Iraq too, which is exactly the point at which public opinion starts to bump into that "unprecedented coalition" we've been hearing about. But how long can Bush keep those 86-percent approval ratings going without bringing home some heads to mount on the wall?
Which brings us to Phase II of the war. Bush, looking to go anywhere but Iraq next, is thinking about Somalia not a lot of pleasant associations there and Yemen and the Sudan. Maybe Americans will take to those fights like they've taken to the strikes in Afghanistan, but the folks at home aren't exactly known for their long attention spans. This time, there'll be no nasty, women-repressing Taliban for a PR stalking horse, and no bearded, live-on-tape OBL devil to focus the will. And there are no ready-made rebels to do the dirty work in those places U.S. troops may have to go it on their own.
Meanwhile, Bush is talking as if he's about to get into some very tricky diplomatic corners as he expands his target list from terrorist groups with "global reach" to those with "global influence." Only semantics? Thursday, Bush put two new groups on his assets-to-be-freezed enemies list Pakistani group Umnah Tameer E-nau and "stateless sponsor of terror" Lashkar E-Tayyiba (LAT), which India blames for the attacks on its parliament. LAT claims it's only interested in Kashmiri independence, and Pakistan didn't seem too interested in helping Bush go after them. Suffice it to say the tightrope between nuclear rivals Pakistan and India is still a very tough one to walk.
At home, the anthrax killer is still at large and may well have gotten his germs out of a U.S. laboratory and Capitol Hill staffers are about to start taking a vaccine that just two years ago was suffering from a major credibility gap.
The U.S. is still detaining 460 terrorism suspects, and so far looks to have a decent case against just one: Zacaria Moussaoui, who was picked up at a flight school before Sept. 11 and isn't likely to have been let in on much even if he was martyrdom-bound. Oh, there's one other guy but he's an American. John Walker is a media circus waiting to happen, and for all the hemming and hawing from Ari Fleischer, sooner or later the White House is going have to figure out what to do with him.
When Bush gets back to business in January, he'll be walking right into a war that's getting as ugly as any on the other side of the globe the one in Congress. Bush has made but one real foray up the Hill since Sept. 11, and his mighty poll numbers didn't prevent an intransigent Tom Daschle from slapping him around on the economic stimulus package. Now he's sent word that he'll be hanging around the home front a lot more next year, trying to slip the good war/bad economy noose that got his father. But the more he talks about things like drilling in Alaska, tax breaks for corporations, the less he looks like the leader of a noble country in a noble fight and the more he looks like a Republican.
And partisans don't hang onto 86 percent approval ratings for long.