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Focus on the terror threat The core of al-Qaida still survives while America commits effort elsewhere

Fidel Castro says that the United States government has deliberately muffed the war on terrorism so that it can have a never-ending excuse for its invasions, detentions and eavesdroppings.

He's dotty, of course. Although when it comes to using foreign boogeymen as an excuse for an ongoing abuse of power, Uncle Fidel wrote the book.

Besides, like the philosopher who noted that it would look the same to us if the sun really did revolve around the Earth, it should not be forgotten that the world Castro describes uncannily matches reality.

Osama bin Laden and his nucleus of al-Qaida are said to have restored their pre- 9/1 1 strength and remain untouched and untouchable in the mountains where Afghanistan joins Pakistan and nothing resembling government touches anyone.

The Taliban, so quickly routed from power in Afghanistan after 9/1 1, is resurgent, murdering young girls for the crime of going to school while providing protection for another record-breaking crop of opium poppies.

The job of securing the tiny Western-friendly government in Kabul has fallen mostly to Canada and other NATO allies, who take more of the casualties while so much of the American military has shifted to, and been depleted by, the war in Iraq. Violence is on the rise in Pakistan, a nation that really does have weapons of mass destruction and that is under the fragile control of a dictator whose alliance with the United States has so far had few benefits for us while weakening his hand among his own domestic Islamists.

President Bush continues to justify the Iraq war by linking terrorists there to the 9/1 1 attacks, though there was no link between Iraq and the World Trade Center, and the self-styled al-Qaida of Mesopotamia that does operate in Iraq is the wan Elvis impersonator of the terrorist world.

And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has a feeling in the pit of his stomach that more attacks on the American homeland are coming. To which, the highly considered policy response is, Duh?!

There is no guarantee that the final destruction of al-Qaida in Afghanistan would have been accomplished even if it had not been so unwisely abandoned for the invasion of Iraq. Other great powers have come to much grief in those mountains.

But high on the list of reasons why the United States must change its behavior in Iraq is the fact that so much was left undone in Afghanistan and in the global battle with Islamist extremists.

The powers that the Bush administration covets in this battle would be more justly and comfortably granted if there were more evidence that it knew where the enemy was, and that it had the skill and the resolve to bring the battle to them.

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