WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Friday voted to double the bounty on Osama bin Laden to $50 million and require President George W. Bush to refocus on capturing him after reports al Qaeda is gaining strength.
By a vote of 87-1, the Senate set the reward for the killing or capture, or information leading to the capture, of the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Critics of Bush's "global war on terror" have accused him of putting too much emphasis on Iraq, which had no known connection to the September 11 attacks, at the expense of efforts to get bin Laden and dismantle al Qaeda.
Right. Killing hundreds of al-Qaeda members in Iraq has nothing to do with dismantling al-Qaeda. And the thousands of NATO troops in Afghanistan have been ignoring the hunt for Bin Laden.
But the added money, and more importantly, reports to Congress, will do the trick -- this time, for sure!
Sen. Byron Dorgan, also a North Dakota Democrat, said more important than the bounty was the legislation's requirement that the administration give Congress classified reports on the hunt for al Qaeda leaders every 90 days....
Citing reports that bin Laden could be in a secure hideaway in Pakistan, Dorgan said, "There should not be one square inch on this planet" that is safe for bin Laden.
Sen. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who cast the only vote against raising the bounty, said catching al Qaeda leaders already was a "top priority." In a slap at Democrats, he added, "If Senator Dorgan truly supported our efforts to fight al Qaeda he would not support withdrawing from Iraq, a key battleground against al Qaeda and in the war on terror."
Of course, Congress could declare war on Pakistan and give the President the green light to invade the Northwest Frontier and Tribal Areas of that country to hunt down Bin Laden. The Pakistanis might, however, take exception -- and they do have nuclear weapons.
It's worth noting that at long last, Pakistan's President Musharraf has been forced into taking action against Islamic radicals in his country. That may lead to the Pakistani military pushing Bin Laden out of his safe haven in Pakistan's northwest and into the waiting arms of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Better to promote this strategy than pretend that money will somehow solve the problem.
Of course, if Bin Laden is truly imaginative (as he always has proven to be), he might see this new reward level as a fundraising opportunity. He could allow a sympathizer to turn him in, knowing that the end result will be the US Congress giving al-Qaeda a $50 million cash injection.
On the other hand, I don't understand why the Democrats in Congress don't simply pass a law making it illegal for Bin Laden to remain in hiding. While they're at it, they could pass another law requiring al-Qaeda to redeploy from Iraq within 120 days. I'm sure that in their minds, it's just that simple.