NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel has been watching new developments in the effort to defeat al-Qaida and capture Osama bin Laden.

TED KOPPEL: Perhaps you've seen those two little animated television characters who tilt the virtues of a full-bodied Irish brew that shall go nameless on this commercial-free public radio network. Anyway, one animated numb scholar shouts out a brainless idea and the other responds by yelling, brilliant. The U.S. Senate and the Bush administration might consider adopting them as mascots.

This past weekend, the Senate voted 87 to 1 to double the bounty on Osama bin Laden from twenty-five to fifty million dollars. Brilliant. If, as believed, bin Laden is hold up in the northwestern badlands of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, the average salary in the region is about $250 a year. If 25 million wasn't enough to capture the local imagination, 50 will surely do the trick.

You know what happens in a situation like this? A lot of very smart people - and the Senate has a lot of them - start imagining what their opponents' campaign commercials would sound like next year if they voted against this bill. We wanted to increase the bounty on Osama bin Laden, but Senator bludged(ph) voted against the bill to bring bin Laden to justice, and so on.

Just a harmless bit of silliness then? No. For the better part of six years now, we have inflated the legend of Osama bin Laden and turned al-Qaida into the most successful franchise since McDonald's. What the Senate should have done is to withdraw the $25 million bounty on bin Laden's head and replaced it with a $500 reward.

Still, two years worth of money in the region, but also a clear indication that bin Laden is regarded as less influential, less important and even less dangerous than he was back in 2001. Why in the name of all that's sensible is the United States inflating the man's image?

Then, of course, there is the possibility that al-Qaida and the Taliban may be running short of money. Not to worry, the U.S. Agency for International Development has just announced the plan to pour $750 million worth of aid into the very Pakistani tribal areas in which bin Laden has reportedly taken refuge.

This, mind you, is an area in which the United States has no influence whatsoever, and neither does the government of Pakistan. Presumably, all of that will change if we just leave $150 million worth of goods there each year for the next five without anyone from our team to supervise distribution.

The two little Irish beer salesmen would have a word for that - brilliant.

This is Ted Koppel.

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