Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Osama All Fears

Al Jazeera has just released an audiotape that (allegedly) has the voice of Osama bin Laden encouraging Iraqi Muslims to fight against the United States and to conduct suicide attacks against Americans. “We are following with great concern the preparations of the crusaders to launch war on the former capital of Muslims [Baghdad] and to install a puppet government,” the speaker says, adding, “Fight these despots. I remind you that victory comes only from God.”

The advocates of war with Iraq have already taken the bait. Colin Powell, once a hold-out for peace in the Bush administration but now a team player, informed a Senate panel about a tape (presumably this one) in which bin Laden “speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.”

Now, does anyone actually think that Osama bin Laden, orchestator and coordinator of the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks, is stupid? Is it plausible that bin Laden thought he could release this tape without Americans hearing it? Of course not. Bin Laden was not speaking for Iraqi ears only, or even primarily. He knew America would hear the tape, and anything he says on it must be interpreted in that light.

And what could bin Laden hope to accomplish with the statements therein? The man’s explicit objective, made clear in all his words and deeds, is to bring about a holy war that will topple secular governments and replace them with Islamic theocracies. Bin Laden has no love for Saddam Hussein, because Hussein’s secular dictatorship is exactly the kind of Middle Eastern government that bin Laden opposes. And he hates the United States even more. A war between the U.S. and Iraq would be the best outcome bin Laden could possibly imagine, as it would bring down Hussein’s government while arousing even greater anti-American sentiment among Muslims.

Osama bin Laden is one wily bastard. The message on his tape goads Muslims to fight against the U.S., while simultaneously adding weight to the single argument most likely to generate American support for a war: the suspicion that Hussein is in league with terrorists like bin Laden himself. And judging from Powell’s reaction, the administration is falling for it, hook, line, and sinker. But if Hussein were really supporting Al Qaeda, then bin Laden would want to avoid war between Iraq and the U.S. in order to preserve his supply line, and making incendiary statements like those on the tape would constitute the worst of strategies. Does anyone really believe that Osama bin Laden is that poor a strategist?

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