The latest message from Osama bin Laden—an audio recording posted on jihadist Websites—is truly scary. Not because he threatens us with death and destruction, though he does. Not because he vows that the 9/11 attacks were just the beginning, though this is strongly implied. And not because he’s the kind of guy who gives evil a bad name. Although few would dispute his unique malevolence, the really frightening aspect of his latest message is its clear-headed insight into the way American foreign policy is made—and by whom.
The sinister atmospherics start out right from the beginning, as bin Laden greets his audience:
Praise be to God, Who created people to worship Him, ordered them to be just, and permitted the wronged to mete out fair punishment to the wrongdoer.
You can almost hear an organ groaning in the background and smell a whiff of sulfur. Halloween comes early this year. His Satanic Majesty continues:
American people: This address to you is a reminder of the causes of 11 [September] and the wars and consequences that followed and the way to settle it once and for all. I mention in particular the families of those who were hurt in these events and who have recently called for opening an investigation to know its causes. This is a first and important step in the right direction among many other steps that have deliberately gone in the wrong direction over eight barren years that you have experienced.
I have to give bin Laden points for chutzpah: here, after all, is the perpetrator of the 9/11 terrorist attacks calling for an investigation into the "cause" of the nefarious deed committed by none other than his nefarious self!
“The entire American people should follow suit," the Evil One continues, "as the delay in knowing those reasons has cost you a lot without any noteworthy benefit." Okay, let’s start translating, because interpretation is necessary at this point.
To begin with, the "cause" of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was and is none other than al-Qaeda, which conceived, planned, and carried them out. If we translate "reasons" to mean al-Qaeda talking points, however, bin Laden starts to make sense. Indeed, he makes so much sense that one despairs we will ever be rid of his perfidious spawn.
It may be true, as George W. Bush and his supporters claimed, that bin Laden and his cohorts hate us "for our freedom," that is, they hate America per se. That, however, is totally irrelevant as far as their operational strategy and tactics, including their propaganda, are concerned: they must come up with concrete accusations, rather than abstract denunciations based on pure theology, in order to recruit, mobilize, and spur their followers to action. They must, in short, point to the record of the United States government in its relations with the Muslim world, and there is no shortage of grievances to be found in this regard. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda feed on these grievances like vultures on carrion, and in order for his movement to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Muslim masses these complaints must have some basis in fact—otherwise bin Laden would be just another crank living on the margins, with few followers and no influence. As it is, he presents an analysis that must seem incisive not only in the Muslim world, but to any thinking Westerner:
At the beginning, I say that we have made it clear and stated so many times for over two decades that the cause of the quarrel with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who have occupied our land, Palestine. This position of yours, along with some other grievances, is what prompted us to carry out the 11 September events. Had you known the magnitude of our suffering as a result of the injustice of the Jews against us, with the support of your administrations for them, you would have known that both our nations are victims of the policies of the White House, which is in fact a hostage in the hands of pressure groups, especially major corporations and the Israeli lobby.
A government held hostage by pressure groups: who can argue with that? The corporate powers-that-be have long considered the U.S. military their private police force and have acted accordingly, using it to secure their profit margins ever since America’s debut on the world stage as a full-fledged imperial power. As for the decisive influence of the Israel lobby, it is indisputable.
After all, what other nation on earth could get away with placing an entire people in subjection, creating a system of legal apartheid, and relentlessly expanding its territory by means of conquest—and still remain the number-one recipient of U.S. foreign aid?
Bin Laden goes on to cite a book by someone who sounds very much like the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, getting the title wrong, as well as Jimmy Carter’s book, remarking on the former president’s latest trip to the Middle East, where he denounced the treatment of Gazans. Bin Laden also cites Obama’s Cairo speech as acknowledging the suffering of the Palestinian people. The plight of the Palestinians, he avers, is "tragic beyond limits," and this tragedy is made possible due to "the influence of the Israeli lobby in America," the details of which "are explained by two of your fellow citizens. They are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book The Israel Lobby in the United States."
The hate-Mearsheimer/Walt brigade – such as Bibi Netanyahu’s American PR director, Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic, and neocon Peter Wehner at National Review—are over the moon on account of this "endorsement." To the guilt-by-association school of book reviewing, the contents of a book—or an argument—matter little, but as the redoubtable John Derbyshire points out to Wehner:
"The Walt/Mearsheimer book seems, from a reading around it, to argue that lobbies on behalf of Israel are more powerful in Washington than lobbies for a foreign country ought to be, and have an undesirable influence on U.S. foreign policy. Those assertions are either true, or else they’re not. People with an interest in the matter should peruse Walt & Mearsheimer’s arguments, compare them with counter-arguments (which I can’t imagine are hard to find), and tell us their conclusions.
"Osama bin Laden thinks Jews are evil, so it is not very surprising that the thesis of the Walt/Mearsheimer book appeals to him. What I resist is Peter’s implication that his endorsement tells us anything about the quality of the book’s arguments. It doesn’t…. Arguments have to be studied, weighed, and compared with the facts of the world, not laughed out of court because some nutcase has endorsed them.
That this needs to be said at all speaks volumes about the sad state of our public discourse, yet I would take Derbyshire’s point and raise him one: the same objectivity ought to illuminate our view of bin Laden’s arguments. He may be a nutcase, and a murderous one to boot, and yet he is a very smart (and dangerous) nutcase, one whose analysis we would do well to take seriously—or ignore at our peril.
"After reading the suggested books, you will know the truth and you will be severely shocked at the magnitude of deception that has been practiced against you. You will also know that those who make statements from inside the White House today and claim that your wars against us are necessary for your security are in fact working along the same line of Cheney and Bush, and propagating the former policies of intimidation to market the interests of the relevant major corporations, at the expense of your blood and economy. Those in fact are the ones who are imposing wars on you, not the mujahedin. We are just defending our right to liberate our land."
This is what bin Laden has maintained all along: that he is fighting a defensive war, not a war of aggression, and there is merit in his argument – as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Western meddling in the Middle East can readily tell you. This nonsense about al-Qaeda establishing a "worldwide Islamic caliphate" is a rather fanciful invention, created by "clash of civilization" types who need to rationalize their view of Islam as being somehow intrinsically aggressive.
If bin Laden actually tried to recruit jihadists to the cause of somehow conquering the West, including the U.S., and subjecting it to sharia law, he would have far fewer recruits. No, he must present his jihad as a desperate battle against foreign invaders and occupiers—a role that we have done much to legitimate in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the world.
If you thoroughly consider your situation, you will know that the White House is occupied by pressure groups. You should have made efforts to liberate it rather than fight to liberate Iraq, as Bush claimed. The White House leader, under such circumstances, and regardless of who he is, is like a train driver who cannot but travel on the railways designed by these pressure groups. Otherwise, his way would be blocked and he would fear that his destiny would be like that of former president Kennedy and his brother.
Who writes Osama’s material? I suspect it’s this guy. In any case, the author of the following words surely has an unusual grasp on the essentials of our present foreign policy conundrum:
In a nutshell, it is time to free yourselves from fear and intellectual terrorism being practiced against you by the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby. You should put the file of your alliance with the Israelis on the table of discussion. You should ask yourselves the following question so that you can determine your position: Do you like the Israelis’ security, sons, and economy more than your security, blood, sons, money, jobs, houses, economy, and reputation? If you choose your security and stopping the wars—and this has been shown by opinion polls – then this requires that you act to stop those who are tampering with our security on your end. We are prepared to respond to this option on sound and fair foundations that have been mentioned before."
If any phrase sums up the strategy and tactics of the neocons during the past eight years or so, then surely "intellectual terrorism" is it. This juxtaposition of Israeli and American interests as increasingly antithetical, with the former being pursued at the expense of the latter, is similarly powerful. What’s interesting here, however, in light of recent reports that al-Qaeda is faltering, both organizationally and ideologically, is this apparent offer of a truce, or even an end to the hostilities. He’s done it before, in previous messages, but this pointed polemic has about it the air of someone who is desperate to get his message across: many of his previous pronouncements have been framed in terms of a message to the American people, yet his real intended audience seemed always to be the Arab/Muslim world. In this missive, however, with its references to American authors and political figures, one has to wonder whom he thinks he’s persuading: the offer of a cease-fire, or even a peaceful resolution of the conflict, displays an odd naiveté.
Obama, he argues, is a prisoner of his own office, who would surely suffer the same fate as John F. Kennedy if he ever tried to break the pattern of U.S. interventionism worldwide. While that, perhaps, is a bit melodramatic, it speaks to a basic truth: the American elites and the policymaking process they direct is biased in favor of interventionism, as the history of the last 60 or so years makes all too clear. Like many of Obama’s disappointed liberal supporters, bin Laden is asking: Where’s the "change"? With President Obama in office, we have neoconservatism without neoconservatives, or, as bin Laden puts it, "The days will show you that you have changed only faces in the White House. The bitter truth is that the neoconservatives are still a heavy burden on you."
He’s right about that. It’s almost like having Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz in charge, for all the difference it makes in terms of the conduct of American foreign policy. Again and again bin Laden displays his acute political sense, as well as his cruelty:
This is a losing war, God willing, as it is funded by money that is borrowed based on exorbitant usury and is fought by soldiers whose morale is down and who commit suicide on a daily basis to escape from this war.
It was bin Laden, you’ll recall, who predicted the impending bankruptcy of the U.S. as a result of its endless wars, and this fillip stings all the more since it is uttered post-crash, as the U.S. economy continues its downward slide into what seems like a bottomless abyss.
This war was prescribed to you by two doctors, Cheney and Bush, as a cure for the 11 September events. However, the bitterness and losses caused by this war are worse than the bitterness of the events themselves. The accumulated debts incurred as a result of this war have almost done away with the U.S. economy as a whole. It has been said that disease could be less evil than some medicines.
He ends with poetry:
Endless war will not tire me
For I am now fully grown and strong,
For this, my mother begot me,
Peace be upon those who follow guidance.
Endless war will eventually destroy us, not due to bin Laden’s efforts, but on account of our own. This is what they call "blowback," in CIA parlance: the consequences, however unintended, of U.S. actions abroad.
The boomerang effect is already taking a heavy toll, and it will get heavier still – which is what bin Laden is counting on.
Given the direction our leaders are taking us – more wars, and bigger ones, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Somalia—bin Laden is not wrong to count on our exhaustion and coming defeat. He simply has to wait us out – and time is on his side.
We have, it seems to me, never taken bin Laden and al-Qaeda all that seriously, and that, ultimately, will be our undoing. In him we face an unrelenting and devilishly intelligent enemy, one who knows our weaknesses and leverages them to his advantage.
The only way to defeat bin Laden is to change our foreign policy—not by putting lipstick on a pig and murmuring sweet nothings in the ear of the Muslim world, as Obama did in Cairo, but by doing a complete about-face and abandoning our dreams of empire. Short of that, bin Laden’s satanic self-confidence, I’m sad to say, is fully justified.
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