The Osama tape

I never believed the hopeful myth that Osama bin Laden was just a smear of DNA in a cave in Tora Bora. I mean, this was a guy who’d survived the war with the Soviets and then years of being tracked by Western and Arab intelligence services, long before 9/11, not to speak of surviving years of being a thug in a gang of thugs. He has powerful friends in Iran and Pakistan, and he’s shown he is resourceful and adaptable dozens of times. And that he’s able to learn. That’s what makes him so dangerous.
But what I want to especially highlight in this post is the way in which OBL’s rhetoric towards the West has changed over the ten years or so since he’s been issuing such statements.

From his 1995 fatwa declaring war on America, (a grand annoubcement largely missed by most people in the West)to his statements immediately after September 11, he indulged in a mixture of bloodcurdling adjectives and images, high-flown poetic themes and apocalyptic motifs–all pointing directly to the Koran as the main source of his (literar)inspiration. Since then, though OBL has taken his global notoriety seriously, and he’s been mixing all kinds of ingredients into the mix. Don’t be fooled into thinking Al-Qaeda are a bunch of ‘medieval misfits.’ They are very far from being traditional; they are magpie collectors of everything that might suit them, and that includes rhetoric.
So the tape after Madrid promised, in the land of El Cid whose memories of war with the Moor is still not dead, a truce; to the Europeans debating things endlessly in their various talking shops, such as the European Prlt, some talks and negotiations; and now on the eve of the American election, a blender-mix of just about every American pop-liberal theme, including the Fahrenheit 9/11 stuff about Bush reading the goat book to the kids instead of instantly reacting or whatever it was he was meant to do. This is a man who knows there are huge divisions in the West, and he means to exploit them in any way.
On another note it could be also said that this shows clearly that he is not quite as nihilistic as many have made him out to be. He has a definite strategy–and he intends to survive. He’s maybe rethought the death or glory thing. If he ever really thought it–it’s fine for his youngf associates but not for the great prince, the prophet, the future leader of Saudi Arabia, where in control of the oil supplies, he’ll begin to rebuild his caliphate in earnest–that is if Iran lets him. Iran and Al Qaeda are symbiotically linked because of their common hatred of the Al Sauds, but it’s a marriage of convenience..

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Jim
Jim
2022 years ago

All makes sense Sophie – except for this; why haven’t we heard from him for so long?
If he’s surviving and being supported well enough to make videos then he’s missed some real opportunities to taunt and divide.
He’s smart enough to understand the effect this will have on American voters – surely he’d prefer Kerry – so why now?

Jim
Jim
2022 years ago

All makes sense Sophie – except for this; why haven’t we heard from him for so long?
If he’s surviving and being supported well enough to make videos then he’s missed some real opportunities to taunt and divide.
He’s smart enough to understand the effect this will have on American voters – surely he’d prefer Kerry – so why now?

mark
2022 years ago

Bush’s “war on terror” (not “terrorism”, note, but “terror”) has been a joke so far. Kerry may be as ineffective and stupid as Bush; he may be less stupid but just as ineffective; or he may be better than Bush. Either way, OBL has a range of options from “not caring” to “preferring Bush’s drive to give OBL more foot soldiers”.

Unless, of course, I’ve misunderstood you, Jim. Apropos the thread about irony, saying something along the lines of “OBL’s behaviour does not gel with reality as the RWDBs perceive it. What is wrong with OBL?” is quite brilliant from a certain POV.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Jim, I think OBL hasn’t made a videotape for a while because of several factors, probably the most simple being that since he made the last one, (I think a month or two after 9/11), when was sat with Al-Zawahiri against a rock wall, he’s a/realised there are many clues in videos which may help to pinpoint your location–there was lots of blether all over the place about how the CIA was looking at the geology, flora etc as shown in that tiny bit of rock; b/he has been in disguise and did not want anyone to know what he actually looked like during that time. There’s an interesting passage in Bodansky’s book The Secret History of the Iraq War(which I blogged about earlier)which suggests that in may 2003 OBL and Al-Z were in Teheran, as guests of the regime there and that they had come as Pashtun tribesmen, with trimmed beards and, shaved heads. In this latest video, OBL’s beard is long and grey again–as it takes 12-18 months to grow a long beard back, perhaps it’s as simple as that! (He did release a number of audio tapes in that time, though). Also, there are other strategic reasons–OBL is a patient man and has shown this repeatedly. Plus there are reasons of Al qaeda politics–it’s no coincidence that this tape has surfaced only a short time after Zarqawi’s testament of allegiance to OBL, and his renaming of his band of murderers as an Al-Q offshoot. I don’t think that OBL and co give a damn who’s American president–it is America per se they hate. OBL is using those pop-liberal themes merely because he’s picked up on the idea it’s a symptom of American division, and a good thing to exploit..
Mark, I don’t see how one can say that Bush’s ‘war on terror’ has been stupid or ineffective–there have been no more attacks on America, or attacks in Britain or Australia; governments from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia are taking terrorism much more seriously, Muslim electors in places such as Indonesia and malaysia are rejecting Islamism, the so-called ‘arab street’ has certainly not exploded in revolt. Even Iraq can be seen as part of that(though I supported the war principally because of what Saddam had done to his people–after reading books like Kanan Makiya’s 1991 testimony, Cruelty and Silence, I fail to understand how one could not believe that ousting Saddam was a long-overdue necessity)–there is definite evidence linking Iraq to all kinds of terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, well be fore the war–see Bodansky’s other book, Bin Laden, the man who declared war on America’, which was published years before the war and 9/11, for direct links betwen Iraqi intelligence and Qusay Hussein, with Al Qaeda. I think where Bush’s strategy comes unstuck is a/not taking account of the complexities of the Middle East, due to a long period of indifference towards it, and failure of both intelligence gathering and not enough Arab specialists in the CIA etc–the big threat before, after the Cold War, seemed to be shaping up to be China, in the eyes of the Clinton administration and the very new Bush one. b/there is a real problem with Iran and I think that is going to be very very hard to deal with. It is a much harder nut to crack than Iraq, and there’s no way they want to confront it directly, esp after the Iraq experience, but if something isn’t done, Iran will becomemore and more dangerous. Subtlety has to be used; who knows if this administration–or a Kerry one–could really tackle it?

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Well, i think the effort to grab Bin Laden has been slapdash at the best…lessons learnt by the Ruskies in Afghan mts. obviously taken into account.
But IMHO it benefits the neo-cons in the long run to keep this easily-identifiable ‘bad guy’ around as an abstract justification to keep the war on terrorism going…UBL is their ‘bogeyman’.

Also, provides excuse to push hard on Pakistan, keep Musharraf in their camp for military & corporate strategic purposes.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Sophie, you’re right about ignorance of Middle-East history and culture and the need for a subtle touch. The Bush administration, in its devaluation of the State Department’s perspective and expertise, kicked an own goal, and they’ve tried belatedly to fill the gap in knowledge they themselves created. A friend of a friend of mine, who is a US diplomat, has just advanced his career markedly through a posting to Iraq – because he is one of the very few Arabic speakers left in the State Department. (He’s now in Paris which I suspect is a much more pleasant assignment). Similarly, the CIA purged a lot of their Arabic-speaking Middle East experts because the administration didn’t like the advice they were getting.

mark
2022 years ago

Can it still count as “ignorance” if they know full well they’re wrong, but choose to listen to ignorant yes-men (and woman) instead?