bin Laden's Message
By Marvin Hutchens
After his longest period of silence since the US declared the War on Terror following the September 11 attacks, Usama bin Laden has released an audiotape of his thoughts on the war. The audio has been broadcast by al-Jazeera television and US analysts are reported to believe that the voice is that of bin Laden. The tape refers to events as late as the November 22 claim that President Bush wanted to attack al-Jazeera , and while it doesn't offer a specific date, al-Jazeera reported it as being recorded in December (Dhu al-Qi'dah).
Before looking into the implications of the tape itself, if any, we might consider the circumstances that led to its release at this time. Foremost – the successful attack in Damadola, Pakistan which has reportedly resulted in the death of at least five members of al-Qaeda's upper echelon of thugs – Midhat Mursi al-Sayyid 'Umar, Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, Abu Ubaydah al-Misri, Marwan al-Suri and Khalid Habib. Knowing that the US was aware of and not all that short of killing Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his supposed safe zone would have certainly played a role in the release of this tape. Additionally bin Laden, as we'll see in his message, is not isolated from reports on the progress of the War on Terror, from the internal barometer of the American public opinion on the war as reported in polls or by politicians aiming to influence public opinion. bin Laden must be aware of the success of Iraq's election in December and the failure of al-Qaeda in Iraq to establish local support among Iraq's people – even those who oppose the US led coalition. And bin Laden also would be aware of the impending replacement of US forces in Southern Afghanistan with NATO forces.
bin Laden's message is to address, in his words “the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the way to end it.” By containing his commentary to the war as it is fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, bin Laden acknowledges, perhaps without knowing it, that al-Qaeda is not determining the fronts in the War on Terror. al-Qaeda has had successful strikes in other countries but the US and coalition allies have determined the primary fronts in the war, and al-Qaeda is forced to operate primarily in those environments.
bin Laden goes on to note that it wasn't his intention to speak about this issue.
"I had not intended to speak to you about this issue, because, for us, this issue is already decided: diamonds cut diamonds.
Praise be to God, our conditions are always improving, becoming better, while yours are the opposite."
bin Laden then explains that the “repeated fallacies of your President Bush” are behind his current message. It is unlikely that the president is the politician most likely behind bin Ladens's latest comments as many have supplied, at least in spirit, a message similar to bin Laden's view of American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. bin Laden believes that the American public is no longer supportive of the war in Iraq and therefore, after noting that the war in Iraq is “raging” and Afghanistan rising in the favor of bin Laden's allies, he offers a cessation of activities with us. A truce. Bin Laden claims that he'd be supportive of a truce with the US so that he, and his followers, can build Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, bin Laden's argument is as dubious as similar arguments offered here in the US and abroad. bin Laden is losing the war in Iraq, he's lost Afghanistan and while he is likely to attempt to regain prominence there, his options are increasingly limited. So a cease fire would serve him well. What value it would provide the American people is not apparent. Ah... bin Laden offers an answer to that – it would be in “preventing the flow of hundreds of billions to the influential people and war merchants in America, who supported Bush's election campaign with billions of dollars.” Now from bin Laden's perspective – trying to see why the American president and his supporters might not like his option or better yet, echoing the anti-war zealots in the public arena – that is the only flaw in the plan.
It is also worth pointing out that bin Laden notes that no attacks have occurred in the US since 9/11. His reason for this is that their planning continues - not our increased security measures. While he may like to believe our anti-terror activities have had no impact, that his planners deaths, redirection to efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and efforts to avoid capture aren't significant in the lack of a successful attack in the US for over four years – he isn't capable of providing an argument to support his view. But then who could?
What this message most strikingly does is shine the light on the real difficulties bin Laden and al-Qaeda face. Rather than an adamant message of his impending victory, or of our eventual doom, this message makes arguments based on a inflated belief that the American will to succeed in the War on Terror is waining while where it matters most the opposite is more true. bin Laden recognizes that a truce would improve al-Qaeda's ability to recruit in the increasingly less supportive Sunni population in Iraq. Afghanistan does present an opportunity for al-Qaeda – if – and only if, you believe that NATO forces set to replace US forces in Afghanistan are less capable and that the US will not increase activities in Afghanistan should the security situation worsen.
What bin Laden has done by releasing this message is to announce that he is alive, perhaps signal his supporters to carry on, and once again appeal to the president's detractors in hopes for a political victory where his forces are incapable of giving him one on the battlefield.