OBL: Weak Horse

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Osama Bin Laden had one noteworthy theme in Friday's tape: "Your security," he told Americans, "is in your hands." Some observers have translated this to mean, "You leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone," which would be a very different message from those that he and his hysterical minions have been sending for three years.

Another attack on the U.S. could obviously come at any time, but there's a good case to be made that OBL may be asking for a truce. Indeed, The Washington Post's lead editorial this morning discerns a note of "desperation" in Bin Laden's words.

"Something is clearly troubling Osama bin Laden," writes the Post. "Could it be the millions of Afghans who eagerly turned out to vote in the country's first democratic elections this month and who overwhelmingly supported the moderate, pro-Western Hamid Karzai for president? Or the growing support for democratic government in Iraq, especially from senior members of the Islamic clergy? Al Qaeda suddenly finds itself on the wrong side of a swelling debate about freedom in the Middle East—one triggered both by Osama bin Laden's bloody extremism and the powerful U.S. response to it."

As the French Arabist Gilles Kepel and others have argued, the 9/11 attacks have backfired dramatically on the Islamist agenda. Afghanistan now has an enlightened constitution, and has just staged a hugely successful election despite Al Qaeda's empty threat to disrupt it. Arabism may dominate Al Jazeera's programming and the arguments of many bypassed Arab intellectuals, but it appears to be dead in practice, as the journalist Mona Eltahawy recently argued in Asharq Al Awsat. An important debate about the future of the Arab world has erupted, one featuring the long-muffled voices of Arab liberals. The actions of Bin Laden and of such admirers as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi have disgusted and alienated many millions of Muslims. (One Iraqi insurrectionist leader recently told the Post that the Jordanian Zarqawi is "demented" and has "defamed" the anti-occupation struggle.) There are reform movements of varying strength throughout the Muslim world, and a civil-society movement nurtured by the U.S. is gradually progressing in Arab nations. As the Post observes, there are many changes observable throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds, and many of them can be attributed to the aggressive U.S. response to Al Qaeda's attack.

Of course, the Post's speculations presuppose that Bin Laden is a rational actor. But even if he cannot be described in quite those terms, he has at least shown in the past that he knows the difference between a strong horse and a weak one.

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  1. Very good post. Wouldn’t a confidant Bin Laden say that our security is in HIS hands?

    As for the segue into Arab liberalism, what happens if the the actions of the past 3 years have alienated Arabs from Islamism AND from America? Liberalization would appear to be the alternative to fundamentalism, but not if liberalization is equated with pro-Americanism. Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa could openly align himself with America because we hadn’t spent the 80s killing tens of thousands of Eastern Europeans.

    It’s tough to be a shining city on a hill when you keep fliging burning pitch onto your admirers.

  2. While the second part of the analyis is correct, about bin-Laden having alienated as well as inspired, the first part is dead wrong. The “don’t mess with us; we wont mess with you line” has been standard bin-laden foe years, nothing at all new:

    http://www.dawn.com/2001/11/10/top1.htm

    November 2001:

    “This is defensive Jihad. We want to defend our people and our land. That is why I say that if we don’t get security, the Americans, too would not get security….This is a simple formula that even an American child can understand. This is the formula of live and let live.”

    I am not addressing whether he means it; but his rhetoric is consistent contra this post.

    In fact this last TV appearance was the creepiest threat against us yet. Before, see the old interview, he explicity said he was against the US government not the people; and that the towers and such 9/11 tagets were symbols [icons-sic] of American power and that incidental civilian death is OK.

    This last statement is a direct threat to murder people indiscriminately with even more deliberateness than before. He is putting the onus on “Oh American PEOPLE” not our government, institutions or big buildings.

    A few weeks back his Egyptian friend was on the air criticizing Hamas for not attacking Israel outside the old Mandate territory of Palestine. Then, Israelis are murdered in Egypt a few weeks later.

    This last appearance is a scary threat that he is turning away from the juicy symbolic structure targets to Madrid style body count mass murder in any place people gather. (and wasn’t an American ally also broadcasting in an American accent somewhere very recently, in the same way the Egyptian made an appearance before the American attack)

    It is partly a call for a truce, but it is also an escalated alternate threat of mass murder above and beyond 9/11.

  3. PS — It is Mona Eltahawy not Eltawahy, she is a great writer, btw. Only us commenter are allowed to misspell.:-)

  4. “Or the growing support for democratic government in Iraq, especially from senior members of the Islamic clergy? “

    The islamic clergy in Iraq is currently not in power. Until we see how they feel about holding elections when they’re unpopular, we’re just projecting support for democratic government on to them, are we not?

  5. I don’t see any desperation. The only thing UBL seems worried about, is that Bush might lose the election.

  6. Just to expand a little, the most obvious thing about UBL’s message is that, with the principal exception of Lebanon/Israel, it consists almost entirely of talking points borrowed from America’s internal political debate. This is what makes it so different from his earlier speeches and fatwas. I’m not impressed with any ‘analysis’ that doesn’t take something that obvious into account.

  7. “I don’t see any desperation. The only thing UBL seems worried about, is that Bush might lose the election.” – David

    Oh sure. That must be why he spent more time talking about the Bush family dynasty and all.

    Yes, I agree that OBL is a weak horse. Sure, he can attempt another big attack and maybe pull it off, but he’s bitten off more than he can chew and wants to try another approach as well. It’s like Kerry “telling” Bush to make the Swifties stop. Where’s the Bring.It.On. in that?

  8. …a civil-society movement nurtured by the U.S. is gradually progressing in Arab nations.

    This seems like wishful thinking (not uncommon amongst hawks). Also, Kepel argues that it is Europe’s influence (due in large measure to its proximity and immigration) which is the true progressive force in that region.

    …many of them can be attributed to the aggressive U.S. response to Al Qaeda’s attack.

    Or they can be viewed as a response to that attack itself; or they can be viewed as part of a continuity that started long before those attacks; etc. You see what you want to see Charles.

  9. Curtin, David, just stop. Maybe bin Laden wants Bush to win, so he’ll keep firing up the Al Qaeda base (heh, Mo gets it.) Maybe he wants Kerry to win, so that he’ll stop harrassing the freedom fighters. There are plausible arguments on both sides, and speculation about what OBL is REALLY thinking is useless. It tells us a lot about your outlook, but very little about the enemy’s.

  10. Yeah, joe, I suppose you’re right. Charles Paul Freund played me for a real sucker this time! I had the notion he was inviting comments regarding his post. Thanks for keeping me in line, joe.

  11. Did you not hear joe say stop?! I suggest you pipe down, mister, before we’re forced to get the UN involved…

  12. Am I the only one who actually thought OBL sounded a little more reasonable this time than he ever had before? His bit about watching the Lebanese towers fall gives him more of a motivation, and his “your security is in your own hands” makes him sound like less of a loose cannon. Which is probably exactly his plan – don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting sympathetic for bin Laden. The guy’s earlier harping on “the tragedy of al-Andalus” gives a better idea of what he’s really about, IMO.

  13. Some observers have translated this to mean, “You leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone,” which would be a very different message from those that he and his hysterical minions have been sending for three years.

    Another attack on the U.S. could obviously come at any time, but there’s a good case to be made that OBL may be asking for a truce. Indeed, The Washington Post’s lead editorial this morning discerns a note of “desperation” in Bin Laden’s words.

    i have to agree with mr hogan — only someone who hasn’t been paying attention or is trying to spin events to fit his preferred version of reality can see a quid pro quo disengagement as a change in doctrine. this endless propagandization of all who oppose us violently as mindless lunatics is utterly counterproductive, mr freund. “know thy enemy”, not “smear thy enemy”.

    as for the post’s editorial — that’s rank western wishful thinking. what mr bourne said is completely true — and furthermore, i think a distinction needs to be made between changes made as a result of unforced belief changes and changes made at the end of a bayonet.

    fwiw, arab liberals have been given great reason in the last three years to hate us every bit as passionately as islamists. even if they win the debate and modernity (for better or worse) descends on the muslim world, they will still despise us and want our armies out.

  14. Charles Paul Freund,
    You should have taken a cue from Jeff Taylor and titled this thread, “Bin Laden elects Kerry.”

    As it is, I’m predicting 30 comments tops.

    My take on Osama is, yes, he’s a nutcase, but I can see where he’s coming from, and he’s no more obtuse than most of us here.

    I think your set-up serves the purpose of delaying a serious discussion of the issues he raises. And that discussion must come sooner or later.

  15. If we’re to believe the analysts the LAT talked to, OBL’s tape is anything but desperation.

    “Bin Laden, in Tape, May Have Sights on New Role”.

    Say, if you want to see something creepy about the Bush administration from a civil liberties POV, click here.

  16. Another poster suggested BL’s kicking it in Pakistan, maybe on their dime in front of a fine TV with his choice of papers and broadband too. It would explain the “talking points” aspect of the address.

    In coming to terms with democracy, totalitarianism and military force, perchance the well-educated fundamentalist is wavering in his youthful idealism that painted his romantic portrait heroically opposing the multifarious infidels. Maybe he’s lightening up under the force of contradictory editorials.

  17. Given that even the Department of Defense was warning many years ago that interventionist US foreign policy in the Middle East ran the risk of making the United States a target of terrorists, why have we been debating terrorist motivations so much since 9/11?

  18. Truce? No, Osama seeks hudna.

  19. Regarding the supposed call for a “truce,” as long as that “truce” requires complete withdrawal of U.S. support for Israel, it’s clear that it’s not going to happen and that this reflects no change in OBL policy or outlook. Rather, I see OBL’s point as being that it’s all our fault and that we’re the ones who have to change if there’s to be peace. And since his “your security is in your hands” was stated in contrast to Bush & Kerry, the point was also that he didn’t care who was elected only what policy we follow.

    Please note that I’m analyzing how OBL was likely intending to be taken, totally aside from what he may really, secretly think.

  20. CPF is right. Osama sounded like a total pussy on this tape. In fact, the very fact that he released a tape, instead of a huge attack, as our election present makes me think we’ve got his back to the wall.

    Oh, and I would like to thank gauis marcus for arguing that we should try to reach a truce or some “peaceful” resolution with Mr. Bin Laden. I always though only the liberals in Ann Coulter’s head said stuff like that. It’s not a stawman any more!

    I’d also like to point out that that probably makes gaius marcus The Worst Human Being to Post on Hit & Run, Ever.

  21. I think this is a strong departure from OBL past rhetoric. His position has gone from ‘enough grievances to extract revenge for a lifetime’ to ‘leave us alone we will leave you alone’. This is the first substantial evidence that he has lost a bit of position. Then again, maybee not.

  22. Exactly, B. But if Al-Qaeda has lost strength and seems willing to negotiate, it means 2 things: (1) they’re probably lying, and will attack again when they can, and (2) we should take the opportunity to kill them, not negotiate.

  23. Steve-

    As delocalized as the Islamic Terrorist network was made out to be I was under the impression little had been/could be done militarily. Kind of like driving a nail in water. I’m just a little surprised. As far as OBL lying, he really hasn’t in the past. He has always made his intentions very clear, for instance trade center 1 and 2.

  24. Well, B., let’s just say that I think OSL stated desire to slay the Jews and the Crusaders and re-establish the glory of the caliphate is “still operative.” If he says something different now, it’s probably a calculated misdirection intended to get him closer to that goal. Strategery, you might say.

  25. NEWS FLASH

    I PREDICT A BUSH VICTROY.

    AND I PREDICT SHERRY PARSHLEY WILL BE ELECTED SKANK SCUMBAG OF THE CENTURY. VOT A PIGGY SHE IZ

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