November 2, 2004 | Wall Street Journal (Opinion Journal)
Osama bin Losin’
His Latest Videotape is Far From a Show of Strength
Flattering though it is to have the eyes of the world on America and our election, let's take a quick postvote moment to recall that America, despite its might, is not the global alpha and omega; it is neither the source of all the world's problems nor the solution. By the same token, while last week's videotape from that tall thin Swedophile purporting to be bin Laden was addressed to the American people in particular, the intended audience was clearly much larger. The world was invited to witness bin Laden swelling in self-importance to near-Michael Moore proportions as he came out with his own latest video hit, presenting himself as a man in a position to parley with American voters over matters of life, death and our democratic system.
Bin Laden is a cold killer, which is the sole reason he cannot be entirely dismissed as just some crackpot with a camera. But one gets the sense that along with sitting around watching “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he has soaked up maybe a few too many old James Bond flicks–the kind in which the villain shacks up inside a volcano with a fake rollback lake on top, a pond of pet piranhas below, and a set of threats and demands meant to sway the world. That sort of stuff does sell movie tickets. But let's set aside for a moment the words of Hollywood Osama, posturing at his lectern and counseling American voters on “the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan.” If the medium is the message, let's take a broader look at what's really going on.
First, bin Laden is afraid. That's the real message of the bland brown backdrop, the lack of any identifying trace of location. Gone are the shots of Osama and sidekick Ayman al-Zawahiri rambling through identifiable rivulets and picnicking in the locatable hills. Vanished are the poses with acolytes. And though we don't know where he is, there is no particular reason to infer from this video that he's living in style. Sure, we can't rule out that maybe he's got a villa in Karachi, or perhaps a Paris penthouse just down the block from Suha Arafat's place. But in these days of digital technology and portable generators, there's no reason you can't haul a stack of studio equipment, a sunlamp, and maybe even a lectern, down a rat hole.
Second, bin Laden's pals are also running scared. Wherever bin Laden might be, not one of the 191 United Nations-certified sovereign states wants to advertise his presence or publicly make him welcome. Gone are the days when bin Laden held court in Sudan and then Afghanistan. And whatever bin Laden's professed concern for the Palestinians, even Yasser Arafat, pioneer of modern terror in his own right, has been prudently at pains to tell bin Laden, at least in public, to shut up and steer clear. In December 2002, Arafat protested–whether it's true or not–that bin Laden “never helped us, he was working in another completely different area and against our own interests.”
These are encouraging signs. They tell us that targeting not only terrorists, but terror-sponsoring regimes, is a strategy that does in fact hit home, even with stateless terrorists.
But let's not get carried away with the idea that bin Laden is now proposing a truce, or suing for peace. Bin Laden is strictly about murder. There is simply nothing else that makes him important. Which brings us to his basic message: Do as I say, and you won't get hurt. That was the message of all those dried-up killer ideologies of the last century: Hitler's fascism and the same Soviet communism that tutored its disciples in the Middle East in the ways of terror. It was also the message of the Sept. 11 airplane hijackers to the passengers whose deaths bin Laden had already scripted in his quest to murder his way to the top of the world.
Apart from the raw threat to kill more innocents, this tape amounts to nothing more than a grab bag of ill-informed observations and hallucinatory arguments, an ad about Osama's own importance–the sort of stuff you'd expect a sociopath to come up with after three years in a cave, and the kind of thing that, absent bin Laden's appetite for murder, no one with a day job would look at twice. If you're in the market for this kind of copy, Michael Moore is at least more entertaining.
Al-Jazeera, the Qatari TV network that disseminated this latest bin Laden video, has now posted what is purported to be the full transcript on its Web site. Readers can now peruse bin Laden's views on the U.S. deficit, his sympathy for Sweden and, of course, the U.S. election. In style, this screed carries a strong whiff of those old Soviet rants in which the folks who ran the gulag would present themselves as deeply concerned about justice in the Free World. That should come as no surprise. Whatever the source, there is a tedious sameness to killer kitsch, which has little do with reality and much to do with Orwellian perversions of meaning.
For a sample, let's take just a few of the conundrums on this tape. Bin Laden complains specifically about the policies of the Bush administration. Never mind that at the same time he would have us know that murderous ideas had “bubbled in my soul” starting back in about 1982. Or that the Sept. 11 plot was well under way before President Bush ever arrived at the White House. From there, bin Laden informs us that “every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.” Some analysts read this as an exhortation to voters in America's 50 states not to vote for Bush. OK, but will someone then explain how New York–target No. 1 in 2001–fits into this picture? Al Gore carried New York by a 25% margin in 2000, and Manhattan, site of Ground Zero, is about as Democratic as it gets. Hey Osama, is New York now safe?
As for Sweden, which has perhaps bought itself some grace by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to such anti-American figures as Kofi Annan and Yasser Arafat, it might interest peaceniks of the world to know that Sweden these days is no haven of happy coexistence with militant Islam. There have been reports recently of radical Islamic enclaves in Sweden that the Swedes themselves are afraid to police.
History tells us that every age brings forth monsters. That we have on our hands a bin Laden who would like to command the world is nothing unusual. What's extraordinary is that we live in a world in which democracy is becoming the norm, in which a peeved and rambling bin Laden must try from his hidey-hole to hitch his terror wagon to an American election. That doesn't rule out his doing more murder–which is all he's got. But the world needs to understand that this is the bid of a man who knows he's losing, and hopes if he just pipes up loud enough, we won't notice.
– Ms. Rosett is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute. Her column appears here and in The Wall Street Journal Europe on alternate Wednesdays.