Thoughts on Osama
Sometimes it's good to step back and let events marinate for a bit in one's mind, and the surprising Osama bin Laden video occasioned one of those "step back" moments. Interpreting the Middle Eastern mind is not easy for the western trained. We organize our facts differently as a consequence of our culture and our schooling, and the culture is the more pervasive of these influences. Add to our handicap the thought that OBL and others might not be playing with a full deck, even on Middle Eastern terms, and we can truly puzzle over what we hear and read from them.
We have a few conclusions about OBL, plus a couple more about the presidential campaign, which is really the crux of the matter, isn't it?
1. Osama is not crazy. He possesses the arrogance that comes with the conviction that his cause is just and his way of thinking is the only way of thinking. Some of this comes from his Islamic faith; I fear that much of it comes from the fact that as a (formerly?) rich Arab he has learned only too well the lessons of hate. Hatred of the west drives him. This is not insanity for OBL. It is insanity to us.
2. Osama loved Farenheit 9/11. Its narrative structure fits well with his own skewed view of George W. Bush and America. He borrowed from it liberally. (Thanks, Michael Moore, for giving aid and comfort to our greatest enemy. If this were a truly just society, your fat a** would be rotting in prison right now.) OBL, obviously fairly well informed, has seen F9-11 make a huge amount of money for Moore and, ironically, the Weinsteins of Miramax. Thus he reasons that America is rallying to his (OBL's) side. This leads to point number ...
3. Osama is negotiating with Americans in his new video. He is offering an olive branch to the voters of this country. It is an olive branch that has strings attached and no future guarantees. It is also virtually worthless in the long run for us. He knows this and doesn't care. Whether the American left will allow themselves to reason this out is debateable, anxious as they are to "letting America be America again" pre-9-11.
4. This may signal that al Qaida is weakened and needs time to regroup. OBL sidekick Zarkawi is in great danger of losing his Fallujah base (and perhaps his life) as the U.S. gears up to cleanse that city of bad guys. The remote areas of Pakistan become less safe as time passes. OBL's money supply has been cut and is a fraction of what it once was. If anyone ever pulls the plug on OBL's news network, al Jazeera, he'll have a much tougher time communicating with the troops. That may be one reason why the second terror tape, featuring the young American traitor, was handed off to ABC News. OBL needs a backup outlet.
5. Conversely, al Qaida may not see itself as weakened at all, appearances to the contrary. This may be nothing more than OBL's read (or mis-read, depending upon the voters Tuesday) of the American public. He thinks most of us are anxious for peace. That is always true. What is also true is that Americans have historically never been in favor of peace at any price if the price includes capitulation, retreat and insecurity.
This brings us to the presidential candidates and their response to Osama's October surprise:
1. George W. Bush has acknowledged the video but has not made direct use of it in campaigning. He has allowed the Dept. of Homeland Security, the CIA and FBI to do their thing in determining if it signals any specific new threat(s). He has responded directly to campaign challenges from John Kerry, to the extent of condemning Kerry's use of the OBL video to denigrate the tactics on the war on terror.
2. John Kerry's position is not enviable. ("Damn, this is a tight spot.") The obvious read on OBL's statement is that Osama wants the voters to oust Bush and begin pulling back from the Middle East, especially from our support of Israel. This does not sit well with most Americans and will probably influence a significant few to rethink their support for Kerry, not because of any new animosity toward Kerry, but because of their disdain and fear of Osama. If this is only one or two people out of a hundred, it is a significant factor. We believe it may be more than that. Events have undercut Kerry's attempt to go to the right of Bush on the war, something he wasn't accomplishing anyway. He must find a "position" that allows him to be anti-Bush and anti-bin Laden at the same time, without offending the voters. (Another irony is that as of Friday night John Kerry may finally be angry with Osama, in a way he never thought possible.)
3. Kerry's "third way" of accusing the president of outsourcing the bin Laden hunt at Tora Bora has all the appeal of shameless Monday morning quarterbacking, and it does not square with his own statements of support for our strategy at the time the hunt was on. He has no credibilitty on this issue, only criticism. That has not stopped him from shamelessly attempting to use the video against Bush. His campaign staff has been worse, even touting the Michael Moore-inspired talking points of OBL.
4. Kerry's political polling over the weekend, using the Osama video with reenforcing questions designed to drum up a supposed groundswell of negatives against the President, is positively beyond disgusting. It is vulgar. You can read all about it here. This is the question that was asked on the poll. Would it surprise you to learn that a majority of the people questioned so far gave the first (desired) response?
"I'm going to read you a paraphrasement about the release of Bin Laden's videotape, please tell me what comes closer to your view: One, it makes me think that George W. Bush took his eye of the ball in Afghanistan and diverted his resources to Iraq; Two, it underscores the importance of George Bush's approach to terrorism."It is a "have you stopped beating your wife?" question. All the emotional imagery is with answer one. The second is merely a dry statement of fact that carries no similar imperative to respond. It is an attempt to bias the poll results so that it appears America views George W. Bush as the enemy, forget bin Laden. Kerry speaks often about the divisions in this country, and yet he attempts to milk the Osama video to further divide the country from presenting a united front against OBL. (Critics will defend Kerry, pointing to his "we are all Americans" soundbite. Words are easy. It's what's you do that counts. In the next breath Kerry says, "I am uniquely qualified to deal with Osama" while his polling company prepares to mislead the American public with rigged results.
5. The American people do have a choice to make. They can reward Osama for killing thousands of our countrymen by giving him the gift of a new government that will "negotiate" and hold "summits" to end hostilities. The lives of the 9-11 dead, and those of a thousand American military men and women will have been in vain. This will make John Kerry a very happy man. It will be a short-term solution only. Osama, or others like him, will be back for more concessions from a weaker America.
Or the American people can do the right thing. They can authorize continued vigilance against terrorists, and reauthorize our attempt to create new conditions in the Middle East with fledgling democracies that may teach an ancient people a new way to think and act, a governance that will give us more in common, and give the peoples of the Middle East hope for their future. This requires disappointing John Kerry, Michael Moore and Osama bin Laden.
It is the only logical decision, at least as a Western mind perceives it.