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The OBL Tape

If it weren't for the fact that there's an election on Tuesday, I think (or at least I hope) we'd be seeing more attention given to the message itself, which is really quite interesting. Peter Bergen makes one important point:

Since the 9/11 attacks bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have released more than two dozen audio and videotapes, an astounding average of one tape every six weeks. Tracing back the chain of custody of these tapes is the one guaranteed method of finding the location of al Qaeda's leaders. However, despite the fact that most of these tapes have been released to the al Jazeera television network, US intelligence services are seemingly incapable of tracing the custody of the tapes; an abject failure of intelligence-gathering. The release of yesterday's videotape was no exception to this pattern. According to Reuters, on Friday morning, Ahmad Zaidan, the Pakistan bureau chief of al Jazeera received a package at his Islamabad office containing the bin Laden videotape. Zaidan had received a similar bin Laden audiotape two years ago following the terrorist attacks on tourist sites in Bali, Indonesia that killed two hundred people. CNN's Barbara Starr reported Friday that Pentagon officials were not surprised that bin Laden would issue such a statement around the time of the US presidential election, yet there is nothing to indicate that American intelligence agencies were staking out the most obvious recipient of such a tape: Al Jazeera's bureau in Pakistan.
This is very weird. The other thing is that Osama's message now clearly echoes what Mike Scheuer claimed he was after in Imperial Hubris -- a US withdrawal from the Greater Middle East and nothing more. The Washington Post editorial board seem to think is goes without saying that we shouldn't do this. I'm by no means so sure. The best reason for doubting it's a good idea is, I think, simply that there's no good reason to trust Osama on this topic, so taking him up on his "offer" is a bit of a moot point. Some men you just can't reach. On the other hand, insofar as this is defensible as a policy on its own terms, the fact that it at least might work as an anti-terror strategy has to enter into the balance of considerations. It's a tough question, I think, and one that deserves to be debated seriously and honestly and not just swept under the rug.

October 31, 2004 | Permalink


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» Osama Counters from Stones Cry Out
Mathew Yglesias thinks we should take Osama up on his offer, without taking Osama up on his offer. Spoken like a true Kerry supporter. [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 31, 2004 2:23:10 AM

» OBL Analyzed from Three Guys
Matt Yglesias has two great posts on the tape as well, addressing how we're not trying hard to find him and how he seems to be mocking us as a result... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 31, 2004 3:30:53 PM


I'm all for it.

Posted by: roo roo | Oct 31, 2004 1:51:42 AM

The first concern about this that occurs to me is the standard principle that one should never give terrorists what they want, as that encourages them (e.g., never negotiate with terrorists to get hostages released). Secondly, I don't see how the US can withdraw from such a strategically important area; the Bushies' lack of engagement on the Israeli-Palestine issue has already had disastrous consequences. In other words, I think we're just stuck with dealing with Bin Laden, which makes the question of why we aren't staking out Al Jazeera even more pertinent.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Oct 31, 2004 2:02:02 AM

What is meant by a "US withdrawal from the Greater Middle East"?

Posted by: david | Oct 31, 2004 2:03:29 AM


The far left hates George W. Bush with a raging fury. So does al-Qaeda. Was it really so shocking that the rhetoric of the former would eventually be taken up by the latter?

No, this tape should cause many on the left to stare into the mirror for a long time and ask, “What have I turned into? How did I become so reflexively partisan, so blinded by rage, so intemperate in my rhetoric that my own arguments are being echoed by a man who planned and enjoyed the mass murder of Americans?”

“How the hell did I reach the point where I agree with Osama bin Laden on Bush?”

UPDATE: I'm not going to go looking for too many "Well, now I agree with Osama" comments from lefties. But I had these comments by Daily Kos readers forwarded to me: "He couldn't believe that Shrub stayed in a classroom reading a book about a goat to kids while his country was being attacked. SMACKDOWN from OBL." Another one: "well I guess I have to agree with the man. Although it pains me. on a side note. Is Amazon shipping F911 to Afgan addresses?"Bin Laden's rhetoric is identical to Democrat rhetoric.

Quotes from Osama bin Laden and John Kerry.

The Bin Laden Video: Democrat Talking Points?

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 31, 2004 2:13:17 AM

Could Bin Laden hold and "protect" the oil fields all by himself?

Posted by: yesh | Oct 31, 2004 2:19:15 AM

The problem with lying, MC, is that hands the truth to your enemy, which he can use as a weapon.

I also think Bergen is off target here. It's not too hard to develop a custody chain that quickly becomes untracable.

Drop points can be checked by friendly couriers, or anonymous mail sent to friendly agents. These people would have no way of knowing who sent the package or from where.

We may withdraw from the Mid-East, but we ought never negotiate with bin Laden over such a move.

Posted by: Boronx | Oct 31, 2004 2:21:51 AM

We're going to have to give up on oil sooner or later. There's every reason to make it sooner.

You may think we can pacify the Middle East by bombing them more thoroughly. You can shrug off global climate change and Hubbert's Peak, and continue to insist that we'll never run out of oil, or that the result of relying upon it won't despoil our planet.

Doing so leaves us at the whim of every angry idiot with a few pounds of high explosive who lives in the neighborhood of a pipeline.

This is perhaps not a policy we can confidently continue for the next few hundred years.

Posted by: bad Jim | Oct 31, 2004 2:24:08 AM

Wow! The cat is finally out of the bag. We can finally use "e" word (that would be empire, not enema). For the past three years, the only folks who have had the moral and political courage to stand up and say that the root cause of Islamist terrorism against the US is the presence of American empire in the Muslim world, and that we would be better off getting out of the empire business, have been leftists, libertarians, and paleocons.

If Bergen's remarks, and Matt's post is an indication that this conversation doesn't need to be had in whispers, and on the fringes, it would be a genuinely great leap forward.

There are only two ways to end the threat of Islamist terrorism against America, either we radically transform the political, economic, and cultural landscape of the Arab world, at great cost in lives, liberties, and dollars to this country, or we develop energy independence, withdraw from the Arab world entirely (no occupations, no bases, no embassies - anything), and if necessary restrict Muslim immigration until the Muslim world decides to grow up and enter the 21st century.

You'll note that we are presently attempting option #1, and it isn't going so well in Iraq. Add to this the fact that America can't afford her current domestic and foreign policy commitments, let alone a multi-decade crusade to democratize the Arab world, and the 72 trillion dollar+ cost of baby boomer entitlements. The Arab world is radicalizing against us, and the Chinese are not going to continue to bankroll American empire forever.

A truly sensible approach to this rather pressing problem would be immediately greenlight a Manhattan Project on energy independence (to free us and our European allies from dependence on mideast oil by 2010), announce our intention to begin withdrawing from Iraq after elections, and let it be known that if any further attacks occur against America after we have withdrawn from the Arab world, we will not hesitate to bomb cities, towns, and infrastructure in countries from which terrorists hail.

Posted by: Green Democrat | Oct 31, 2004 2:27:12 AM

Fuck off , MC, I got some thinking to do. This involves some very cold-blooded calculations. I presume toy are talking about terrorism against Western societies.

If ME oil production were to go all-to-hell, who would be damaged first and worst? I would study what goes where to see. My guess is that Europe would be economically best able to deal.

Is Iran, under an Islamic theocracy, actually so aggressive? Less aggressive with terrorist support than SA, Syria, Pakistan. (Excluding terrorism against Israel, of course). Saudi Arabia is the most internationally aggressive ME nation( both terrorism and religious proselytization), and we might actually be better off with SA under an Islamic dictatorship than a corrupt parasite nobility.

Analysis like this is what you are looking for? A policy toward the New Caliphate that would look much like the Cold War, containment and non-interference. With proxy wars on the edges.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 31, 2004 2:33:28 AM

"The other thing is that Osama's message now clearly echoes what Mike Scheuer claimed he was after in Imperial Hubris -- a US withdrawal from the Greater Middle East and nothing more."

This is nothing new. OBL issued a "Letter to the Americans" in the weeks after 9/11 which made this exact same point.

The US press gave this missive absolutely no coverage whatsoever. Instead the Bush line that they "hate us for our freeedoms" went unchallenged for 3 years.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 31, 2004 3:21:36 AM

Bin Laden is obviously angling for a spot on the Daily Show. What else could have been the point of asking "If we hated your freedom, why didn't we attack Sweden instead?"

Posted by: bad Jim | Oct 31, 2004 3:34:35 AM

What Petey said. How come we have to wait for Osama to inform us about simplest and most obvious foreign policy option that is not allowed to be discussed in the US?

This situation is kinda like living in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and listening to the BBC or the Voice of America. Frustrating.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 31, 2004 3:40:38 AM

"This situation is kinda like living in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and listening to the BBC or the Voice of America. Frustrating."

Much of what went on after 9/11 didn't surprise me. The Patriot Act didn't surprise me. The fact that Bush would get approval for the first major initiative he wanted didn't surprise me (he chose Iraq).

But the universal reluctance of anyone inside this country to discuss the war aims of the people who attacked us really blew my mind. I only learned of the existence of OBL's post-9/11 "Letter to the Americans" through the English press.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 31, 2004 4:18:07 AM

If he just meant "pull all troops out of all Muslim countries except Turkey", we'd be okay.

Even if he wanted to add "Don't sell arms to Arab dictatorships anymore", we could probably do that too.

But there are some things he wants that he can never have. We won't abandon Israel. We wont' stop our "corrupting" commercial influences. If an Arab community in the Mideast wants a movie theater and an American or European company is willing to build it and ship film, that's between that Arab community and the company that sells them the movies, not between bin Laden and the West.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Oct 31, 2004 4:31:52 AM

I'd also point out that although I agree we need to lessen our dependence on oil, things will get much worse in the Middle East once their oil income dries up completely. For one, they are conspiracy-minded and never blame themselves for their own problems. They will see our weaning ourselves off oil as an attempt to destroy them. Which in effect, it will be. The Arab world will overnight become poorer than Africa and about as stable, since oil money is all that props up most of those regimes. The whole region will be a failed state with terrorists all over the place. Looking to lash out at those they see caused them their poverty. Us.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Oct 31, 2004 4:40:08 AM

We won't abandon Israel.

What exactly does it mean? There is a large popular anti-occupation movement in Israel that 'we' abandoned long time ago. Why don't 'we' support, say, Yossi Beilin or, say, Uri Avnery and abandon Sharon? All three of them are Israelis, all three are Israeli politicians.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 31, 2004 4:56:04 AM

The time change is having odd effects on the order of comments, here and elsewhere. Mine followed Green Democrat's in real time, for example.

My computer decided to switch to standard time sometime Saturday evening. Perhaps my service provider, or whatever time-stamps my posts, does as well.

Happy Samhain, all.

Posted by: bad Jim | Oct 31, 2004 4:57:20 AM


Republicans gleeful over the fact that Bin Laden is making tapes.

Posted by: Joe Hawthorne | Oct 31, 2004 4:58:16 AM

Okay, we're all auditioning for "The Daily Show."

Posted by: bad Jim | Oct 31, 2004 5:55:33 AM

OBL will not consider the US to have withdrawn from the ME until Israel is destroyed.

Oh, and what's this "abject failure of intelligence-gathering" bullshit? Shall we stick a turban on that smarmy little sneerer's head and see how well he does at it?

Posted by: am | Oct 31, 2004 6:20:14 AM

The most interesting point, that Adam touched on, is the idea that it's not only about empire. There's a large cultural component to this as well that can't be ignored.

One of Bin Laden's major complains, isn't so much the economic/military influence, which to be honest, is rather limited. Actually, it's cultural issues. The problem with the US army bases really stemed from the point that there were women! Wearing shorts! In our holy land! OMG the world is going to end!

My personal theory on Israel, is that Israel is hated because it's a symbol of the west in their backyard, not that they hate the west because they support Israel. Then you put into it, that in a lot of developing countries that Bin Laden feels should be part of the "Greater Middle East" (Pakistan and Egypt being the two biggies.), you have large and growing numbers of people who are moving in a more world-aware, secular manner (even if they are still religious, of course. Secular and religious can go hand in hand). I actually have a VERY good friend in Pakistan, who I've talked to over the internet for years.

I imagine that Bin Laden can't be too happy about the ability for "his" youth, to pick up nasty ideas such as secularism and tolerence.

So we can't really pull out. Even if we wanted to. Because it's not only about empire, there's a cultural component that can really never go away. This really is a "liberal" war.

So how do we fight it? Well, you stop ACTING like an empire. The goal is to get as many moderates on your side as you can. That way, instead of terrorist acts being "defensive", they are seen as horrible, terrible crimes and tragedies. That will give the terrorists less room to manuvere, and give their governments more support in efforts to bring them to justice.

I'm a big time hawk on terrorism. Seriously. And all Bush is doing is acting like a weak-kneed dove on this. Attacking Iraq was surrendering the actual battlefield to Bin Laden.

Posted by: Karmakin | Oct 31, 2004 6:56:14 AM

> If ME oil production were to go
> all-to-hell, who would be damaged
> first and worst? I would study what
> goes where to see. My guess is that
> Europe would be economically best
> able to deal.

Oil production is going to go to hell sooner or later due to war or just plain running out.

I put my money on sooner. Why not just start preparing for it now? Take the hit while the ME countries are still addicted to our dollars. 20 years to energy independence. It COULD be done if we wanted to. Plenty of profit for the true energy companies too (ExxonMobile does a lot of research in solar for example), but not for the Texas wannabes. Which might be the key issue.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 31, 2004 7:23:33 AM

One of Bin Laden's major complains, isn't so much the economic/military influence, which to be honest, is rather limited. Actually, it's cultural issues.

Do you have any evidence of this - could you provide a link? My guess is: no, you don't. It's just a baseless talking point you repeat.

Military interference, imperialism is what they object to.

Economic/cultural stuff is a different issue, they can deal with it. No one is going to kill you because you have Playboy magazine in your country - this is just silly. Many countries have much more liberal culture than the US but they don't attack them.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 31, 2004 7:49:14 AM

Matt, that option is sheer fantasy, and a foolish one at that.

Bad things happen when Americans withdraw from the world. Look at what happened in Afghanistan in the 90s. None of the regional players were able to get that situation under control, and Afghanistan was spreading instability in a wide arc: refugees, drugs (okay, still a problem), ethnic tensions, a spreading of the jihad northword into other Central Asian states, terrorist training camps, for God's sake ...

Then there is the oil. We want it, we need to ensure that its supply is protected. Who's going to do that? Who's going to guard the chokepoints, or at least be ready to rapidly respond if somebody takes them?

At a minimum, then, we'll have to leave enough of a presence in the region to piss people like OBL off.

Your idea is not only cowardly, but wholly impractical as well. Better to figure out how to connect the region to the world community and get its economy and education system serving its people. Consider yourself chastised.

Posted by: praktike | Oct 31, 2004 7:54:46 AM

Withdrawing from the mid-east is kinda like ending the drug wars or setting up universal healthcare- an idea that other countries can do, but not the U.S.. Seems we are now a second-world country, like Brazil or Argentina in the 70s, unable to direct our fate and likely to end up in the hands of the IMF when our military posturing has finally bankrupted us.

Praktike has the noble ambition to "connect the region to the world community and get its economy and education system serving its people". If we could do this in the U.S. maybe we wouldn't need to send troops all over the world.

Posted by: serial catowner | Oct 31, 2004 8:12:24 AM

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