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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Bin Laden to Saddam: 'This is my war.'

I sure hope Bush administration officials are smarter than they let on with their public interpretation of Osama bin Laden's love letter to Iraq. They are saying that bin Laden's new tape proves that Iraq is in cahoots with al Qaeda — but they can't be serious about the inference they clearly want Americans to draw. ("Whoa! That settles it. Osama is hiding in Baghdad!") Bin Laden is using the crisis with Iraq to dramatize the conflict he wants Muslims to embrace; he's doing a bit of rebranding.

It doesn't serve bin Laden's purpose to pretend (or admit) that Saddam Hussein is the new Mullah Omar, but it does serve his purpose to make himself out to be the savior of the Iraqis in their time of need. Al Qaeda + the Taliban = a rogue state harboring a terrorist patron. We really did need to break that equation apart. But the Bush administration wants us to see Al Qaeda + Saddam Hussein the same way. A better analogy for their "partnership" would be Saddam Hussein + the Palestinians. Michael Scott Doran's Foreign Affairs article explains:

The anti-status quo states [in the Middle East] have inevitably played the Palestinian card in order to deny the Western powers loyal allies in the region. In the Middle East today, three major actors (Iraq, Iran, and Syria) and two minor ones (Hizbollah and al Qaeda) are all doing something similar. Their primary goal is to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia. They fear the imposition of a Pax Americana in the region and regard Israeli-Palestinian violence as a tool for keeping the United States at bay. For them, in fact, the revolt in Palestine is, among other things, a proxy war against the United States.

This is the dynamic that bin Laden's tape illustrates. He fears the imposition of a Pax Americana in the region; he regards a war between the U.S. and Iraq as a tool ultimately to keep the United States at bay — if he can turn Muslim anger into support for al Qaeda. For him, war with Iraq is fuel for his war against the U.S.

(Incidentally, Jeffrey Goldberg goes into a lot of detail about the murky state of intelligence about an Iraq-Qaeda connection. Gleaned: that U.S. intelligence reports now include not only "What we know," but also "What we don't know." Bin Laden's ties to Saddam Hussein are evidently in the "What we don't know" category.)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 12 February 2003 at 5:55 PM

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