Saturday, February 15, 2003

The other day, while speaking before the Senate Budget Committee meeting, Colin Powell made first mention (beating Al Jazeera to the punch!) of the as yet released bin Laden tape. From what I gather, Secretary Powell was anxious to discuss its contents. As it goes, he leaned forward into his microphone and announced that “once again he,” bin Laden, that is, “speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.” But did he? Did the former evildoer #1 really just release a message claiming that he was in cahoots with Iraq? And by Iraq, I take Secretary Powell to mean the current evildoer #1 (reclaiming his early 90’s position on the charts!) Saddam Hussein.

Later that day, in another meeting (there are oodles of meetings in Washington and from what I’ve seen on C-SPAN, they include numerous charts) CIA Director, George J. Tenet, also leaned enthusiastically into his microphone and declared, “If that is not an unholy partnership, I have not heard one. What he says on tape is unprecedented in terms of the way he expresses solidarity with Baghdad.” This coming from the same man who heads the organization that, after a year and a half of dusting for clues, has determined that there was, sadly, no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Even sadder, that the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq is also seemingly non-existent. That link is to be found in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but those, you see, are our friends- they’re allowed to harbor evildoers provided they don’t get too uppity.

Sensing a good thing going on, everybody in the administration embraced bin Laden’s message and parroted Powell and Tenet. It’s part of the full press public relations machine the administration is currently taking for a spin around the block. They’ve got the windows down and you can hear the bass from the sub-woofer from half a mile away. It’s all terror all the time. Terror Alert: High. If the goal is to inundate the citizenry with fear- to block rational thought and understanding- to, as they say, manufacture consent within the sticky ideals of a democracy, then the Homeland Security Advisory System is as good as tool as any. The press loves it too. The fourth estate, especially amongst the sprawling tundra of TV Land, craves nothing more then to lead off their newscasts with prudish Ashcroft and cubmaster Ridge standing before their Skittles color-coded chart grimly intoning of potential destruction…perhaps, at least they’re pretty sure, somewhere, sometime, possibly imminent and ah, possibly not immient and collaborated by numerous vague sources that can’t be revealed and,ah, might even be fabricated…anyway, back to duct tape! Following cubmaster Ridge’s instructions, thousands are anxiously going about earning their “Surviving a Potential Chemical or Biological Attack” merit badges by carefully duct taping plastic sheeting around the windows of designated rooms. When some commentators had the audacity to question the reliability of such methods (or even suggested that such talk might be its own brand of terror) cubmaster Ridge, carefully setting his Arrow of Light kit aside, shot back, “obviously, I think there’s been some political belittling of duct tape.” And how! Digressions aside (always the temptation to digress!), their argument, that bin Laden’s message somehow makes the case for his alliance with Hussein, is a false one and selectively omits the fact that, among other things said in the latest message, bin Laden accuses Hussein of being a infidel. Hardly affectionate.

In the Jan/Feb issue of Foreign Affairs Michael Scott Doran sheds some light (in the body of a larger article that joins the administration in arguing that the road to stability in the Middle-East begins in Baghdad and not, as others assert, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict) on why bin Laden might actually dislike Hussein. He writes:

“Bin Laden is a product of a radical Islamic reform movement that originated in the early twentieth century. In the eyes of its adherents this movement represents true religion itself and dates back to the Prophet Mohammad and, before him, to the dawn of human existence. Looking at the state of the Islamic world today, radical Islamists bemoan the degradation of their lands and ask, What went wrong? In formulating their answer, they hark back to a utopian view of early Islamic history- a time when, as they see it, the companions of the Prophet marched successfully against the greatest empires of their day. In that golden age, the rulers were united in values with the virtuous among the ruled, and both obeyed God’s laws.

The comparison between the idealized past and the ugly present leads them to conclude that Muslims fell into their current state of degradation because they abandoned their true religion.”

Hussein isn’t a part of this radical Islamic reform movement. He’s a member of the Ba’athist party and practices and perpetuates his own special blend of secularist nationalism- anathema to bin Laden and his fellow radical Islamic fundamentalist who desire, as Doran points out, a unified Arab world rising up against the infidels of the West. Hussein might as well be shopping at the Gap, snacking on Hostess Cupcakes and watching repeats of Baywatch. Bin Laden, like George Bush, is a firm believer in a kind of righteous moral clarity that finds its accordance in the monotheistic laws of their respective heavens.

Shouldn’t the White House respect such nuance? Shouldn’t we be calling them on their playing fast and loose with facts? Well, perhaps if the citizens of the democracy it purports to serve knew better, Powell, Tenet and the rest of the gang wouldn’t have bothered to pervert the truth to begin with. As it stands, a recent poll by Gallup revealed that a majority of the public believes that there are indeed clear links between Al Quaeda/Osama bin Laden and Iraq/Sadam Hussein. With that in mind, it’s not so difficult to create the illusion of a connection and deal with the marginal consequences of those columnists and op-ed pages who cry foul- they hardly matter and besides, their readership is minimal and eggheaded. So far as the White House is concerned, this gun smokes.

And what about bin Laden? What about the Al Qaeda and Talibon leadership that still remains intact? Sure, there have been some successes in capturing some of the lower level operatives (there are supposedly thousands spread out in cells throughout the world), that’s undoubtedly a good thing, and there was that much heralded CIA launched Predator attack in Yemen back in November that pocketed USS Cole suspect, Abu Ali but other then that the administration’s track record in regards to dismantling these terror groups has been dismal. Bush, once ready to haul bin Laden in “dead or alive” no longer mentions his name and, as they say on the psychological front, has projected all his impotence into the more tangible presence of Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden has become just another actor in the administration’s public relations show, trotted out as a tantalizing morsel of evidence on the road to Baghdad. But what are we to make of the following comments? “The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11. It is serious. They’re (Al Qaeda) reconstituted. They are coming after us. They want to execute attacks.” That leapt from the mouth of CIA Director Tenet back in October of last year when he spoke before the Joint Intelligence Committee of Congress. It made some considerable waves but Dubya refused to say his name. Progress on the War Against Terror was to now be focused on Iraq, a country that has slowly had its life blood sucked dry by ten years of devastating sanctions. (UNICEF conducted a survey released in 1999 containing strong evidence indicating that as a result of sanctions against Iraq, over 500,000 children have needlessly died.)

One last thing. You’ll recall that some time ago the White House (I think it was managed by she of the funny name, Condi Rice) asked the networks to please refrain from airing bin Laden’s messages. They feared that he might be using them to transmit covert directives to awaiting cells. The networks, not wanting their access to the White House curtailed, obliged and either aired carefully edited portions of the messages or not at all. This time around, as Maureen Dowd pointed out in her column on Wednesday, the administration encouraged its airing. The cynicism and adept hypocrisy of this move is breathtaking but not at all surprising. Bin Laden, formally marginalized by Rove decree, is now a part of the public relations effort that asks us to consider his demise by way of Hussein’s. It’s a funny kind of logic. It’s a lie.

Meanwhile, over in N. Korea

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