The election of Barack Obama
to the presidency of the United States was greeted with elation around
the world with crowds taking to the streets to express their joy from
Washington, D.C., to Nairobi. Congratulatory messages to the new
president came pouring in from world leaders and from some rather
unexpected sources as well.
The list of somewhat unanticipated well-wishers who welcomed Mr.
Obama's election to the White House included the Damascus-based
leadership of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, otherwise
known as Hamas; and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose
country was described as part of the "axis of evil" by U.S. President
George W. Bush.
Although, as pointed out by The Washington Post columnist David
Ignatius, Mr. Ahmadinejad may find himself also relegated to the
history books if Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei finds
someone else might be better suited to Mr. Obama's temperament.
"The [Iranian] supreme leader may have been content with Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran to confront a George Bush America
but is Ahmadinejad, this incendiary character, the right person to
challenge this Barack Obama America? Probably not." said Mr. Ignatius.
The one noticeable silence, however, comes from al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden
who refrained from commenting either way. The total absence of comments
from the United States' No. 1 enemy, whom the Bush administration has
been trying to track down and eradicate ever since the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the
Pentagon in Washington, is somewhat strange. One would think that this
might have been a good opportunity for bin Laden to gloat. After all,
he outlasted his nemesis.
But then again, al Qaeda's silence may not be so strange. Mr.
Obama's victory over the Republican John McCain must leave al Qaeda at
a loss for words. What exactly could he say at this time? Bin Laden can
hardly say he supports one American president over another, even if Mr.
Bush was the president everyone loved to hate and Mr. Obama, as one
commentator on the BBC put it, is the Princess Diana of American
politics. "Al Qaeda's top leaders have been silent so far," said Kim
Ghattas a BBC correspondent in Washington, "though some expect them to
claim Mr. Obama's election as their victory, and a defeat of President
But, adds Miss Ghattas, "they too may have to rethink how they deal with the 'Great Satan,' if global good will persists."
Indeed, the only "message" from al Qaeda to the new administration
may very well yet come in the next few months. It is unlikely, though,
to be a message of good biddings of fair wishes.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden's predictions during the campaign
that Mr. Obama may be tested during the first six months of his
presidency could prove prophetic. Al Qaeda may decide to launch a new
attack on the United States, marking its welcome to the new
administration and setting the pace for the next four years, as it did
with the Bush administration.
The one thing going against al Qaeda is that following Mr. Obama's
victory over the Republicans, the entire world opinion supports him and
is sympathetic to him. But then again, bin Laden is not running for
election so he might not really care what the world thinks of him.
The London-based Arabic language daily newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi in
its Nov. 9 edition cites a "source close to the Yemen-based al Qaeda
leadership as saying that bin Laden has ordered a new attack on the
United States which will be "far greater than the 9/11 attacks."
The paper identifies the source as "a former al Qaeda commander who
is still in touch with ... the organization leadership, and who asked
to remain anonymous for security reasons."
Bin Laden and his lieutenants have in the past communicated with
al-Quds al-Arabi, whose editor in chief Abdel Bari Athwan managed to
interview bin Laden when he was still hiding in Afghanistan.
According to the source, the attack is meant "to change the world
[both] politically and economically," and is planned for the near
However, bin Laden and his gang should not be fooled or misled by
Mr. Obama's different approach to the same problem. Mr. Obama's style
and policies may differ greatly from Mr. Bush's. But as president, Mr.
Obama will go after bin Laden with a determination that may yet
surprise everyone, especially bin Laden himself.