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Deconstructing Bin Laden's Talking Points By: Victor Davis Hanson
Chicago Tribune | Wednesday, February 01, 2006


We don't know whether the latest and much-discussed Osama bin Laden tape was recorded recently. But the harangue is still a valuable reflection of the current Al Qaeda hierarchy that broadcast it to the world.

First, things must be going very badly for the terrorists to propose a cease-fire: "We don't mind offering you a long-term truce."

In truth, the winning side does not ask for a reprieve. Losing autocrats--whether the officers of the German army in the summer of 1918 or Hitler's cadre in the spring of 1945--always "don't mind" sending out peace feelers in the 11th hour to salvage their power before they lose it for good.

That is not to say there won't be more sacrifices to come. The battles of the Bulge and Okinawa were the most costly for Americans of World War II, and ended just months before the Nazi and Japanese capitulations.

But examine Al Qaeda's plight. Bin Laden's home base in Afghanistan is lost for good. Elites of his terrorist organization are targeted from the air even in the supposedly safe Pakistani borderlands. Plenty of Al Qaeda terrorists have been killed in Iraq. Europe is suddenly galvanizing against Islamic fascism. (France even mentions the unmentionable of targeting terrorist patrons with nuclear weapons.) India has no tolerance for Islamic extremism. The terrorist sponsors of Iran and Syria are finally becoming international pariahs. And thousands of Muslims have demonstrated in Lebanon and Jordan against terrorist bombers.

Because bin Laden has failed to repeat Sept. 11, 2001, he oddly feels he must explain to his American targets why he has been unable to kill them. In a "Wizard of Oz" pay-no attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain moment, he offers us this: "The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of failure to break through your security measures."

Second, Al Qaeda's talking points seem to derive from American anti-war rhetoric, as bin Laden & Co. desperately cling to the notion that our resolve may yet crumble. Whether domestic critiques of the Bush administration's anti-terror policies are heartfelt or gratuitous, accurate or fabricated, an encouraged bin Laden doesn't care: He simply regurgitates these arguments as his own to throw back against us. Either bin Laden can't come up with any more grievances himself, or he figures that Americans are better at making his case for him.

So if American opponents of the present effort (whom bin Laden calls "the sensible people") adduce polls showing increasing anti-war sentiment, then bin Laden is likewise encouraged by "polls calling for withdrawing the troops." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) alleges that "Saddam's [Hussein] torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management." To bin Laden, there similarly "is no difference" between Hussein's jail and ours. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) derides Guantanamo Bay as an American Stalinist or Hitlerian scandal. So bin Laden rages about Guantanamo.

Bin Laden now derides in derogatory terms the "quartet of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz." How often did critics in the United States demonize these four administration leaders? And remember the media storm that followed President Bush's ostentatious landing on an American carrier at the end of the three-week war? The cave-dwelling bin Laden comments about "that fake, ridiculous show aboard the aircraft carrier."

Western journalists have written dozens of books comparing the United States to a rogue state that should apologize for its crimes. Bin Laden quotes them chapter and verse: "It would be useful for you to read the book `Rogue State.'" That is William Blum's anti-American screed that has soared in the Amazon.com ratings on bin Laden's recommendation.

Some anti-war Americans argue that Halliburton profiteering is the real reason for the war on terror. So bin Laden damns the "merchants of war in America who have supported Bush's election campaign with billions of dollars."

And, despite three successful elections in Iraq, critics here alleged that the U.S. administration had no "plan"--a charge now parroted by bin Laden: "Bush does not have a plan to make his alleged victory in Iraq come true."

Third, bin Laden conveniently distorts history to achieve victim status. Again, he relies on many Americans' penchant for blaming themselves first.

Thus, according to bin Laden's logic, Al Qaeda's unprovoked mass murder of Sept. 11 was righteous "vengeance."

Although the Taliban wrecked Afghanistan--which is now being rebuilt through Western aid--in bin Laden's self-pitying universe his own plan during a truce would be to "build Iraq and Afghanistan."

Desert oil is extracted at $5 a barrel and sold by Middle East regimes at near $70. Even so, to bin Laden, Americans have "stolen our money."

Bin Laden ends his maudlin nonsense by telling us Americans that "there is a lesson for you."

In fact, there are three lessons: Al Qaeda terrorists are losing. Their only hope is to mimic critics in the United States for ideas about derailing American military and diplomatic efforts that are destroying them. And as they go down, they play the victim in desperate search of pity and thus reprieve.

For most Americans--nice try, but still no cigar.

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Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of "A War Like No Other" (Random House).


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