Thursday, January 19, 2006

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Is Al Qaeda acting generous or desperate?

Is it my imagination or does this AP report by Lee Keath suggest that Osama bin Laden is getting desparate?:

Al-Jazeera on Thursday broadcast portions of an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden, saying al Qaeda is making preparations for attacks in the United States but offering a possible truce to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.

The voice on the tape said heightened security in the United States is not the reason there have been no attacks there since the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings.

"The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of failure to break through your security measures. But the operations are happening in Baghdad and you will see them here at home the minute they are through (with preparations), with God's permission," he said.

"We do not mind offering you a long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to," he said. "We are a nation that God has forbidden to lie and cheat. So both sides can enjoy security and stability under this truce so we can build Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been destroyed in this war. There is no shame in this solution, which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence and merchants of war in America."

The speaker did not give conditions for a truce in the excerpts aired by Al-Jazeera.

Now, if you click over to the Al Jazeera version of the story -- which has longer excerpts from the tape -- bin Laden says he's making this offer out of the goodness of his heart:
"This message is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how to end those wars," it began.

"It was not my intention to talk to you about this, because those wars are definitely going our way.

"But what triggered my desire to talk to you is the continuous deliberate misinformation given by your President [George] Bush, when it comes to polls made in your home country which reveal that the majority of your people are willing to withdraw US forces from Iraq.

"We know that the majority of your people want this war to end and opinion polls show the Americans don't want to fight the Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their (US) land.

"But Bush does not want this and claims that it's better to fight his enemies on their land rather than on American land.

"Bush tried to ignore the polls that demanded that he end the war in Iraq.

"We are getting increasingly stronger while your situation is getting from bad to worse," he told the US, referring to poor US troop morale and the huge economic losses inflicted by the war.

"The war in Iraq is raging and the operations in Afghanistan are increasing."

"In response to the substance of the polls in the US, which indicate that Americans do not want to fight Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their land, we do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to.

"We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war."

....Addressing Americans again, he said: "If your desire for peace, stability and reconciliation was true, here we have given you the answer to your call."

That is just so generous of Al Qaeda.

I'm very wary of sounding triumphalist, but this sounds much more like bad spin control and concern about losing the war than an act of benevolence.

I'll trust the readers to judge for themselves.

UPDATE: Fox News has a partial transcipt.

The BBC obseves that taped Al Qaeda messages are receiving less coverage from the Arab media -- and what coverage there is has become decidedly more negative.

Meanwhile, Time's Tony Karon thinks bin Laden has surfaced because he's worried about his own standing among the jihadists:

The message relatively "moderate" by Jihadist standards, in that it appeared to stake out a hypothetical negotiating position and the prospect of coexistence with the U.S. at the same time as warning of new violence was notable less for its content than for the fact that it was released at all. Despite directly addressing Americans, its primary purpose may nonetheless be to remind Arab and Muslim audiences of his existence, and to reiterate his claim to primacy among the Jihadists.... in the year of Bin Laden's silence, he has begun to be supplanted as the media face of global jihad by Musab al-Zarqawi, whose grisly exploits in Iraq grab headlines week after week.
Idunno... this sounds like international relations analysis using the mindset of a Hollywood publicist.

LAST UPDATE: Greg Djerejian articulates a few points that had been knocking around in my head as well: [W]hen I hear the word "truce" emit from UBL's lips (or, perhaps, whatever impersonator is doing a stand-in on his behalf), I conclude that we are winning the battle against al-Qaeda....

[A] U.S. attack would be a plus for al-Qaeda strategically, no doubt, if for no other reason than it would re-assert its ability to shed blood on American shores. Fine, no argument there. But now UBL has raised the ante, again, and he risks becoming the Boy Who Cried Wolf one time to often. If he can't execute a major attack in the relatively near future, even despite his explications regarding long operational cycles (it has now been over four years and counting since 9/11), his credibility continues to erode. If he pulls it off, yes his credibility is enhanced in terms of his showcasing continuing operational capability far from his current base, but still, however, he will not achieve his desired goal of dividing the U.S. public so as to precipitate a US withdrawal from Mesopotamia....

Ultimately, however, one is left thinking what a sad life bin Laden leads trafficking in human misery, or, of late, reduced to threatening mass carnage via episodic videotapes basically dumped in front of Al-Jazeera's offices. So I guess I disagree somewhat with Muhammad Salah, Cairo bureau chief for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, who says to the NYT: "The fact that he was able to record the message, deliver it and broadcast is in itself a victory for him". Well, yeah, maybe. But that's really defining victory down quite a damn lot, isn't it? It increasingly smells of desperation, of a man espying a tightening noose.

posted by Dan on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM


As long as Bush and his relationship with the Saudi aristocracy remains strong, Bin Ladden will be alive.


But if any such faith existed, it was quite misplaced. Abdullah's reforms were already being curtailed, the retrenchment having begun in the wake of a similar attack six months earlier. And despite what was reported in the American press, an end to the reforms was exactly what the bombers and their ideological supporters hoped to accomplish. To understand why this is the case -- and why one of Washington's staunchest allies has been incubating a murderous anti-Americanism -- one must delve into the murky depths of Saudi Arabia's domestic politics.

The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister.

Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

The Saudi Paradox

posted by: NeoDude on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Typical Arab response to losing big time.

Isreal has kicked the snot out of the Arabs
for close to 60 years. They have won 4 or 5
major wars and 3 or 4 minor actions.

And the Arab "peace plan" is for Israel to
totally surrender by meeting all current Arab

Nothing new here really.

Look for the LLL moonbats to grasp this
stating it shows that the US is losing

posted by: ted on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Your moronic ethnic chauvinism is showing, Ted.

posted by: ed on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Eh, to me this tape sounds like PR in hopes of gaining a rhetorical moral high ground. It's useful to bin Laden to portray the US as unreasonable aggressors who have no real interest in promoting peace or improving conditions in the Middle East. Offering a peace proposal one knows one is in no real danger of having to follow through on is a classic way to make oneself look more reasonable than one's opponent at no cost. The rest of it just sounds like taunting to me, and surely bin Laden is smart enough to know that taunting isn't really likely to make the US ease up on him.

I don't think your read is out of the question, but I think an equally (perhaps more) plausible read says that this is bin Laden trying to rile the US up (because continued US occupation in the Middle East is a great recruiting tool which doesn't really endanger bin Laden much) while playing a PR game designed to make himself look like the reasonable party to audiences in the Middle East.

Which of these readings you adhere to really comes down to which view of progress in Iraq you already subscribe to--which I suppose is a long-winded way of saying that I don't think the tape itself offers evidence either way.

posted by: NK on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

It looks like PR to me too. Zaraqawi's attacks in Jordan hurt AQ's image a great deal. So Bin Laden comes out with a proposed truce for Iraq (which he can't probably enforce anyway since Zarqawi is semi-independent), but he also promises further attacks in the US, which guarantees that there is no way in hell the US will accept this bogus "truce". So now Bin laden can claim that he offered peace in Iraq, but it was rejected.

posted by: erg on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Dan, he is obviously desperate in the sense that his organization has not thrived. But that is hardly a surprise; he never had any real operational strength to begin with. He has relied on highly leveraged techniques to get what notoriety he has.

His most successful to date:

* Airliners into skyscrapers, a huge bang for the buck.
* A few hundred fighters into Iraq, tying down 10s of thousands of US troops, at huge cost to America.

I have no idea whether the second was intentional. But it certainly is arguable. It is what we risked when we took such a disproportionate response to 9/11 in the first place.

I had always thought that the administration got off to a great start in Afghanistan, using limited resources. I was expecting to see a huge increase in special ops to go after Al Q--such as missiles out of the blue at commanders. Somehow, the whole Iraq escapade just does not fit the strategy.

posted by: mac on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

This is called "teasing".

Your playing with the enemies mindset.

Another term is "rattling the cage".

Bin laden is possibility doing two things:

1) Giving a pep talk to the Al Qaeda troops after
the air strike. Generals do this after a battle
that might have had a negative impact on troop moral.
Even if the battle was won or lost. Give a pep talk.

2)Bin laden also appears confident enough of what is
going on to play mind games. Not a good sign for the U.S.

Most advantages are still Al Qaeda's in this dirty little

The mentioning of truce, etc, is just part of the mind

However..The main reason the U.S. has not been attacked
a second time was that was not how Al Qaeda operates.

Which, for the U.S, is pure luck.

Considering the reports and observations about how well
Bush actually handles crisisses; the idea the U.S. is ready
to spot/repel another Al Qaeda strike is laughable.

The question is just how hard do they want to hit.

posted by: James on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

I think the most interesting point, is what *didn't* happen. Why didn't we get a videotape of Osama, but an audiotape instead?

Does he look too awful to be on videotape?

Is he hiding out in an area so desolate, with logistics so poor, that they couldn't get a camcorder out there? (If so, this speaks greatly to Al Qaeda's decline from the days of convoys of Land Rovers).

Would the videotape contain something embarassing, such as, say, evidence that the tape is very old and out of date?

posted by: Mycroft on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

I would think, If Bin Laden is not kidding and there is another big attack coming in the USA, then I take him seriously. If there is no attack, then you are probably right Dan.

posted by: who? on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

(1) The Hell's Angels are a more powerful and dangerous criminal organization than al Qaeda. (2) There is no war on terror.

posted by: President Merkin Muffley on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

I would hope the US had an arabic speaking american on Al-Jazeera to follow this up with a challenge to Bin Laden. That challenge being "if you want Iraq and Afganistan rebuilt...done ...that is something we agree on" If attacks on infrastructure continue, just pound the islamic media with messages like "bin laden lied.. destroying islamic infrastructure etc."
The US may suck at nation building /understanding other cultures etc. But we could win the pr battle by doing something the US can really do well ...huge civil engineering projects (Haliburton make there cash w/o having it destoyed). This could be real moment of opprotunity!(think japan & germany)

posted by: centrist on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

The Saudis have Bush by the balls, and Bin Laden knows this, and he likes to tease Bush about it.

Many of the Saudi aristocracy may find Bin Laden annoying, but he is still part of them, and have told Bush to lay off.

Georgie Boy has to kill someone, like he's killing darkies and heathens somewhere, as long as those darkies and heathens are not part of Saudi aristocracy.

posted by: NeoDude on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Does Fox News still call him "UBL," like in their scrolling lower-screen ticker? That was really annoying.

posted by: Brian on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Clearly Bin Laden wants to make any withdrawals harder to do. If we draw down the troop levels, we would be doing as he asks. He knows this.

Isn't this level of indirection exactly the same as right before the last election?

posted by: abc on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Poor Binny, nobody takes him serious any more. According to Miniter, he is jealous of the Z-man. Neither one dares to show his face. Dead Men Walking II to the theatre near you.

posted by: ic on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Don't forget, the Koran says "war is deceit." Plus, it allows for a 10-year truce if muslims think it is the only way to stop taking losses.

As a bonus, that's exactly what alot of activists and pacifists want to hear from him.

posted by: Justin on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

My question: Is Bin Laden aiming this at the U.S., or at the jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan? It's been suggested before that Zarqawi and Bin Laden have opposed each other on Iraq strategy (Bin Laden preferring to target Americans exclusively, Zarqawi willing to target anything and everything that isn't allied with Al Qaeda). Zarqawi's approach clearly hasn't worked, he's lost prestige and support. Perhaps Bin Laden is using the tape to nudge Zarqawi back to his own point of view.

posted by: kwo on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Peter Bergen, I understand, says that it's standard procedure, apparently based on religious beliefs, for UBL to offer a truce before launching an attack. And--check me if I'm wrong--I don't recall another UBL deliverance that included a clear warning of an attack on the U.S.
So though I hope UBL is only crying wolf, I fear (especially as a resident of this year's superbowl city) that the warning shouldn't be dismissed lightly.
But I was also struck by a note of wistful resignation running through UBL's pronouncement, as if he'd reconciled himself to the real possibility of a martyr's fate in the fairly near future. He cited the evidence at hand pointing in the direction he hopes--some of it, like the quote from an obscure acolyte of Chomsky, a little desperate--but still seemed to fall well short of triumphalism or even certitude of victory in his lifetime.

posted by: Rabbit on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]


Calling someone names is not generally
considered an effecitve reply.

I'd suggest that your sticking fingers
in your ears and screaming LA-LA-LA-LA
makes you LOOK like a moron.

Try again. This time use the tiny little
portion of your intellect that can reason.

You could start by mentioning a conflict
that any Arabs have won since the end
of WWII.

posted by: Ted on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

Forging an audio tape isn't as difficult as it used to be.

I'm not really up on that technology. If a major foreign power faked the tape, would NSA be able to tell?

If NSA faked the tape, would anybody be able to tell?

Suppose it's a forgery. Would bin Ladin publicly deny it? Not if he's dead or in deep hiding. And al qaeda might not deny it -- they might easily be so disorganised by now they don't know whether it's true.

So once we accept that we don't know who made it, one reasonable response is to ignore it. Another is to speculate about who would think it served their interests, to get an idea who might have done it.

When I try the latter I get an interesting hall-of-mirrors effect. It isn't enough to reason who benefits, you have to predict who *thinks* they benefit. So for example the Rove team appears to think they benefit from anything that helps their domestic appeal regardless what it does to the war effort. But we could have a rogue NSA team who actually care about the nation.

And what would anybody predict this would do to american opinion? It might seem that it would hurt dissidents in the USA for bin Ladin to agree with them, but on the other hand bin Ladin gets a lot more media attention for those ideas than they get when it's just dissidents.

So much uncertainty, it's very hard for me to predict results, and even harder to predict what any particular entity might predict the results would be.

posted by: J Thomas on 01.19.06 at 12:02 PM [permalink]

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