Mark Steyn

Osama doesn’t matter any more

Mark Steyn says that only Democrats and Europeans will be fooled by the offer of a truce from the ‘exiled Saudi dissident’

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Mark Steyn says that only Democrats and Europeans will be fooled by the offer of a truce from the ‘exiled Saudi dissident’

You know this fellow David Cameron? Well, obviously you do. But I’m thousands of miles away and I don’t, not really. I mean, I know who he is, and I read The Spectator, and I buy the London papers when I’m up in Montreal. But I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly seen this Cameron guy on TV and I wouldn’t recognise the sound of his voice on the radio. And if I had to give a speech to, say, some Tory ladies in Banbury about the challenges facing David Cameron, I’m not sure I could plausibly pass myself off as being au courant on the talking points, the new buzz words, the frame of reference, etc.

By contrast, consider this new tape from Osama — or ‘Osama’ (I don’t rule out the possibility that it’s some Pashtun voice-over maestro from the Waziri branch of Equity). The ‘exiled Saudi dissident’ (as the Associated Press described him) had the audio cassette schlepped over to al-Jazeera so he could bring the Great Satan up to speed on his plans to rain down death and destruction on the United States any day now. But, having got that out of the way, he then sportingly offered a deal to Washington. ‘We do not mind offering you a long-term truce with fair conditions that we adhere to,’ said the ‘exiled Saudi dissident’. ‘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.’

And round about this point you start to notice that, for a guy supposedly holed up in a cave, he seems to be remarkably well informed about current Democratic party soundbites and media spin. Indeed, his withdrawal plan was presented in pretty much the same terms as the House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi would put it. He points out that most Americans favour getting out of Iraq. ‘There is no shame in this solution,’ he said genially, ‘which prevents the wasting of billions of dollars that have gone to those with influence, and merchants of war in America’ — i.e., Dick Cheney and Halliburton. It was the same in November 2004 when he popped up to pledge that Kerry-voting blue states wouldn’t be laid waste in this big new attack he’s been working on. Whether he’s been hiding out at the Cannes Film Festival or he’d just sent Ahmed on a three-day ride to the Jalalabad Blockbusters, he’d evidently seen the bit in Fahrenheit 9/11 where, as the planes hit the World Trade Center, the President stays in the Florida grade school classroom reading ‘My Pet Goat’. ‘It appeared to him,’ scoffed Osama, ‘that a little girl’s talk about her goat and its butting was more important than the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers.’ It’s the way he tells them.

As bin Laden went on making Bush the butt of his goat jokes, Michael Moore must have been calling his lawyer. ‘Did you get the feeling that he had a bootleg of my movie?’ mused the corpulent provocateur. ‘Are there DVD players in those caves in Afghanistan?’

You know, that’s not a bad question. It’s clear from their taped messages that Omichael bin Mooren and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are news junkies. They’re a lot more familiar with what Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean are saying than I am with what David Cameron and Charles Kennedy are saying. Is it possible to get premium cable service in the Pakistani tribal lands without anybody in Washington getting wind of it? According to Peter Bergen’s new book The Osama bin Laden I Know, the bin man and his lieutenants are big fans of Larry King Live. Given CNN’s ratings, I’ll bet they’re glad somebody is. Rob Long of National Review has joked for years about Osama and Saddam winding up doing the big interview with Larry, but apparently at Jihad Central it’s no laughing matter: ‘Saratoga, Florida, you’re next with Osama bin Laden! Tomorrow night for the full hour, comedy legend Dick Van Dyke! Osama, tell me about the cave. Smelly?’ Again, you’d think someone would notice Larry’s getting a 50 per cent audience share in Alizai (the other set overheated during the Bhutto hanging).

Assume for the purposes of argument that these messages are, indeed, from Osama bin Laden — that he slipped across the border after the battle of Tora Bora and has spent four years in Pakistan watching cable news and recording audio cassettes promising the next big attack on America will be happening any day now. Meanwhile, in a typical week’s foot-of-page-27 items, which presumably he catches in the Pathan newsreel before the Michael Moore double feature at the Peshawar Odeon, he hears that the Yemen government has arrested 19 al-Qa’eda followers plotting to blow up the Aden Hotel; the notoriously seething Arab street rises up in Samarra and holds a huge demo against’eda; a BBC poll finds that Afghans and Iraqis are among the happiest people in the world (BBC coverage of their respective quagmires notwithstanding); and, just to cap a grand start to 2006, a bunch of Hellfire missiles rain down on the remote village of Damadola, killing four of your top deputies at a dinner party to plan that next big attack.

Who exactly is in need of the ‘truce’ here? Head office has already been obliged to send a memo to al-Zarkawi’s franchise in Iraq advising him to ease up on the bombings of mosques and shopping markets and the assassination of respected septuagenarian Sunni imams and so forth, and gently hinting that the marketing department wouldn’t mind seeing a return to the days when al-Qa’eda killed — what’s the word? — infidels.

And at the end of the day Osama switches on the TV and watches Larry King interview Ann-Margret.

It is almost four years since I mooted that the bin man had gone to the virgins. If he hasn’t, then I wonder what he makes — beyond the desperate ‘truce’ gambit offered as a cynical enticement to Democrats and Europeans — of the way things are going. Afghanistan will never be his again. The House of Saud’s double-game is a lot more one-sided these days. And, as the visit of General Musharraf’s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to Washington made plain, the prospect of Talebanising Pakistan has slipped beyond Osama’s grasp: the AQ Khan network has been busted up, there are said to be American ‘observers’ at the nuke facilities, and the ISI, the country’s deeply duplicitous intelligence service, is on a tight leash. President Bush underlined to Shaukat Aziz this week that America intends to continue exercising its right of hot pursuit and either send choppers into Pakistan to seize suspects or cut to the chase and blow up their homes. On the whole, Musharraf is cool with that: if someone has to incinerate remote villages, he’d rather it was the Great Satan. For his part, Bush is happy for the General to be as co-operative as he can without getting assassinated. Eighteen people died in the attack on Damadola, and OK, some of them were women and children, but others were men Osama can ill afford to lose, and at one of the three houses reduced to rubble his Number Two, al-Zawahiri himself, is known to have swung by for dinner from time to time. Sorry, but that’s war: you have the enemy round for cocktails, your pad’s on the target list from then on. And yes, it means your wife’s sister, who’s never been terribly political and indeed didn’t utter a word all night, gets incinerated with the al-Qa’eda mastermind. ‘Message: I don’t care,’ as George Bush Sr might say.

Bin Laden supposedly staged 9/11 because he was having a hard time getting Americ a’s attention. Through the 1990s, he blew up embassies and barracks, and Bill Clinton could barely zip his pants up long enough to lob a token cruise missile at an empty tent. In 2000, al-Qa’eda attacked the USS Cole in harbour and killed 17 sailors. The Defense Secretary, Bill Cohen, advised Mr Clinton that the attack ‘was not sufficiently provocative’ to warrant a response. So a year later Osama tried again — and this time he got his response.

He was convinced that, if you drew America into war, it would lose. Al-Qa’eda has no fear of superpowers. It believes it brought down the Soviet Union, which was weak but vicious. So America, being weak and decadent, should have been a piece of cake. Osama’s entire strategy was based on the notion that Americans are soft and pampered and just can’t hack a real war with real enemies. And, given the amount of CNN and BBC he watches, why wouldn’t he think that?

The Left likes to bleat that ‘America created Osama bin Laden’ and, like so many of its cheap sneers, it never thinks beyond that to the logical question: why did it create bin Laden? Right now, the Democrats and media are engaging in a big ol’ song’n’dance about oversight of intelligence operations. Congressional oversight, judicial oversight, bureaucratic oversight, the more memos to fill, the more forms to file, the better. Whether or not any country needs an intelligence service, nobody needs an intelligence service that has to do everything with the lights up, in public, in triplicate. In the 1970s, Congress dramatically reined in the CIA, gutting clandestine and covert operations. Then at the end of the decade the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and, with the loss of the Shah in Iran, even the Carter administration was smart enough to wonder: what if they don’t stop in Kabul? What if they decide to press on — to Tehran and the Gulf?

So they decide to take the precaution of bogging them down in Afghanistan. In post-Watergate Washington, you can’t put down ‘Covert Operation to destabilise the Hindu Kush’ as a line item on the Federal budget. So the administration has a quiet word with their chums in the region, and the House of Saud, whose expenditures are subject to less rigorous audits than the CIA’s, agrees to pony up the cash and run the recruitment ads, and Pakistan’s ISI comes on board as the local liaison. The Democrats rage all the time about the ‘outsourcing’ of American jobs to the Third World, but the outsourcing of a critical anti-Soviet operation reverberated all the way to 9/11. It dramatically enhanced both the reach and prestige of Saudi Wahabism and the ISI, and it deluded the jihadi into believing they’d overthrown the Soviet Union because the Great Satan was a big sissy who was too scared to do it himself.

Now what’s left of al-Qaeda’s leadership sits around a semi-ruined village crossing names out of its Rolodex — the A-list Saudi princes who no longer return calls — and hoping that the next time one of its freelance operations kills a bunch of people, they won’t be yet another bunch of Muslims, as they have been remorselessly in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, etc. Yet every time they switch on the TV, there are the experts bleating about the Iraqi quagmire and Democrats asserting that an historically low rate of casualties is too high a price to pay and we need to skedaddle out of there. You can’t blame Osama or whoever makes his audio tapes for being confused. I’ve written before about the media bubble — the tendency of Democrats and the press to reinforce each other’s illusions. But I’m saddened to think you can be halfway round the globe in some of the wildest turf on earth where no state’s writ runs and still be trapped in the media bubble. Osama may be the most pitiful example of a man who made the mistake of confusing media conventional wisdom with reality.

In the old days he was a smarter than average nutter. He created a terror organisation whose diffused structure made it hard for its enemies to tell whether they were winning against it. But, by the same token, that structure also makes it hard for him to tell whether he’s winning against us. And right now, as that whiney loser cassette tape suggests, they’re the ones who could use a victory. Osama bin Laden is, in that sense, just another symptom rather than the cause of our recent troubles. The spread of Wahabism, which Prince Turki and others persuaded the CIA to use as a strategic asset of convenience, is a bigger problem. And the Saudi-funded radicalisation of Muslim populations around the world is a bigger one still, and may yet prove terminal for parts of Europe.

But a man in Waziristan or Overtheristan watching Cindy Sheehan on CNN? He’s not what it’s about any more.

© Mark Steyn, 2006