In those three years, so little that is deemed ‘newsworthy’ has surfaced about this man that a media-and Democrat made mystique has filled the vacuum, to Bin Laden’s and Al Qaeda’s benefit.
With OBL as the leader of Al Qaeda and the man behind the 911 attacks, and Bush as the leader of the United States, a mano a mano perception naturally arose, and therein the rub. Antipathy towards Bush had grown so great in so many quarters, that by the election season of 2004 and since, in order for Bush to decrease, OBL had to naturally increase! Our OBL mystique took form not because it was reality based, but because it served to hurt Bush, who, by the standards of some was and is still the real enemy. Some have identified that attitude with good cause as BDS, or Bush Derangement Syndrome.
In January 2000, pre-911 and at a time when government and media focus on this man Bin Laden was growing, writing in the New Yorker, Mary Anne Weaver wrote the following in ‘The Real Bin Laden’:
“As bin Laden’s international image and stature increase—along with his support, both ideological and financial…And each time the Clinton Administration raises the stakes, and further enhances bin Laden’s prominence, more and more disaffected Saudis flock to join the kingdom’s militant Islamist underground…”
Note those concepts of image, stature and prominence, and those being enhanced by an American administration, and the result of this being a growing recruitment and support for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
The manufactured OBL mystique is now inextricably centered on a Tora Bora narrative that has obscured critical thinking and serious speculation and inquiry. In April of 2002, only four months after we ousted the Taliban in a surprisingly fast few months, the Washington Post reported about the battle at Tora Bora the previous December in ‘Failure to Send Troops in Pursuit Termed Major Error’:
The theme was that we blew the chance to get Bin Laden by not sending in our own troops when it was a certainty that OBL was there. According to the WaPo, by relying on untrustworthy Afghan allies, we all but let OBL escape. The report was flawed, confusing hindsight with foresight. After action reports and interviews with captured detainees after the Tora Bora battle was over about OBL’s presence there are used to confirm that our military knew for a certainty that Bin Laden was at Tora Bora before and during the battle! A Tora Bora narritive unfavorable to the administration that had just overseen a remarkable victory in Afghanistan didn’t gain much traction at the time.
However, during the 2004 election, John Kerry made the charge that Bush had let Bin Laden get away, a customary campaign inspired and opportunistic reversal of a previously held Kerry position of support for how the military handled the Tora Bora campaign at the time:
Kerry lost the election, but forever ‘seared, seared’ the idea that Bush let OBL get away into Democratic-left-MSM folklore and talking points. By 2005, writing for the New York Times on the fourth anniversary of 911, Mary Ann Weaver gave us ‘Lost at Tora Bora’:
Given Weaver’s realization in 2000 about even unintended grants of prominence and stature to OBL causing enhancement of his image which serves as a recruiting device, this article is frankly stunning. Had OBL hired an ad agency to promote his image he could not have done better than what the NY Times and Weaver served up.
When Weaver writes of Bin Laden and his minions, we are given things like:
“…members of [Bin Laden’s] elite international 055 Brigade…bin Laden munched on olives and sipped sugary mint tea…dressed in his signature camouflage jacket, and a Kalashnikov rested by his side…one thing distinguished Osama bin Laden...was the fact that [he] appeared to be supremely confident…inside the caves were an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 well-trained, well-armed men.”
There is a profound difference when Weaver writes of what can be called – our side. Our SF troops at Tora Bora are not described as “elite” or “well armed”; they are described as the “only” troops we “finally” put in the fight. The Afghans we worked with are descibed as schemers, bullies, unrefined, illiterates, drug smugglers, ruthless, greedy, corrupt - as opposed to “sipping sugary mint tea like” Osama Bin Laden, who could have reasonably been described as a religious fanatic and cold blooded mass murderer!
Americans were described as passing around “suitcases full of cash” as contrasted to Weaver on OBL:
“Osama...moved through the banquet hall dispensing white envelopes... Lesser chieftains...received the equivalent of $300...leaders of larger clans, up to $10,000. Bin Laden really didn't have to buy the loyalty of the Pashtun tribal chiefs; they were already devoted to him.”
The article ends with something that reads as though it came from a Hollywood screen play in which OBL is the hero. I can imagine it may have been read three years ago by a young fabulist in waiting, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who then said to himself “Gosh, I can do that!”:
“On or about Dec. 16, 2001…bin Laden left Tora Bora…bin Laden and his men are believed to have journeyed on horseback...toward Pakistan, crossing through...the same little-known smugglers' trails through which the C.I.A.'s convoys passed during the jihad years. And all along the route, in the dozens of villages and towns...the Pashtun tribes would have lighted campfires along the way to guide the horsemen as they slowly continued through the snow...”
In the screen version, it is night and OBL is astride his trusty steed, weaving through a mountain pass, while off in the distance are flashes, followed seconds later by the sounds of far off explosions. This lets us know that the clueless Americans and their untrustworthy allies are trying to get him miles away from where he actually is. As OBL passes one of those campfires set by his loyal supporters among the little people, he smiles a bit, the wily fox who has outwitted the hounds.
When watching such a scene from a Hollywood production, it is only the boor like myself who might inquire if it makes sense to light campfires as a guide when enemy aircraft, Special Forces and local tribals are all looking to kill or capture you, you don’t know where they may be and couldn’t they also see the fires?
Then too, why would such guiding campfires be needed by OBL and company for those smuggler’s trails that the CIA used years before when earlier in the article Weaver, seeming to channel James Fennimore Cooper’s fiction about Natty Bumppo, called Hawkeye, wrote:
“[Bin Laden] knew every ridge and mountain pass, every C.I.A. trail. For this was the area where bin Laden had spent more than a decade of his life.”
That fabulist Tora Bora narrative never made sense, but was grasped at because it fit BDS thinking, and became a diversion. It has possibly caused us to miss that OBL may have gone stark raving mad or something very much like it, quite some time ago, even though evidence of that was already present and increasing. That would explain why he has been kept under wraps by the probable real leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. OBL’s image is a recruitment draw and a symbol that unifies the diverse bands of murderers who make up theAQ affiliates.
If OBL was indeed at Tora Bora, what was his view from the cave, and how would it have effected him? We know quite a bit about OBL’s thinking from his pre-911 fatwas, interviews and messages.
The narrative tells us that those Afghans going up against OBL and his forces at Tora Bora were a bad choice for us. They were, of course, unreliable, corrupt, feckless, schemers, drug smugglers and on and on. They were, though, from OBL’s point of view, also something else.
They were the same Afghan tribal folks, and often the very same persons, who made up the Mujahideen warriors that had defeated the Soviet Union, and now those folks, allied with American Special Forces on the ground and US air support in the sky, were coming up that mountain to kill and capture OBL and his men! It seems to have escaped notice in the narrative that OBL, the man who so often calls for others to die the death of a martyr in battle, fled his chance to do so, as did hundreds of his followers, yet somehow he has been spared even a minimal amount of scorn for that as opposed to what has been heaped on Bush and the US military about Tora Bora.
In his August 1996 fatwa OBL wrote:
“Who ever been guided by Allah will not be misled, and who ever has been misled, he will never be guided.”
On a meter’s scale with hustler at one end and true believer at the other, the evidence of many years leading up to Tora Bora indicates clearly that OBL red lined at the true believer end. What combination of profound shock to his fanatical worldview coupled with something like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or plain old terror gripped OBL in December of 2001, and perhaps continues?
Just before the fighting began in earnest at Tora Bora, Time Magazine published “Hunting Osama”:
“... the famously impregnable...cave complex called Tora Bora...Russian troops tried three times to take it and failed. The caves are cut into the jagged, 13,000-ft. Peaks...a vast honeycomb of tunnels...the bunker is virtually invisible from the sky and untouchable from the ground...Saif Rakhman...fought the Soviets at Tora Bora. He couldn't stop from laughing when a reporter asked to visit there. ‘If you want to sacrifice yourself,’ he said.”
Since 2004 it has been all but ignored that our alliance of tribals, a few dozen SF on the ground and US air support killed, captured or drove out the defenders and captured the place in a matter of days, with not one US or coalition casualty!
How much of a shock would that have been to OBL’s thinking? From his own writings and interviews we know what he believed of the experience of the Soviets years before, and how the Muslim ‘holy warriors’ had defeated a superpower. He believed he could target that ‘holy warrior’ force and defeat the next superpower, yet here was an alliance of such Muslim warriors and the superpower closing in on him at Tora Bora.
In ‘The Looming Tower – Al-Qaeda and the Road to 911’, Lawrence Wright goes to great lengths to detail how much, or better, how little effect OBL’s Arab fighters had in the Afghan war against the Soviets, and in a ‘New Statesman’ review of that book, Roger Hardy provides an excellent summary:
“Wright shows convincingly...that Bin Laden's military...activities in Afghanistan were negligible and sometimes comically inept. The more experienced Afghan fighters viewed the Arab volunteers as tourists at best and a dangerous nuisance at worst...at the start, Bin Laden suffered from what one fellow Arab describes as ‘fear of bodily participation’...a degree of funk that often made him physically ill on the eve of battle...the alleged victories of Bin Laden's international brigade...owe more to the fighters' myth-making abilities than to actual military achievement.”
In that 1996 fatwa OBL also wrote of the fear of the west, called by him the “crusaders movement under the leadership of the USA” that such as OBL and the likes of the Blind Sheik Rahman (who was behind the WTC bombing in 1993) will ‘instigate the Ummah of Islam against its' enemies’, that Ummah being something in the order of the collective society of Muslim believers. OBL’s view from the cave in December 2001 would have been that the possibly most capable fighters in that Ummah had joined forces with the Crusaders to come after him.
Almost every report about Tora Bora claimed that OBL had between 1200 and 2000 fighters with him. Almost every report also says that perhaps 600 to 800 escaped being killed or captured, and those numbers possibly and even probably included non-combatant family members. That means half or considerably more of his entire force was killed or captured, and the rest fled for their lives from their impregnable positions at Tora Bora.
Bin Laden has called for years for others to embrace martyrdom and sacrifice themselves for jihad. He has claimed that he and his followers will win because they love death more than the west loves life, as in his November 2002 ‘Letter to America’ in which he wrote:
“The Nation of Martyrdom; the Nation that desires death more than you desire life...”
When he and his “elite” followers had the opportunity to provide their own martyrdoms as example, they chose to flee and hide and he still hides.
How many other blows have been delivered to OBL’s fanatical worldview since Tora Bora that could either drive him to accept that he was not so “guided by Allah” and therefore “will not be misled” and possibly drive him to a breakdown.
His main goal in the 911 attacks was to force the corrupting ‘Crusaders’ to withdraw from the lands of the Ummah, the Middle East and wider Islamic areas. What he got was a vastly increased American and western presence in those lands.
- He saw Afghanistan as the birthplace of the holy jihad that would restore the worldwide caliphate and the example, where the holy warriors had defeated the superpower and Sharia law reigned. What he got was the Taliban removed from power in weeks and millions of Muslim Afghans engaging in and even embracing democracy, idolatry in his takfirist understanding.
- He would cite Somalia as an example that the west would run when they suffered even minimal casualties, and so 911 would cause the west to run in fear. That backfired. Like the firefighters of 911, the west rushed in, not out.
- He expected and said that the 911 attacks would deliver a catastrophic blow to and cause the collapse of the American economy. It didn’t happen by a long shot.
- No matter how much we now call the remote regions of the Afghan-Pakistani border a ‘safe haven’ for Al Qaeda, it falls far short of what he lost when the Taliban fell. He and AQ had state protection, could travel freely in and out of the country to anywhere without visas or passports, and AQ even had a passport office at the Kandahar airport “where likely some passports of the 911 hijackers were doctored” (911 Commission Report). Their training camps were visible and above ground and the flow of money, arms and volunteers uninterrupted and unimpeded.
- No ‘state’ would again offer OBL and AQ the type of safe haven they had in Taliban, Afghanistan. The most likely such replacements were Iraq and Iran, and the 911 Commission Report detailed pre-911 contacts between Iraq and AQ about safe haven in Iraq. Within a year and a half of 911, Hussein Iraq was gone and Iran was bracketed by “Crusader” forces on both the east and west.
- In that Nov 2002 letter to America OBL wrote of his intent to “free the Ummah, to make the Shariah the supreme law”. Much of the Ummah that has been freed is supporting “idolatrous” democracy and rejecting the AQ/Taliban/AQI notions of Shariah Law. In Iraq, Sunni tribes are gunning for AQI, having become fed up with the brutality inherent in AQI’s implementation of Sharia as AQI sees it.
- In six years, OBL and AQ have not been able to pull off any attack or even series of attacks remotely near the devastation of 911. Plot after plot has been foiled, cell after cell arrested, leader after leader killed or captured.
Just before the invasion of Iraq, OBL issued a message to the Iraqi people that was so incredibly strange that the western media for the most part just reported it, made puzzled faces or comments, and then let it go. He advised the Iraqi people that they could be victorious over the coalition forces preparing to invade by building trenches. In doing so he recounted an incredible version of the battle at Tora Bora. He claimed that he and his force of about 300 holy warriors had built trenches with disguising metal roofs on them, and by doing so withstood the bombings by the cowardly Crusaders who did not have the courage to face them in direct combat. He claimed that about 6%, or under twenty of his Mujahideen had been killed, while the US allied Afghan tribals and the US Special Forces were forced out of Tora Bora, “carrying their dead”.
There is nothing about him and his men fleeing and escaping, and certainly nothing about fleeing being some kind of victory, as the western press later presented it. After all, fleeing does not square with martyrdom.
I think I know what explains the incredible leap to trench warfare. OBL was a believer in strongly constructed defences like caves. In that dark place that the mind of Osama had become, I think he was second guessing himself about how this could have happened, and what might have prevented the disastrous debacle he and his fighters experienced at Tora Bora. Cave defenses didn’t work when a guided smart bomb would come flying past the shoulder of the guard at the entrance to explode inside, turning the holy wariors therein into something akin to fine particulates. Perhaps if they had stayed out of the caves, and hid in disguised trenches, it could have been different. That letter revealed the mind of someone grasping at less than straws, and trying to explain away an image problem and what he could not himself understand.
In his October 2004 anti-Bush capaign ad tape, one for which he didn’t have to register as a 501(c)3 like others doing about the same, OBL claimed to be “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy”.
While there could be reasonable grounds to argue whether war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq might be less than the best prioritization of funding and might be better used elsewhere, the idea that this was bankrupting the US was delusional. In previous wars the US had spent far greater percentages of the nation’s GDP and revenue than we were then and since, without collapse.
In a report updated last July by the Congressional Research Service entitled ‘The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11’, the report claims appropriations for all military actions related to Iraq and Afghanistan since 911 (2001-2007) have totaled about $610 billion.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that in 2006, Americans spent $120 billion that year alone on hunting, fishing, camping, hiking or observing wildlife, and that amount was about equal to what was also spent that year alone on all spectator sports, casinos, motion pictures, golf courses and country clubs, amusement parks and arcades. That is not a nation on the brink of economic ruin because of war spending.
However, OBL got a pass on that delusion for the simple reason that it dovetailed too closely with what some Democrats were also claiming during that election season. An enemy could get away with absurd propaganda as long as countering that propaganda might hurt the left.
In ‘The Looming Tower’, Wright relates the story (p115-118) of a camp called the Lion’s Den where OBL used heavy equipment and his construction experience to build impressive defensive works. When a Soviet attack was nearing the place, OBL became erratic, shouting at his men, and ordered the camp destroyed and his men to withdraw. The Soviets stopped short of the Lion’s Den, and withdrew. In a panic, OBL had destroyed what he his men had spent months building. As he and his men straggled back to the camp, OBL was, according to Wright:
“Chastened and unwilling to assert his authority, he let his Egyptian military commander...take charge. The sight of the needless destruction of his camp at his own hand must have been unbearable.”
The appearance is one of a man who does not takes set-backs well. Writing in "The Man Behind Bin Laden" in September 16, 2002 for the The New Yorker, Wright said this about Ayman al-Zawahiri, something he later repeated in ‘The Looming Tower’:
“One of the members of Zawahiri's cell was a daring tank commander named Isam al-Qamari...’Qamari saw that something was missing in Ayman’...‘He told Ayman, 'No matter what group you belong to, you cannot be its leader.' "
Wright also wrote in The Looming Tower about indications even before 911 of al-Zawahiri’s Egyptians seeming to try to form a cocoon around OBL, limiting and controlling access to him by those outside their and al-Zawahiri’s tight circle.
I suggest that for quite some time, OBL has been severely damaged goods, and that he is being preserved and protected as an image only that serves Al Qaeda as a recruiting tool and provides some kind of unity for the disparate AQ affiliates. In 2004, the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged bayat, or loyalty to OBL.
That was at a time when al-Zarqawi’s image was dangerously eclipsing even OBL’s. After all, OBL was still in hiding, but al-Zarqawi was in the fight, slaughtering Shias, blowing up Americans and even reputedly personally sawing off the heads of hostages. We also know from intercepted messages that al-Zarqawi’s contacts with AQ went through al-Zawahiri.
Al-Zawahiri is able to issue several communiques and videos every year. He travels around, as our failed attempt to kill him in Pakistan in 2006 showed:
Even with the very few tapes and messages from OBL over the last six years, there is strong evidence that he is something like the ‘weird’ uncle, who may seem normal in converstaion with others until he makes a comment so strange that everyone’s ‘lunacy’receptors start flashing. That puts AQ and al-Zawahiri in a difficult position. Kill him and make up a story about his wondrous martyrdom, and risk losing any semblance of unity. Wright has also said that without OBL, and I would say without the image of OBL, AQ potentially evolves into something like criminal gangs.
I would suggest that competition for succession would be a ‘divide and conquer’ opportunity for us.
Many in the west has freely granted OBL and AQ an image bonanza, when on the evidence available we could have been reasonably chipping away at something that fuels AQ recruitment.
Ironically, this may change. I would expect that if a Democrat like Sen. Clinton wins the Presidency in 2008, shortly after she takes the oath of office in 2009, there will be a reversal of media and Democrat ‘attitude’ about OBL. He will be taken apart, beginning with the theme of the man who calls others to martyrdom while he flees and hides. In order for Clinton or any Democrat President to increase, OBL must decrease. He will be ridiculed and scorned as someone who is delusional, out of touch with reality. When the inevitable questions arise as to how he had managed to maintain this beneficial cachet for years, we know the explanation will be that this was Bush’s fault, and that his administration had built OBL’s image up. I’d expect that it will be the NY Times that first puts that together.
In that 2002 WaPo piece that first claimed that we had somehow ‘lost’ OBL at Tora Bora, Bush was quoted as saying:
"Terror is bigger than one person...[Bin Laden’s] a person that's now been marginalized...[he]may even be dead...I truly am not that concerned about him."
Bush was given a lot of heat about that by the media and Democrats. It was not Bush building up OBL’s image. Just last June, writing in Newsweek, under the lede of “Bin Laden, Still Haunting Bush”, Eleanor Clift wrote:
“Asked at a recent Rose Garden press conference why bin Laden hasn’t been found more than five years after he pledged to take him ‘dead or alive,’ Bush replied with an edge of sarcasm, ‘Because he’s hiding.’..The fact that bin Laden has survived more than 2,000 days after 9/11 creates a mystique that Bush with all his taunts has not penetrated.”
It is people like Clift and the Democrats and left media that have granted to a madman this favorable mystique and AQ recruiting propaganda based on nothing more than that he has been able to hide while encouraging others to martyr themselves! The evidence has been there that it has not been Bush that has been ‘haunted’.
In WWII, a Democrat President pursued a strategy of targeting the lion’s share of our resources toward defeating Nazi Germany, after which defeat we would turn to finish off Japan. Even though it was Japan that had attacked us at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt perceived Nazi Germany to be the more dangerous and immediate threat. I think the BDS afflicted Democrats and the left are doing something remotely similar. It is necessary to first defeat Bush and the Republicans, the greater threat, and then we may turn on OBL and AQ.
Now let's go and digest OBL's current interest in the Kyoto accords.