Let’s look back for a minute at yet another week of orange alerts and mad trips to Wal-Mart for transistor radios and gallon jugs of water. Osama bin Laden, the mass murderer our president vowed to capture "dead or alive," unleashed a chilling taped message, letting us know he’s still very much alive and that he wants us all dead—particularly on the occasion of our upcoming takeover of Baghdad. And the Bush administration’s reaction, via the mouth of the suddenly-everywhere Colin Powell, was: See, we told you Saddam Hussein is public enemy number one.
Here we are, scrambling to secure potassium iodide tablets and making emergency contingency plans with loved ones because former Al Qaeda operatives in custody have supposedly warned of chemical, biological or nuclear attacks and because Osama has called for suicide missions. And yet, we strangely didn’t hear our cowboy President say, "We’ve just got to round up that monstrous evildoer once and for all!"
No, the Bushies’ response was to send 20,000 more troops to the Persian Gulf for the invasion of Iraq while telegraphing their weekly slam of France and Germany as lily-livered. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld keeps implying that we saved their "Old Europe" asses in two wars and now the ingrates are wimping out on us—even though both countries, and Germany in particular, have done more to crack the global networks of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists, including Al Qaeda and certainly within the past two weeks, than has John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.
But Qaeda shmaeda—it’s Iraq or bust!
Some of the more bilious right-wing pundits—and shamefully, the Washington Post editorial page editors—have taken to describing those who oppose the invasion as "siding with Saddam." (As Joe Conason pointed out, they have, however, curiously excluded the Pope in their screeds.) But if such sleazy rhetoric is allowable, then maybe we should say that those like our President, who seem to have ignored Osama’s decrees, or like Powell, who are hawking a Saddam/Al Qaeda connection based on overblown evidence, are standing with Osama. Yeah, that might be as scurrilous as the right’s "standing with Saddam" smear. But surely Osama is pretty damned satisfied so far, having caused much of the havoc—not to mention the possible massive global conflict—he has set out to cause in what is clearly just phase one of Al Qaeda’s worldwide campaign of terror.
Just look at what’s happening. Americans and many others in the West are afraid to use subways, bridges and tunnels, literally running for the hills and doing what they often do when crisis strikes: compulsively buying things to comfort themselves, from duct tape to plastic sheets, all of which will be pretty useless anyway. Black Hawk helicopters are flying over our cities, machine-gun-toting National Guardsmen are roaming shopping malls and surface-to-air missile batteries have been hauled onto the Mall in Washington. Under cover of our "war on terrorism," we’re about to instigate a military conflict that could topple one of the very secular Arab leaders that Osama despises. That could cause the very unrest throughout the Arab world that he thrives upon too, perhaps even bringing down already unstable governments, such as that of Pakistan. The future of Iraq after the war, meanwhile, is surely uncertain, with enough religious fundamentalists in the region to fill in the vacuum once we get tired of spending billions of dollars to keep the country afloat, or are driven out by suicide attacks and the like—as occurred in Lebanon in the 80s.
NATO has gone into a meltdown. The United Nations is overwhelmed and increasingly diminished by Bush/Rummy thuggish bluster. Bush’s response to Osama was to label and define the "axis of evil," and North Korea’s response to being included in it was to make nuclear threats against the U.S. (and we are now being told that they have a ballistic missle that can reach the west coast). Iran’s response has been to get busy with its own nuclear programs (of which the Bushies appear to be looking the other way entirely, hoping to get Iran’s help in the Iraqi expedition). All of that could only warm Osama’s heart.
Since the launch of the war on terrorism, the world has become more unstable rather than less. Bush has indeed played exactly to type as it relates to Osama, who calls us imperialist pigs who have no concern for other countries and cultures. You might not like the picture that Osama paints of American global dominance, but it’s increasingly scary to look at the picture of American foreign policy that the Bushies are painting.
For evidence of that picture, literally, you only had to look at the cover of last Friday’s New York Post—the Murdoch-owned Bush cheerleader of a newspaper—with the headline, "Weasels to Hear New Iraq Evidence" under a picture of ambassadors at the U.N., with actual weasel heads superimposed over the heads of the French and German ambassadors. Jeez, that will surely go a long way toward quelling the American/European rift—and you only imagine the snickers throughout the halls of White House on that one.
But Osama’s probably laughing a lot louder right now, hearing reports about Americans hoarding duct tape and cyanide antidotes. Powell suggested that the newest tape, including Osama’s rants against the U.S. policy toward Iraq, betrayed a solidarity—and thus proved the link—with the Baghdad government. That was a nice try, but it’s pretty easy to see that things are the other way around: The Bushies’ threats of invasion and often dismissive tone toward the U.N. have created a perfect opening for Osama to come out and rail against America with a potent message for the Muslim world about U.S. actions. A Saddam/Al Qaeda connection seems more and more a self-fulfilling prophesy by the Bushies than anything else.
Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reported in a frightening page-one story back on Christmas Eve, not only has everyone in the White House been obsessively focused on Iraq for months to the exclusion of much else, but much of the manpower and funding at our intelligence agencies long ago shifted from a focus on Al Qaeda to focus dangerously on Saddam. And all the while, Osama has been plotting.