Osama Bin Laden was destined to be a major factor in this election from the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center. The memories of that assault are deeply etched in the collective American psyche.
Two days after the attack, George Bush assured a shaken nation that “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.”
Since he made that promise, Bush has often been asked about Osama’s exact whereabouts. A few months later on 3/13/2002, Bush acknowledged that, “We haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run.”
It was highly unlikely that Kerry would not bring up the president’s pledge during the debates. And so he did. Which led to the following exchange in the third debate in Tempe, Arizona on October 13, 2004 – only three weeks before the election:
John Kerry: When the president had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, he took his focus off of them, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, and Osama bin Laden escaped. Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, "Where is Osama bin Laden? " He said, "I don't know. I don't really think about him very much. I'm not that concerned."
George Bush: Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations.
Osama’s name came up dozens of times in all three debates. Even before the election got started, he was nominated most likely to deliver an “October surprise.” And so he did.
Other international figures also tried to rig this election. Two weeks before the election, Russian President Putin endorsed George Bush. At the central Asian summit in Tajikistan on October 18, 2004 he said "International terrorists have set as their goal inflicting the maximum damage to Bush, to prevent his election to a second term. If they succeed in doing that, they will celebrate a victory over America and over the entire anti-terror coalition.”
Not to be outdone, Tony Blair sent a whole Black Watch battalion of her Majesty’s Scots Guards to Camp Dogwood. This was seen by many in Britain as a gift to the Bush campaign.
Earlier on, Ariel Sharon weighed in by refusing to give Senator Kerry a photo opportunity. A shaken Kerry immediately dispatched Cameron, his Jewish brother, to Tel Aviv to beg for a little attention from the serial Israeli war criminal.
Even Chirac found a way to weigh in on the American election. After giving his speech at the UN General Assembly, he hastily took off for Paris. Had he waited a few minutes, he could have heard Bush deliver his own views on the affairs of the world. Before his rapid departure, a reporter asked Chirac for his views on the election. He declined to comment, having already made it clear that he had no time for Bush.
Then came Osama’s turn. This is how the Independent reported his intervention in the American elections. “With an aplomb verging on impertinence, the al-Qaida leader has delivered his own election message to the American people, just four days before they choose their next president.”
By morning, OBL’s speech was stealing the headlines in every major American paper. Most Americans can’t name the Prime Minister of Canada or the president of Mexico. But they recognize the Al Qaida leader by his initials. JFK, FDR, LBJ, GWB and OBL are probably the only five people who can readily be identified in a major headline with only three bold letters.
Because of his stature in America’s political imagination, Osama speech was widely quoted. “Contrary to what Bush says and claims - that we hate freedom - ask him why did we not attack Sweden? We fought you because we are free ... and want to regain freedom for our nation. We want to reclaim our nation. As you spoil our security, we will do so to you. Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or Al-Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any state, which that does not mess with our security, will automatically ensure its own security.”
Bush immediately responded to OBL. “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country.” Maybe not. In any case, that’s one man’s opinion and GWB has been wrong before. Besides, why the need for such a rapid response? The fact is that the media will focus on Osama’s sound bites for the next four days.
So, what else did Osama say? He not only accepted full responsibility for the 9/11 atrocities. He went on to spell out his motives. This was the part of his speech that should influence more than a few voters. He said that he started thinking about taking down an American skyscraper back in 1982 after watching Towers go down in Beirut, victims of indiscriminate Israeli bombardment. “While I was looking at these destroyed towers in Lebanon, it sparked in my mind that the tyrant should be punished the same way and we should destroy towers in America, so that it tastes what we taste and would be deterred from killing our children and women.”
As the 9/11 commission made clear, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who conceived and directed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was also motivated by his rage over American support for Israel.
Now, why would OBL and Shaikh want to wreak havoc on the United States for Sharon’s invasion of Lebanon two decades ago? Maybe it had something to do with Al Haig who gave a green light to the Israelis to unleash the carnage.
“Our patience ran out and we saw the injustice and the inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance toward our people in Palestine and Lebanon. These special events that directly and personally affected me go back to 1982 and what happened when America gave permission for Israel to invade Lebanon. And the American sixth fleet gave assistance. During those crucial moments, my mind was thinking about many things that are hard to describe. But they produced a feeling to refuse and reject injustice, and I had determination to punish the transgressors.”
This part of Bin Laden’s speech sounded like a passage from the Confessions of Nat Turner who was convinced that he “would never be of any use to any one as a slave”. In the southern states, angry memories of Turner’s atrocities lingered for a century in the minds of whites. Accounts of his 1831 slave revolt – burning, looting and murdering in acts of wild vengeance - can still stir up ugly raw emotions. Yet many Americans now understand that his violence was a reaction to the barbarous slavery of the south.
Al Jazeera cut off transmission after Osama turned his verbal assault on dictatorial Arab leaders and how they fleece their nations with the able assistance of GWB’s daddy. It is worth noting that Al Jazeera then continued with its regular programming after airing only seven minutes of the Al Qaida tape. After nearly two years of OBL’s absence from the public eye, one is left to speculate why Al Jazeera didn’t have time to air the last eleven minutes. Did they worry that their audience would switch the channel or did the Saudis and the State Department pull the plug?
The infantile wonks employed as pundits by CNN immediately started to speculate if Osama was signaling an imminent attack to disrupt the election. Intelligence officers were hard at work to determine the authenticity of the tape. Was the tape produced in late September or mid-October? Commentators were analyzing Osama’s skin tone and attire for clues as to his health. Sherlock Holmes impersonators were called in to figure out the address where the video was shot. Pollsters where monitoring their meters to see if the needle was moving. Will it influence the results on Tuesday? Would Bush or Kerry be the beneficiary of Osama’s intervention? Which candidate was Osama endorsing?
The tape was aired on the same day that reports emerged that nearly 100,000 civilians had perished since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Nothing on the tape was news to the residents of the Middle East who have lived through the events of the last five decades of American intervention in the region.
Even so, any sensible observer was left with a disturbing confirmation that, in this part of the world, blood feuds are never forgotten and a culture of vengeance is deeply rooted in the psyches of the man on the street. This is where they invented the “eye for an eye” doctrine. For the OBL’s of the region -- a very tiny but extremely lethal minority -- Americans are now seen as another Middle Eastern tribe aligned with the Israelis. And in this part of the world, tribal blood feuds can go on for decades. One can only speculate how many witnesses to the current scale of violence are now bent on revenge. How many minds are thinking about “many things that are hard to describe?”
Regardless of the portion censored by the Arab satellite channel, Osama’s message was clear enough. Nineteen years before the slaughter at the WTC and the Pentagon, he had started plotting to take vengeance for Sharon’s bloody siege of Beirut in the summer of 1982.
George Bush or John Kerry might very well end up bringing OBL to justice. They might succeed in crushing Al Qaida. But even then, the terror threat will not have diminished. We will still have to worry about what goes on in the minds of young men standing in the bombed out ruins of Gaza and Fallujah. Are they ticking bombs timed to go off sometime in the next two decades?
The Pentagon might choose to account for the dead body of a child pulled from the rubble as “collateral damage”. But his relatives only see a murdered child. Some people tend to get angry and stay angry about that kind of thing.
So, forget about an imminent attack. We should worry more about twenty-year time bombs. They are the real weapons of mass destruction currently being manufactured by George Bush and his merry band of neo-cons in the rubble of the “Greater Middle East.”
* Related Article: Halloween Tidings From the "War on Terror" by Jim Lobe
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