Osama's Public Agenda and Private Tactic

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by Gary North by Gary North

The appearance of a videotape shown on al-Jazeera TV on October 29 puts to rest a continuing rumor, always devoid of evidence, that bin Laden was dead — not that his martyrdom would not have been an effective recruiting tool for his terrorist organization. He has been in a win-win position ever since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. But the video was a reminder to the West and to his followers: he is still thumbing his nose at the United States and all of the emirates and Islamic military regimes that are allied with the U.S.

Commentators in the U.S. have remarked that his tape was timed to get headlines in the weekend before the American Presidential election. I have no doubt that this timing was deliberate. He understands the Western media. Now, in addition, he has Islamic media outlets. There are at least three dozen satellite TV networks in the Middle East.

Yet the video was not aimed exclusively at Americans in general, despite his assurance to the contrary. It was aimed at two men: Bush and Kerry. It was also aimed at Muslims in the Middle East, both as a preliminary statement and as a way to provoke the United States President, whoever he may turn out to be, to take action.


In 2003, I wrote an analysis of bin Laden’s long-run tactic, which I compared to the tactic developed originally by Gandhi and appropriated in the 1960s and 1970s by the radical Chicago organizer, Saul Alinsky. Gandhi and Alinsky were non-violent, but the heart of their tactic is not inherently non-violent. The tactic is this: "The action is the reaction." The initiator designs a public confrontation that will lead to one of several responses, each of which will probably backfire on the respondent. I published my report on April 1, 2003. It was posted on Lew Rockwell’s site the next day. I began with a 1998 quotation from bin Laden.

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, "and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together," and "fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God."

He was issuing a personal fatwa against Americans, which he had no authority to issue because he is not a Muslim cleric. In doing this, he was trying to establish his position as a religious leader, despite his lack of ordination. I wrote:

Osama bin Laden has had one overriding goal for over a decade: to create a jihad between Islam and the United States. He made this goal clear in a 1998 document, World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. Here, we read:

First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.

If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.

His first reason for calling his followers to commit attacks on Americans was America’s presence in Saudi Arabia. We have now pulled out. Who looks like the winner in this confrontation?

The action is the reaction. Bin Laden continued:

Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million . . . despite all this, the Americans are once again trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation.

So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.

Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.

Having presented bin Laden’s own assessment of what motivated him, I then summarized Alinsky’s principle, which I believe bin Laden has understood, although without having read Alinsky’s books.

Osama bin Laden has understood this principle better than any other radical in our era. He keeps escalating his challenges. His attack on the World Trade Center on September 11 was either his second attempt — assuming that he was the inspiration of the 1993 bombing — or else proof that he was a gifted imitator. He launched a pre-emptive strike against the symbol of American capitalism.

In his latest videotape, he has taken credit for the attack on the Twin Towers. This is the first time that he has done so. What I find most interesting is his claim — which I discount as a retroactive invention — that he got the idea as early as 1982, when America backed the Israelis’ invasion of Lebanon. He spoke of having conceived of the attack on the Twin Towers then. This makes him look like a long-term strategist with nearly omniscient powers.

I say to you Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike towers.

But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the America/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.

The events that affected my soul in a difficult way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American 6th fleet helped them in that.

And the whole world saw and heard but did not respond.

In those difficult moments many hard to describe ideas bubbled in my soul but in the end they produced intense feelings of rejection of tyranny and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressors in kind and that we destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

In previous declarations, he had made no mention of Lebanon. Now, without warning, he ascribes his motivation and his plan of action in terms of events in 1982. He blames Americans for an invasion of Lebanon in 1982, not their presence on Saudi Arabian soil in 2001. His argument has shifted. I think there is a tactical reason for this shift: to gain moral justification among his followers for further bloodshed. Yet he does not call for such bloodshed in the tape. His strategy is indirect.

First, he says specifically that this message is for Americans.

People of United States, this talk of mine is for you and concerns the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan and deals with the war and its causes and results.

I think he is telling the truth at this point, but not the whole truth. Much of the tape is devoted to making President Bush look incompetent. He is specifically responding to Bush’s original claim that the United States was attacked because of America’s commitment to freedom. Nonsense, says bin Laden.

If so, then let him explain why did not strike — for example — Sweden. No, he says, it was an act of revenge on behalf of Lebanon.

This has infuriated at least one journalist in Lebanon, who wrote in The Daily Star,

Notice here, a clear shift in strategy. Bin Laden is no longer talking about ejecting the "infidels" from the Arabian peninsula. He isn’t attacking any particular Arab leader. If Lebanon had such a profound impact, if it had played such a salient role in shaping his views and his hatred of America, why then did he wait from 1982 until 2001 to launch a large-scale attack on the United States?

Bin Laden then blames the President for the extra deaths because of his failure to act decisively. In other words, he calls into question Bush’s ability to lead. Why did he just sit there in that elementary school classroom? Bin Laden gets the story wrong: a little girl’s story about her pet goat rather than her reading of a children’s book, My Pet Goat.

It never occurred to us that the Commander in Chief of the armed forces would abandon 50,000 of his citizens in the twin towers to face those great horrors alone at a time when they most needed him.

But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers we were given three times the period required to execute the operations. All praise is due to Allah.

While his version of the pet goat story is not quite accurate, it is close enough to indicate that he or his informants are paying close attention to events in the United States. He is not cut off from communications. This makes him dangerous.

He ended his tape with a warning to Americans:

Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands and each state which does not harm our security will remain safe.

This produced an immediate response from both Bush and Kerry: they will track down bin Laden, no matter what.

This man understands Alinsky’s tactic. While he officially aimed the tape at Americans, the response of both candidates was predictable. He has presented himself as an avenger of helpless Lebanon, a country invaded by the Israelis two decades ago, from which they have pulled out. He issues a warning guaranteed to get a particular response, which in turn becomes widely reported in the Middle East.

America has never dealt with a foe this media-savvy. He has no state affiliation, so the American military cannot easily locate him. He has no official position, so our government cannot buy off his subordinates. He understands the enormous and growing resentment of Muslims in the region. He invents an implausible story about Lebanon’s demolished towers (what towers?) and the Twin Towers. He makes himself look like a master strategist who worked from 1982 to (maybe) 1993, and surely 2001. Now he sits back and waits.

The action is the reaction.


Saddam is a secularist and a socialist. As such, he was the enemy of bin Laden. Bin Laden referred to him as an infidel on Feb. 11, 2003, just before the United States invaded Iraq. He called for armed assistance to the Iraqi people, but not in support of Iraq’s government.

The United States has replaced Saddam Hussein. The problem is, bin Laden is working to become the replacement of the elected replacement. He is positioning himself to replace Saddam as the agent of anti-Americanism in the entire region.

He cannot accomplish this as an agent of any nation-state.

He thinks he can do this as an agent of a fictitious nation.

This nation is the nation of Islam. It has no borders.

I have been arguing since early October, 2001, that bin Laden has been creating a legend for himself. I wrote:

Where do we get the word "assassin"? From the word for "hashish." Legend has it that the Old Man of the Mountain — the bin Laden of his day — formed a terrorist organization in response to the Western crusaders. He had his men use hashish to build their confidence. The assassins were dedicated terrorists. References to the Old Man of the Mountain go back at least to the 12th century. (The best book on this group is Bernard Lewis’s The Assassins: A Radical Sect of Islam.) The idea of eternal glory and the attainment of heavenly bliss through suicidal acts of terrorism goes back a long time on Islam’s theological fringes. Bin Laden fits well into this pattern.

The Assassins fought the Crusaders, but they also assassinated rulers who got in their way. With this in mind, consider bin Laden’s words in his latest tape.

We have not found it difficult to deal with the Bush administration in light of the resemblance it bears to the regimes in our countries, half of which are ruled by the military and the other half of which are ruled by the sons of kings and presidents.

This is clearly a call to resistance to, and presumably the assassination of, regional rulers of Islamic countries. What Saddam Hussein did not call for, bin Laden is calling for: the de-stabilization of the entire region. He is a terrorist in the tradition of the Assassins.

He is not acting as a head of state, yet he speaks of a nation.

No, we fight because we are free men who do not sleep under oppression.

We want to restore freedom to our Nation and just as you lay waste to our Nation so shall we lay waste to yours.

It should be clear that when he says "nation," he has in mind a regional Islamic resistance movement, not a geographically limited entity, a nation-state. So, what William Lind has described in detail as fourth-generation warfare is what bin Laden represents. There is no head to cut off, no single group to negotiate with, no supply line to cut off, no headquarters to bomb. The existence of the tape points to the failure in Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden is not some lunatic. He knows his enemies, nearby and distant, and he knows what appeals to potential recruits. He is thumbing his nose jointly at Kerry and Bush in the tradition of an ancient Islamic organization: a secret society terrorist group. Islamic satellite television networks are his allies in this because they cannot resist airing his tapes. Neither can Western newspapers. Google’s news service assembled a staggering total of 3,480 related news newspaper stories about the tape.

We are dealing with a dedicated master of the media, who uses this access to hundreds of millions of potential recruits to recruit a cadre that will survive the pull-out of American forces in Iraq. At that point, it will not be safe for regional leaders. He has made this plain.

Our experience with them is lengthy and both types are replete with those who are characterized by pride, arrogance, greed and misappropriation of wealth.

This resemblance began after the visits of Bush Senior to the region at a time when some of our compatriots were dazzled by America and hoping that these visits would have an effect on our countries. All of a sudden he was affected by these monarchies and military regimes and became jealous of their remaining decades in their position to embezzle the public wealth of the Nation without supervision or accounting.

He blames regional monarchs for the sins of Bush Sr., who was supposedly impressed by the monarchs’ ability to swindle their own people. He is undermining Muslims’ confidence in their rulers by making the rulers the true villains — the people ultimately responsible for the invasion of Iraq.

All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration.

This man is self-conscious. He is using Alinsky’s tactic to provoke and bait his political enemies, the Bush family, and he is undermining the civil rulers of the Middle East while he is doing it.

He has made it clear that no matter who wins the election, Americans will not be safe until they pull out of the Middle East. When we do, the rulers of the region will be facing disaster. He has tarred and feathered them already. His disciples, as well as his imitators, will be facing leaders who will know that there will be no deliverance by America.

He is betting on a U.S. pull-out. I think this is a safe bet. He will let the Iraqi resistance movement do his bloody work for him. He called for this jihad in 1998, and he then used Alinsky’s tactic to achieve it.


The de-stabilization of the Middle East has begun. Bin Laden knows the soft underbelly of the West: oil. He is preparing his disciples and the ordinary Muslim citizen for a change in regimes. This change will come whenever it is clear that the United States has pulled out.

There are all sorts of rumors floating around as to when this will be. This much is sure: with 40% of our troops in Iraq supplied by the reserves, the pull-out is only a matter of time. Fourth-generation warfare — insurgency — is premised on the fact that the insurgents have nowhere to go, being home, while the occupying forces can go home, and the folks back home want their sons an daughters out of harm’s way. So, American troops will eventually be pulled out. At that time, we must be prepared for assassins and revolutionaries to begin toppling the present Middle Eastern regimes. Oil is not going to get cheaper.

Osama bin Laden does have a long-term strategy. I don’t think it has anything to do with imposing revenge for Lebanon. It has to do with the extension of a Wahabi variety of Islam. We are in a religious war, even though President Bush has repeatedly denied this. Bin Laden is pressuring Muslims to line up on one side or the other. He does this from the shadows, with videotape as his means of setting his agenda publicly. So far, the President has responded to bin Laden’s agenda.

The action is the reaction.

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.

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