“If Hitler invaded hell, I should make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons,” said Winston Churchill in July 1941, explaining why he was willing to make an alliance with Joseph Stalin now that Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. “The interests of Muslims and socialists converge in the fight against the Crusaders,” said Osama bin Laden in a taped speech broadcast on al Jazeera, urging good Muslims to fight the American invaders of Iraq despite the “ignorant governments that rule all Arab states, including Iraq”.
Bin Laden despises Saddam Hussein, but wants to see the American troops mired in Iraq, just as Churchill loathed the communist dictator Stalin, but longed to see German troops bogged down in the Soviet Union. The objective is to win the wider war, and if your enemy can be diverted into doing something stupid, like invading Iraq, that is all to the good. Bin Laden has been condemning Hussein’s godless socialist regime for years, calling him an “infidel” and advocating his overthrow, but if the United Sta- tes of America wants to wade into Iraq and kill lots of Muslims, by all means let it do so. That would kill two birds with a single stone.
Hussein and his sons will be killed and the secular Baathist regime in Iraq destroyed, which certainly serves al Qaida’s long-term goal of establishing Islamist governments similar to that of the former taliban regime in Afghanistan in every Arab state.
The Baathist regimes of Syria and Iraq are the Islamists’ most serious opposition in the Arab world, as they still retain remnants of their original socialist and Arab nationalist credentials. And the more innocent Arab Muslims the US kills in Iraq the better, from bin Laden’s point of view, since every Arab victim would bring in dozens of new recruits for al Qaida and its fellow Islamist movements in the Arab countries.
That has been bin Laden’s strategy from the start. The Islamists have been unable to persuade enough Arabs to join them in overthrowing the existing secular Arab governments despite 20 years of terrorism in the Arab countries, so al Qaida was created to enlist the unwitting support of the “far enemy” (the West) in the struggle. If the US could be tricked into committing mayhem in the Arab world, that might finally drive enough Arabs into the Islamist camp to get their long-stalled revolutions off the ground.
That was what September 11, 2001 was intended to produce: an indiscriminate, massive American retaliation against targets linked with the Islamists throughout the Arab world, that would create huge “collateral damage” in the form of innocent Arab deaths.
Caught in a trap
Bin Laden had reason to hope for such a response because that was what Bill Clinton had done, though on a much smaller scale, after al Qaida killed 24 Americans in the attacks on US embassies in east Africa in September 1998. Surely, killing many thousands of Americans on home ground would make the US government go berserk and do the same thing again, but on a far greater scale.
The Bush administration did not walk into that trap, and instead focussed its attention on dismantling al Qaida’s bases in Afghan-istan. It was 19 Arabs who hijacked four airliners on 9/11, but no Arab country has been attacked by the US from that day to this. Now, however, Bush has created a trap for himself by targeting Iraq, and is about to walk into it. Bin Laden is delighted, and is urging all Muslims to resist.
What is stunning is the smug ignorance of the “senior White House official” who told CNN that the tape shows “a terrorist making common cause with a brutal dictator...it demonstrates a burgeoning alliance of terror. This confirms that bad guys swim with the other bad guys. They live in the same pool.” Can senior White House officials really be so ill-informed about bin Laden’s goals and strategy, or do they just assume that the US public hasn’t a clue' And if they do understand what bin Laden is up to, why are they planning to do what he wants anyway'