The occupation of Iraq is the greatest recruiting tool al Qaeda has going. Al Qaeda today has metastasized into a thousand independent groups. In recent years bin Laden has been articulating an ideology that combines fundamentalist Islam with a kind of Leninist vanguard theory. The secular language of revolution has been replaced with Islamist rhetoric but the anti-imperialist edge remains.
The current struggle is not a "Clash of Civilizations" as Samuel Huntington predicted, nor is it the product of rejecting the globalized utopia that Thomas Friedman promised. At times it seems like a global struggle between stateless corporations and stateless terrorist organizations. On one side is Halliburton and Blackwater and an increasingly privatized U.S. military, while on the other side is a hydra-headed dragon of anti-imperialist Islamists. Both groups will use governments to serve their interests where possible, but neither party depends on traditional forms of power. The neo-liberal economic "shock therapy" that Noami Klein identifies has spawned an anti-capitalist jihad.
In his latest video, Osama bin Laden said:
"Despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well; and despite it spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies; and despite it being the major state influencing the policies of the world, as if it has a monopoly on the unjust right of veto; despite all of this, 19 young men were able -- by the grace of Allah, the Most High -- to change the direction of its compass."
Following the September 11th attacks we've seen the Bush Administration withdraw from the Geneva Conventions, suspend habeas corpus, embrace torture as official policy, construct secret gulags, crimp civil liberties, expand Executive power, launch invasions of sovereign nations, and alienate millions of people. Worse still, in 2004, the Bush-Rove campaign strategy of scaring voters concerned with "security" by inflating the terrorist threat had the side-effect of pumping up al Qaeda's reputation.
"People of America," bin Laden continues,
"The world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of you being afflicted with disappointment. . . . [Y]ou permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you -- your full knowledge and consent -- to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan."
This statement means we are all targets no matter what we think of Bush's policies.
Bin Laden also compared Brezhnev's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s that helped bring down the Soviet Union with Bush's occupation of Iraq today. "The mistakes of Brezhnev," he said, "are being repeated by Bush, who -- when asked about the date of his withdrawing of forces from Iraq -- said in effect that the withdrawal will not be during his reign, but rather, during the reign of the one who succeeds him." He also claimed that after the invasion, America's "reputation worsened, its prestige was broken globally, and it was bled dry economically."
If countering al Qaeda is going to be the central organizing principle of American foreign policy for decades to come, as Cheney and his allies keep telling us, then we should take bin Laden's words seriously. The corporate news media, including columnists like Maureen Dowd, simply dismiss his latest statement as the ranting of a madman and call for his murder. But like everything else associated with the "war on terror" we oversimplify things at our own peril. The role played by U.S. policy in Iraq in strengthening al Qaeda should be the subject of reasoned and vigorous debate as we mark the sixth anniversary of 9-11.
When General David Petraeus testifies to Congress this week he should face tough questions about whether or not the Iraq occupation has created more terrorists. And if it has created more terrorists, he must be asked: What is the point of continuing it?