As President Bush jetted home from the Middle East on Sunday, Osama bin Laden stuck his bloody thumb in the president’s eye yet again, releasing his second recorded message in three days. The first was a commentary on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary, and the second was an epistle on Gaza, in which Bin Laden, answering Bush’s speech to the Israeli Knesset, called on true Muslims to overthrow the Arab regimes that have failed to stop Israel from oppressing the Palestinians.
But the release of the messages didn’t make page one of any major American newspaper, including this one. Seven years have passed since Bush vowed to capture Bin Laden “dead or alive.” Is there truly nothing newsworthy in the mastermind of the murder of nearly 3,000 American civilians having no difficulty providing well-timed spin to counter the messages Bush tried to deliver to the Middle East?
Or have we collectively grown so numb after years of failure in the so-called global war on terror that we have accepted that Bin Laden cannot be found? If so, this is indeed the soft bigotry of low expectations. We delude ourselves if we believe that Bin Laden’s survival doesn’t matter or that his ideology is in decline. The State Department’s latest report on terrorism concludes that Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain the greatest terrorist threat to the United States.
And are Americans truly so familiar with Bin Laden’s thinking that we need not pay close attention to what he is saying? That would have come as a surprise to President Lincoln, who studied the remarks of Confederate rival Jefferson Davis, or to his successors, who deemed it vital to listen to Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh. North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap famously informed his American counterparts exactly how he would defeat them -- and then did so. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit, says the enemy leader’s actions have been unusually true to his word -- and that’s important because, in his latest message, he answers critics who say Muslims must never kill other Muslims by arguing that the great warrior Saladin would never have liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders if he had been prohibited from killing fellow Muslims.
Bin Laden will be waiting to humiliate the next U.S. president as surely as he has Bush. The question is whether the new president will know his enemy any better, or prove any more skillful at playing America’s weakened hand.