Not sure whether the Democratic challenger was in Ohio that day, and the Republican incumbent in Florida. Or the Republican in Ohio and the Democrat in Florida. But, no matter. When news of the latest videotaped communiqué from Osama bin Laden first began to circulate on Friday, courtesy of Al Jazeera, both candidates reacted.
One of the candidates said (“President Bush on Friday: ‘We Will Not be Intimidated’,” Oct. 29):
Earlier today I was informed of the tape that is now being analyzed by America’s intelligence community. Let me make this very clear. Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country….I also want to say to the American people that we are at war with these terrorists, and I am confident that we will prevail.
And the other said (“Kerry Statement on Bin Laden Tape,” Oct. 29):
In response to this tape of Osama bin Laden, let me just make it clear, crystal clear, as Americans we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. They are barbarians, and I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes, period.
(Quick aside. There is nothing in the Al Jazeera transcript of the bin Laden video that proves the communiqué was recorded in the recent past, or that bin Laden intended it to make—much less is capable of making—a grand intervention in the current U.S. election cycle. But, for those of you convinced that bin Laden is addressing the “people gearing up to vote for a President on Tuesday” (“Osama’s Election Editorial,” Truthout, Oct. 29—whose major domo still awaits the “Kerry bounce” following the Fleet Arena spectacle in late July), please note that the bin Laden of this video does not mention the imminent U.S. presidential election, much less the fact that the Democratic candidate is named John Kerry. What he does mention is the “fourth year after the events of September 11″—and then narrates material dating back to the last four months of 2001 (the passage of the USA Patriot Act and the events of September 11 themselves), the travesty of the national election held in the States the year before, and, finally, events dating all the way back to 1982. The communiqué has it moments, true. But ultimately it leads nowhere. Unquestionably, its two most important statements—important because they are the ones that will resonate in the ears of every human being whose conscience has not been utterly distorted by American Power—are the lament that “the whole world saw and heard but did not respond” to the “American/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon,” the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in particular; and the assertion (which sounds untrue to me, and sadly romantic in retrospect) that, as “I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressors in kind….” That the last two words—in kind—form the crux of the argument goes without saying. They also happen to be the two words that the American political culture remains in steadfast denial of. At risk to the security of Americans, note well, because the Americans themselves pose so great a risk to the security of the rest of the people the world over.)
The bin Laden videotape made quite a splash—no doubt about it. With talk about an “October Surprise.” Or, sadder yet, “Osama’s Surprise.” (At long last! Some intellectually unchallenging frameworks to hang our thoughts in! Thank you.—Don’t mention it.)
I for one am very disappointed in the attention that the communiqué has received. Particularly on the Left—which is the only reason I’m touching it here, to be perfectly honest. (Wink. Wink. If this term, ‘Left‘, has any relevance in the States at all. Any meaning. Wink. Wink.)
Though I guess I should have expected as much. A rather loosely designed sample of the mainstream print news media for this last weekend in October turns up one story after another that either featured or, in the very least, included the suddenly resurrected Saudi expatriate as a major protagonist, along with each of the American presidential candidates’ promise to do a better job than his rival at ridding the world of the scourge of Osama, and the scourge of “terrorism.” So it should come as no surprise at all that on the American Left, the exact same thing would happen.
Priority No. One for any such undertaking—ridding the world of the scourge of terrorism, that is? Stop the American state from engaging in it. Plain and simple.
Instead, all we ever get are pledges to kill the “enemy.”
And, of course, the carrying out of this pledge.
Postscript. To use again a quote from from The Hidden Hand (2001), Richard Aldrich’s study of British “intelligence”: A 1998 U.S. Department of Defense study on the political uses of declassification
suggested that “interesting declassified material” such as information about the assassination of John F. Kennedy could be released and even posted on the Internet, as a “diversion.” Newly released archives on such high-profile subjects could be used to “reduce the unrestrained public appetite for ‘secrets’ by providing good faith distraction material.” If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome.
Now. I don’t know where the latest bin Laden videotape came from (e.g., whose hands delivered it to Al Jazeera). When it was recorded. And what purpose was foremost in the mind of its speaker—aside from making the specific utterances that he did.
Still. Bracketing each of these questions, and then judging strictly by the video’s reception within the political culture of the state that now occupies Iraq and Afghanistan (where it just staged a demonstration election—and don’t give me any lip about this election’s “enthusiastic [voter] turnout” and “landslide for [Hamid] Karzai”—or, more appallingly, about it having been “free and fair” (“Ballots in Battlefields,” Farooq Sulehria, ZNet, Oct. 31)—there is more than a faint echo ringing back and forth between the diversionary effect of a little JFK-assassination spam every now and then, and the diversionary effect of a little “Osama’s Surprise” some 96 hours before the American presidential election, and right in the middle of The Lancet‘s publication of the Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugees‘ findings about mortality rates in Iraq, as well as American preparations to roast the Iraqi city of Fallujah, as an example for the world.
Postscript II. It turns out that on Monday, November 1, Al Jazeera posted to its website what it now claims is the full-length transcript of the Osama bin Laden video—even though earlier (e.g., October 29), they had never described the previous transcript as partial.
This means that the bin Laden transcript linked in the body of this blog is not the full-length transcript.
Instead, this is: “Full transcript of bin Ladin’s speech,” Al Jazeera, November 1, 2004.
I’ll have to deal with this matter at a latter time. But the full-length transcript is much more interesting than the partial transcript.
“Bin Laden Video Adds Fuel to the Partisan Fire,” Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2004
“Candidates Give Rough Response to Al Qaeda Tape,” Richard W. Stevenson and Jodi Wilgoren, New York Times, October 30, 2004
“Impact Of Tape On Race Is Uncertain; Dueling Spin Over October Surprise,” Dana Milbank, Washington Post, October 30, 2004
“Osama bin Laden’s October Surprise,” Jan McGirk and Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, October 31, 2004
“Osama’s Surprise: Osama bin Laden as Global Shock Jock,” Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, October 31, 2004
“Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey,” Les Roberts et al., The Lancet, posted online October 29, 2004.
“Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,” Press Release, Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugee Studies (accessed Nov. 1, 2004)
Duelferland, ZNet Blogs, October 9, 2004