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Weissman: Bin Laden and Zarqawi's October Surprise

Bin Laden and Zarqawi's October Surprise

By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 21 October 2004

Osama bin Laden finally voted for president. So did Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of ''Monotheism and Holy War,'' alleged beheader of Western hostages in Iraq, and the U.S. target of choice in and around embattled Fallujah. Just this week, the two terrorist rivals reportedly put aside their differences and united their groups in a marriage of convenience, which leading Muslims observers and U.S. Intelligence take as genuine.

Strange as it seem, no one really knows if the two leading figures are still alive, or where they are, or even if the elusive Zarqawi, who supposedly received medical treatment in Baghdad, has one leg or two. From the various photos of him in the world's press, he looks like several different people.

But, whether bin Laden and Zarqawi are living fugitives with $25 million rewards on their heads or dead martyrs now manipulated by others, their forces have apparently joined together in their name. How will American voters respond to the news?

Will Zarqawi's freshly proclaimed allegiance of "to the chief of all fighters, Osama bin Laden" boost Mr. Bush's election chances, giving the president what he could never before find - a pack of genuine, if newly rebranded, al Qaida terrorists to kill or capture in Iraq?

Or, will the news highlight all the cock-and-bull that Bush, Cheney, and Powell previously told us about Zarqawi, showing voters yet again how the war in Iraq only makes the terrorists stronger and more united?

Initially announced on a radical Islamic website, Zarqawi's enlistment in al-Qaida marked the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time - said the statement - when "Muslims need more than ever to stick together in the face of the religion's enemies."

The formerly independent Zarqawi proclaimed bin Laden "the best leader for Islam's armies against all infidels and apostates." He also endorsed bin Laden's effort to "expel the infidels from the Arabian peninsula," removing Western influence from Saudi Arabia and its surrounding states.

So far, Team Bush has responded with caution, as if unsure whether an in-depth look at Zarqawi will help or hurt in the election campaign. White House spokesman Trent Duffy simply repeated the old refrain: "We always said there were ties between Zarqawi and al-Qaida, which underscores once again why Iraq is the central front in the war on terror."

To some, Zarqawi's present merger might suggest the opposite - that he was not working for al Qaida before, just as he was not working for Saddam when he hid out with Ansar al-Islam in remote Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, where Washington had greater control than did Baghdad. As an old speechwriter once said, never let facts stand in the way of a good story.

To be fair to the White House spokesman, the truth offers far less appeal. Mr. Bush's war of choice has now forged two new enemy alliances. He has united the followers of bin Laden and Zarqawi. And, he has pushed them together with Saddam's former supporters in the Sunni triangle.

Far from bringing democracy to Iraq, our fundamentalist preacher president has become the prophet of radical Islamic unity. If he continues his ill-fated war, he will soon drive Iraq's Shiite majority, who formerly hated Zarqawi and the pro-Saddam Sunnis, to join them in a common front against the American occupation and its handpicked Iraqi collaborators.

Who said Mr. Bush doesn't know how to build alliances?

Whether he sees any of this, maybe his handlers know. It might even fulfill one of his religious fantasies, creating a clash between Christianity and Islam that so many of his supporters seem to crave. Between denying reality and never admitting mistakes, Mr. Bush has led us into the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy.

How then does the Bush campaign sell such a suicidal mission?

With fear and a mistakenly military view of how to fight the growth of radical Islamic terror. As spokesman Duffy added, bin Laden and Zarqawi's October surprise offered "proof positive of why the president's firm resolve to fight terrorists overseas so we don't face them in America's neighborhoods is the only clear way to prevail."

Vote for us ... or die! Kill them there before they kill us here.

Think about it. If Bin Laden and Zarqawi had only a finite number of terrorists - even in the tens of thousands, which so far they do not - the idea of luring them all into an Iraqi killing ground might have a macabre fascination. But while we fight a military war, bin Laden, Zarqawi, and other radical Islamists are waging a worldwide political struggle, using our killing ground in Iraq to win the support of several hundred million Muslims, who will provide a hundred years' supply of would-be martyrs. The longer we stay in Iraq, the harder we fight, the more we kill, the more of the world's Muslims we drive into the radical camp.

It's as if bin Laden had written the script, and poor Mr. Bush is playing it out to perfection. Will American voters catch on to where he and his simple-minded resolve are leading us? Or will they close their eyes and let him make it even worse?


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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