Breakfast with bin Laden

Sorry, I forgot to be scared

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Part 1 I shot Lennon; I shot the Pope. I shot the devil; now you got no hope. -- Suicidal Tendencies

It's been an interesting month: I've been breakfasting with Osama bin Laden rather often lately. I can hardly open my morning paper nowadays without reading about al Qaeda.

Apparently, there are al Qaeda cells all over London, al Qaeda cells being smuggled into the American heartland across the Rio Grande via Mexican traffickers, al Qaeda cells on the plane and al Qaeda cells in the doctor's surgery. Truly, Osama is the busiest fear-monger's mascot alive today.

We're told that al Qaeda is back in business, having rebuilt its operational capabilities to pre-9/11 levels, at least according to a classified draft report from the National Counterterrorism Centre leaked to the Associated Press last week. The "secret" report, entitled "Al-Qaeda better positioned to strike the West," emerged, like so many previous leaks, at a time when the Bush Administration finds it convenient to distract the public with worry about terrorism.

The reported al Qaeda resurrection might sound like bad news for the Bushies - proof that their so-called "war on terror" was ill conceived and has been badly bungled from the start. And of course it is that, but it can also serve as fodder for their own propaganda, so long as they keep the right spin on it.

It's a simple matter of accentuating the positive - of steering away from issues of competence, and toward the healing political balm of mass public fear. Because, when it comes to incompetence, the Bush Administration's failure to contain al Qaeda is but an amuse-bouche, easily forgotten amid the lavish banquet of failure laid out from New Orleans to Baghdad.

With Iraq spiralling into anarchy, the White House struggling to keep its numerous high crimes and misdemeanours hidden from Congress, and Heckuva-Job Bushy's approval rating in the toilet, it's time for the Administration to "run home to Momma", i.e., to fear-mongering, and welcome the old bin-Laden bogeyman to the stage.

And, man, that guy is everywhere these days. He's blowing up everything that moves in Iraq; he's setting fire to cars in Glasgow; he's swimming the Rio Grande; he's all over the map. Hell, he's at my breakfast table right now, in fact.

How did Osama & Co become so prevalent recently? Primarily because George W Bush has been running at the mouth, working the phrase "al Qaeda" into every third or fourth utterance, thus: "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq are the ones who attacked us in America on September 11th, and that's why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home". So said Junior during a recent White House press conference during which he mentioned "al Qaeda" over 30 times.

But Bush is pulling a fast one here, conflating a violent Iraqi sectarian outfit that just happens to call itself "al-Qaeda in Iraq" with the infamous organisation founded by Osama bin Laden, currently based in Pakistan. When he says "al Qaeda" he means "al Qaeda in Iraq", but he doesn't want us to make the distinction.

He's been doing this a lot lately. During an Independence Day speech to the West Virginia Air National Guard, he said, "Many of the spectacular car bombings and killings you see are a result of al Qaeda - the very same folks that attacked us on September 11th".

Of course, no one involved in Iraq's mounting violence had anything to do with 9/11. But Bush now clings to any slender straw of propaganda that he can get his slippery, blood-stained hands on. And if he can lie simply by re-arranging a couple of words, so much the better. Hence, "we're fighting al Qaeda in Iraq" becomes the politically-convenient, if utterly fraudulent, "we're in Iraq fighting al Qaeda".

In the 4 July speech, Bush went so far as to add that, "Al Qaeda hasn't given up its objectives inside Iraq", slyly suggesting that it actually had objectives inside Iraq. If the real al Qaeda is at all interested in Iraq today, it's only because Bush has transformed it into the world's premier terrorist recruiting office and training academy.

This new tactic of claiming to be in Iraq fighting Osama & Co. appears to have started during a speech to the Naval War College in late June, where Bush mentioned al Qaeda over 25 times. He meant al Qaeda in Iraq, but he kept calling it al Qaeda, hoping to revive the delusion that becoming a uniformed victim of his Iraq misadventure is a great way to strike back at Osama.

Bush clearly is trying to exploit "al Qaeda" as fear fodder, probably knowing that it could backfire and merely highlight his administration's unfitness to run the government. But fear has been awfully good to the Bushies, and it's therefore quite reasonable for them to perceive it as "the old reliable". Bush is betting that Americans will once again be too frightened to think critically, as they have proven themselves generally to be since 9/11. Whether there is now finally enough evidence of the Administration's unfitness to govern to sustain this traditionally winning strategy remains to be seen.

It's a pity to consider that the boldest strategy one can attribute to a president might be nothing more than a risky propaganda campaign, but there it is. Having failed at virtually everything they set out to do, the Bushies are back doing the only thing that they do well: sowing fear.

Now, propaganda can be true some times; information is propaganda chiefly because it serves a government's interests, not because it's necessarily false. Next time, we'll look at just how serious this al Qaeda threat is, and just how scared we should be. ®

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