On Oct. 29, 2004, just four days before the U.S.
election, bin-Laden took the risk of breaking nearly a year of silence
to release a videotape denouncing Bush. The CIA quickly reached a
classified conclusion that bin-Laden knew that his anti-Bush tirade
would spur more American voters to back Bush for another four years in
CIA analysts recognized that bin-Laden saw Bush’s
policies – such as the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib scandal
and the Iraq War – as playing into al-Qaeda’s hands by creating a new
generation of Islamic jihadists and undermining pro-U.S. Arab
“Certainly,” CIA deputy associate director for
intelligence Jami Miscik told a senior meeting of CIA analysts, “he
[bin-Laden] would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more
years,” according to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine.
As the CIA analysts reviewed this internal
assessment, they grew troubled by its implications. “An ocean of hard
truths before them – such as what did it say about U.S. policies that
bin-Laden would want Bush reelected – remained untouched,” Suskind
wrote. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA:
Osama Helped Bush in ’04.”]
Meanwhile, in the hours after the Osama videotape
was released, pro-Bush pundits fell into the trap by defining bin-Laden’s
rant as an endorsement of John Kerry. Heading into the election, Bush’s
support jumped six percentage points in one poll.
Today, bin-Laden’s strategy makes even more sense.
Bush’s violent policies for reshaping the Middle East are spreading
popular rage as the death toll mounts in Lebanon from Israeli air
strikes against Hezbollah guerrilla strongholds and as Palestinians
continue to die from Israel’s crackdown in Gaza, following raids that
captured three Israeli soldiers.
Just as Bush and his advisers see the carnage as
“birth pangs of a new Middle East” – in the words of Condoleezza Rice –
so bin-Laden perceives the same violence as crucial for his own vision
of a “new Middle East,” by isolating the dwindling number of pro-Bush
leaders in the Arab world from the “Arab street.”
Compounding this Arab political problem, the Bush
administration has even boasted of the anti-Hezbollah positions taken by
the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – exposing those
autocratic leaders to furious criticism from their citizens.
This dilemma appears to have contributed to a
surprising development on July 23 after Bush invited some of his more
reliable friends from the Saudi monarchy to a strategy session at the
However, instead of simply endorsing Bush’s
hard-line support for Israel’s Lebanese offensive, Saudi Foreign
Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal delivered a letter from Saudi King
Abdullah beseeching Bush to pressure Israel to stop its attack inside
Lebanon that have killed nearly 400 people, mostly civilians.
“We requested a cease-fire to allow for a cessation
of hostilities,” the Saudi foreign minister told reporters after the
meeting. “I have brought a letter from the Saudi king to stop the
bleeding in Lebanon.”
White House officials said Bush rebuffed the king’s
appeal and remained adamantly opposed to the idea of pressuring Israel
into a cease-fire. Though the Saudis and other Sunni governments see a
threat from the rising influence of Shiite-ruled Iran, which backs
Hezbollah, they also are worried about being viewed by their own
populations as Bush’s puppets.
Underscoring Bush’s predicament – appealing for
help from old friends who find their pro-U.S. positions more and more
troublesome back home – the rocky White House meeting even included the
longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin
Sultan, who is now the secretary-general of the Saudi National Security
Over the past quarter century, the cigar-smoking
Bandar has lent a hand to Republican administrations on operations from
the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980s to the response to the 9/11 attacks,
which involved 14 Saudi hijackers working for bin-Laden, the scion of
another prominent Saudi family.
In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, Bandar met
with Bush and helped arrange an airlift of well-connected Saudis,
including members of the bin-Laden family, out of the United States.
Bandar has been such an intimate of the Bush family that he earned the
nickname “Bandar Bush.”
Yet not even “Bandar Bush” could keep the Saudi
king from sending a letter that suggests a rift in the historic alliance
between Riyadh and Washington.
While Bush’s latest strategy was to use the Saudis
to pressure Syria into splitting from Iran as well as abandoning the
Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, the image of Saudi royals arriving for
meetings with Bush also was perfect for bin-Laden’s goal of radicalizing
the Arab masses.
Bin-Laden has long targeted the Saudi royals
because of their strategic support for the United States in the Middle
East. But the Saudi princes now find themselves in a tight spot because
even their favored Islamic clerics have denounced the intensity of the
Israeli attacks on Lebanon.
Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, the senior Saudi
imam, delivered a sermon from Islam’s holiest site in Mecca on July 21
praising the bravery of the Palestinians and Lebanese in their
confrontation with Israel and urging Muslim leaders to “unify their
In a swipe at Bush and his administration’s
lectures about freedom and democracy, Rahman asked, “Don’t they fear
that history will condemn them for their double standards?” [NYT, July
Other Islamic clerics were even blunter in their
criticism of pro-U.S. Arab leaders.
“Where are the Arab leaders?” demanded Sheik Hazzaa
al-Maswari, an Islamist politician in Yemen. “Do they have any skill
other than begging for a fake peace outside the White House? We don’t
want leaders who bow to the White House.”
Mohamed al-Habash, a cleric who serves in the
Syrian parliament, said the United States – in letting Israeli warplanes
slaughter Lebanese women and children – was helping extremists attract
more young Muslims to terrorism.
“The United States is creating more Zarqawis, more
bin-Ladens in the Mideast every day,” Habash said. [NYT, July 22, 2006]
So, bin-Laden may well have been executing a clever
stratagem when he released his “October Surprise” video in 2004. At the
time, even Bush recognized the odd fact that bin-Laden’s video was a
boon to his campaign.
“I thought it was going to help,” Bush said in a
post-election interview with Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon. “I
thought it would help remind people that if bin-Laden doesn’t want Bush
to be the President, something must be right with Bush.” [Consortiumnews.com's
Bin-Laden Helped in '04.”]
As Bush suggested, many undecided voters apparently
did take bin-Laden’s words at face value and assumed that bin-Laden
really wanted Bush defeated. In secret, the CIA had reached the opposite
conclusion, that bin-Laden was playing a double game, pretending to want
Bush out when he really wanted Bush to stay in.
With the Middle East descending into bloody chaos –
and the radical Islamists exploiting the anger of the Arab masses –
bin-Laden appears to winning on his bet that Bush’s war-like strategies
would indeed create a “new Middle East,” though not the kind the United
States had once envisioned.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'