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A 'New' Mideast? W's or Osama's

By Robert Parry
July 24, 2006

As George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice huddle with representatives of old-line Arab regimes and as Israel continues pounding targets in Lebanon, it is becoming increasingly clear why al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden wanted Bush to gain a second term as U.S. President.

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 office.

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 governments.

“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.

Popular Rage

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 White House.

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.

‘Bandar Bush’

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 Council.

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 ranks.”

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 22, 2006]

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 “Bush Agrees 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.'

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