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Al-Qaeda Wants Republicans to Win

By Robert Parry
October 31, 2006

George W. Bush’s blunt assertion that a Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 elections means “the terrorists win and America loses” misses the point that Osama bin Laden stands to advance his strategic goals much faster with a Republican victory.

Indeed, as U.S. intelligence analysts have come to understand, there is a symbiotic relationship between Bush’s blunderbuss “war on terror” and bin Laden’s ruthless strategy of terrorist violence – one helping the other.

Last April, a National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, concluded that Bush’s Iraq War had become the “cause celebre” that had helped spread Islamic extremism around the globe.

In June, U.S. intelligence also learned from an intercepted al-Qaeda communiqué that bin Laden’s terrorist band wants to keep U.S. soldiers bogged down in Iraq as the best way to maintain and expand al-Qaeda’s influence.

“Prolonging the war is in our interest,” wrote “Atiyah,” one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants.

Atiyah’s letter and other internal al-Qaeda communications reveal that one of the group’s biggest worries has been that a prompt U.S. military withdrawal might expose how fragile al-Qaeda’s position is in Iraq and cause many young jihadists to lay down their guns and go home. [See below]

But a Republican victory in the Nov. 7 congressional elections almost certainly would end that concern. A GOP-controlled Congress would continue to give Bush a blank check, meaning the Iraq War would be prolonged and, quite possibly, expanded into other Middle East countries.

Bush would be tempted to double up on his Iraq wager by attacking Iran and Syria, two countries that U.S. officials have accused of aiding Iraqi insurgents. A number of U.S. military experts also believe that Bush would order the bombing of Iran if it doesn’t agree to curtail its nuclear research.

An expanded war would thrill Bush’s neoconservative advisers and other prominent Republicans, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who have lusted publicly over the idea of fighting “World War III” against radical Muslims around the globe.

But the continued war in Iraq and its regional expansion would serve bin Laden’s interests, too, by proving to many of the world’s one billion Muslims that the Saudi exile was right in his predictions of an aggressive Western assault on Islam.

As the violence worsens, Middle East moderates would be forced to choose between Washington and the Islamic extremists. Like any violent revolutionary, bin Laden knows that the greater the polarization the faster his extremist ideology can grow.

On the other hand, Bush realizes that his best chance to retain and consolidate his political power in the United States is to exploit the American people’s fear and loathing of bin Laden and portraying his rivals as al-Qaeda’s fellow-travelers.

So, in an Oct. 30 speech in Statesboro, Georgia, Bush said, “However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.”

Same Coin

The reality, however, is that Bush and bin Laden are the proverbial two sides of the same coin, both benefiting from the other’s existence and actions. Indeed, in the six years of the Bush administration, bin Laden could not have found a more perfect foil – or some might say a more useful fool – than George W. Bush.

First, in summer 2001, when al-Qaeda was an obscure band of extremists hiding out in the Afghan mountains, Bush failed to react to U.S. intelligence warnings about al-Qaeda’s plans for an impending attack.

After nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001,in the worst terrorist attack in history, Bush reacted by ordering U.S. forces to charge into the Middle East on what he called a “crusade” to “rid the world of evil.” Bin Laden quickly jumped on the anti-Muslim connotation of the word “crusade.”

Though U.S.-led forces ousted bin Laden’s Taliban allies in Afghanistan and cornered bin Laden at Tora Bora, Bush failed to close the trap, allowing bin Laden and key followers to escape. Then, before Afghanistan was brought under control, Bush diverted U.S. military forces to Iraq.

There, Bush eliminated secular dictator Saddam Hussein, one of bin Laden’s Muslim enemies, and repeated the Afghanistan mistake by celebrating “mission accomplished” without devoting sufficient U.S. forces to stabilize the country.

That blunder allowed al-Qaeda elements led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to set up shop in the Iraqi heartland. Though the force never totaled more than about five percent of the anti-U.S. fighters in Iraq, it conducted dramatic attacks, especially against Shiite targets, that worsened Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife.

Meanwhile, in the United States, bin Laden’s murderous 9/11 assaults created a political climate that helped Bush establish one-party Republican dominance. Citing the “war on terror,” Bush also asserted “plenary” – or unlimited – presidential powers for the conflict’s duration.

In effect, Bush suspended the American concept of “unalienable rights,” as promised in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Under Bush’s theory of presidential powers, gone are fundamental liberties such as the habeas corpus right to a fair trial, protection from warrantless government searches and prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.

Then, whenever Bush has found himself in political trouble, he has conjured up the frightening spirit of bin Laden to scare the American people. Other times, bin Laden has stepped forward on his own to lend a hand.

Election Scheme

On Oct. 29, 2004, just four days before the U.S. presidential election, bin Laden took the personal risk of breaking nearly a year of silence to release a videotape denouncing Bush. Right-wing pundits immediately spun the videotape into bin Laden’s “endorsement” of Democrat John Kerry. Polls registered an immediate bump of about five points for Bush.

However, inside CIA headquarters, senior intelligence analysts reached the remarkable conclusion that bin Laden’s real intent was to help Bush win a second term.

“Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President,” said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a meeting to review secret “strategic analysis” after the videotape had dominated the day’s news, according to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.

Suskind wrote that CIA analysts had spent years “parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. … Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.”

Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for intelligence, expressed the consensus view that bin Laden recognized how Bush’s heavy-handed policies – such as the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and the war in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

“Certainly,” Miscik said, “he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.”

As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts were troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. “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.

However, Bush’s campaign backers took bin Laden’s videotape at face value, calling it proof the terrorist leader feared Bush and favored Kerry.

In a pro-Bush book entitled Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats and Confounding the Mainstream Media, right-wing journalist Bill Sammon devoted several pages to bin Laden’s videotape, portraying it as an attempt by the terrorist leader to persuade Americans to vote for Kerry.

“Bin Laden stopped short of overtly endorsing Kerry,” Sammon wrote, “but the terrorist offered a polemic against reelecting Bush.”

Sammon and other right-wing pundits didn’t weigh the obvious possibility that the crafty bin Laden might have understood that his “endorsement” of Kerry would achieve the opposite effect with the American people.

Bush himself recognized this fact. “I thought it was going to help,” Bush said in a post-election interview with Sammon about bin Laden’s videotape. “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.”

In Strategery, Sammon also quotes Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman as agreeing that bin Laden’s videotape helped Bush. “It reminded people of the stakes,” Mehlman said. “It reinforced an issue on which Bush had a big lead over Kerry.”

But bin Laden, a student of American politics, surely understood that, too.

Bin Laden had played Brer Rabbit to America’s Brer Fox as in the old Uncle Remus fable about Brer Rabbit begging not to be thrown into the briar patch when that was exactly where he wanted to go.

Iraq-Terror Ploy

By rhetorically merging the Iraq War and the “war on terror,” Bush also has kept many Americans from understanding the true nature of the Iraq conflict. From 2003 to 2005, Bush presented the worsening violence in Iraq as mostly a case of al-Qaeda’s outside terrorists attacking peace-loving Iraqis.

“We’re helping the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy that is peaceful and prosperous and an example for the broader Middle East,” Bush said in one typical speech on Dec. 14, 2005. “The terrorists understand this, and this is why they have now made Iraq the central front in the war on terror.”

But this analysis blurred the varied motivations of the armed groups fighting in Iraq. The main elements of the Iraqi insurgency are Sunnis resisting the U.S. invasion of their country and the marginalization they face in a new Iraq dominated by their Shiite rivals.

Non-Iraqi jihadists, a much smaller group estimated at about 5 percent of the armed fighters, are driven by a religious fervor against what they see as an intrusion by a non-Islamic foreign power into the Muslim world.

As U.S. military officers in the field recognized – and as new intelligence has confirmed – al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq was far more fragile than Bush’s rhetoric suggested.

Indeed, an intercepted letter, purportedly from bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and dated July 9, 2005, urged Zarqawi, then al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, to take steps to prevent mass desertions among young non-Iraqi jihadists, who had come to fight the Americans, if the Americans left.

“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” wrote Zawahiri, according to a text released by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

To avert mass desertions, Zawahiri suggested that Zarqawi talk up the “idea” of a “caliphate” along the eastern Mediterranean. In other words, al-Qaeda was looking for a hook to keep the jihadists around if the Americans split.

A more recent letter – written on Dec. 11, 2005, by Atiyah – elaborated on al-Qaeda’s hopes for “prolonging” the Iraq War.

Atiyah lectured Zarqawi on the necessity of taking the long view and building ties with elements of the Sunni-led Iraqi insurgency that had little in common with al-Qaeda except hatred of the Americans.

“The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day,” Atiyah wrote. “Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest.” [Emphasis added.]

The “Atiyah letter,” which was discovered by U.S. authorities at the time of Zarqawi’s death on June 7, 2006, and was translated by the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, also stressed the vulnerability of al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq.

“Know that we, like all mujahaddin, are still weak,” Atiyah told Zarqawi. “We have not yet reached a level of stability. We have no alternative but to not squander any element of the foundations of strength or any helper or supporter.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]

What al-Qaeda leaders seemed to fear most was that a U.S. military withdrawal would contribute to a disintegration of their fragile position in Iraq, between the expected desertions of the foreign fighters and the targeting of al-Qaeda’s remaining forces by Iraqis determined to rid their country of violent outsiders.

In that sense, the longer the United States stays in Iraq, the deeper al-Qaeda can put down roots and the more it can harden its new recruits through indoctrination and training.

Just as U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq became a “cause celebre” that spread Islamic radicalism around the globe, so too does it appear that an extended U.S. occupation of Iraq would help al-Qaeda achieve its goals there – and elsewhere.

So, contrary to Bush’s assertion that a Democratic congressional victory means “the terrorists win and America loses,” the opposite might be much closer to the truth – that a continuation of Bush’s strategies, left unchecked by Congress, might be the answer to bin Laden’s dreams.


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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