George W. Bush loves to tell his audiences that they must “listen to the words of the enemy” and “take their words seriously,” thus setting up his argument that al-Qaeda wants the United States to leave Iraq so the U.S. military must stay in Iraq

Like much of what Bush has said about the Iraq War, this presidential homespun wisdom always has had more emotional appeal than actual logic. But a newly released videotape from al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri demonstrates why Bush’s argument has never made sense.

In the videotape, Zawahiri expressed al-Qaeda’s regret that Congress might force an American military withdrawal and thus “deprive us of the opportunity to destroy the American forces which we have caught in an historic trap.”

Zawahiri added, "We ask Allah that they only get out after losing 200,000-300,000 killed, so that we give the blood spillers in Washington and Europe an unforgettable lesson to motivate them to review their entire doctrinal and moral system."

The Egyptian extremist also said the Democrats' war appropriation bill, which would have set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, “reflects American failure and frustration.” (Bush vetoed the legislation on May 1, demanding that Congress give him the war funding with no strings attached.)

But, if the American people were to follow Bush’s mandate to heed the words of the enemy and do the opposite, what are they to make of Zawahiri’s latest mocking tirade?

Should the United States react to his insulting comments about the Democrats’ withdrawal timetable and keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, or would that grant Zawahiri his wish about locking America into “an historic trap” and allowing the killing of more U.S. soldiers? Which of the two contradictory positions would fit with Bush's edict about listening to the words of the enemy?

Already, Bush’s supporters have jumped on Zawahiri’s comments as another reason to bash the Democrats for their alleged “surrender” plan. Right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh said on May 7 that Zawahiri’s message was proof that “Democrats own defeat when it comes to the Iraq War.”

Osama’s Briar Patch

But one could argue that it is Bush’s open-ended war strategy that is playing into al-Qaeda’s hands.

In past articles at Consortiumnews.com, we have noted that Bush’s “listen to words of the enemy” argument was flawed because al-Qaeda’s public statements, which Bush would cite, often were at odds with its internal communications, which presumably reflected the group’s real thinking.

For instance, intercepted communiqués dating from the last half of 2005 revealed that al-Qaeda feared that a prompt U.S. military withdrawal would lead to the collapse of its operations in Iraq and that “prolonging the war is in our interest.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]

U.S. intelligence analysts also were keyed in to al-Qaeda’s use of reverse psychology, for instance, when Osama bin Laden released a videotape on the Friday before Election 2004 denouncing Bush and thus giving the President a boost in the final days of the campaign.

Privately, CIA analysts concluded that bin Laden wanted Bush to get a second term so his blunderbuss “war on terror” could continue for another four years and thus help al-Qaeda recruit more young terrorists.

Bin Laden denouncing Bush before the election was like Brer Rabbit begging not to be thrown into the briar patch when that was exactly where he wanted to go. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Giving Osama What He Really Wants.”]

Bush – and the major Washington news media – largely have ignored the revelations about al-Qaeda’s private goals and focused on its public comments baiting the United States to depart Iraq in humiliation or the group’s boasts about plans to build a new Islamic “caliphate.”

But Zawahiri’s latest comments present a new challenge because his sarcastic wish for the United States to remain in Iraq until hundreds of thousands of American troops are killed dovetails more with al-Qaeda's internal strategy than previous public statements have. In other words, instead of just baiting the United States to leave, he is also baiting the U.S. to stay.

So, given Zawahiri's contradictory messages, should Washington heed al-Qaeda’s words and stay in Iraq or should Washington heed al-Qaeda’s words and leave Iraq?

Another question, of course, could be: Why should the world’s sole superpower tie its decision-making to the ranting – public or private – of a ragtag band of homicidal maniacs, especially when U.S. intelligence has concluded that al-Qaeda is trying to play mind games on the American people and their leaders?

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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