- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

Don’t hold your breath, but it begins to look like a new al Qaeda “MO” — shifting the focus of terrorist attacks from the U.S. mainland to U.S. interests in the Middle East and European governments that support the United States in Iraq.

As Osama bin Laden surveys the international scene from his secret base in Pakistan, he has convinced himself the U.S. empire can be defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia much the way his mujahideen guerrillas defeated the Soviet empire in Afghanistan.

In his videotape released four days before the U.S. elections, bin Laden referred to the way the Afghan resistance had bankrupted the Soviet Union, which he invoked as a model for inflicting a similar fate on the United States. President Bush’s wars on terrorism, he noted smugly, caused record deficits.

In an audiotape posted on a jihadist Web site Dec. 16, his 18th message since September 11, bin Laden praised the Dec. 6 attack on the U.S. consulate in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and urged Saudis to rise up against the House of Saud, “agents of infidels.” The Western world’s oil supply is now al Qaeda’s priority target.

In his current hideout, bin Laden has access to local and international media, CNN, FOX, BBC, Al Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels. He heard Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tell Fox News he had not anticipated the strength of the Iraqi insurgency “because no one has a perfect view of the future.” Bin Laden also watched CNN as Gen. Lance Smith, deputy chief of the U.S. Central Command, conceded a bold, innovative insurgency in Iraq is becoming more effective against U.S. supply lines and explosive attacks have slowed military operations.

He can hear newscasts say the United States has begun using large military cargo aircraft to ferry food and equipment high above dangerous roadways, bringing the total cost of Afghanistan and Iraq to $6 billion a month.

As an Arab prone to exaggeration, bin Laden cannot believe the number of U.S. killed so far in Iraq is 1,300. He assumes it is several times that number. He has also read that 5,500 U.S. military have deserted to Canada rather than serve in Iraq; that the Army National Guard is short of 5,500 citizen-soldiers; that lawsuits have been filed by those whose duty period has been involuntarily extended; and that soldiers have refused to go on dangerous missions without proper equipment.

In the past three years, bin Laden has also seen his small tight-knit group of transnational terrorists morph into a global politico-religious ideological and spiritual movement that draws its recruits from many of the same spawning grounds that provisioned Communist parties throughout the Cold War. He presumably knows why some 7,500 jihadis who fought the United States in Iraq have been trickling back to their homes in Muslim slums in Western Europe. They returned with new terrorist skills and the ability to form sleeper cells and/or encourage others to sign up for jihad.

Europe’s Muslims — about 20 million of them — are for the most part moderate and good citizens of their country of adoption. But the silent majority has been cowed into silence by growing numbers of unemployed who are alienated, angry and refuse to integrate in European societies. They are also vocal in favor of bin Laden as the new pinup who rivals Che Guevara on university campuses.

Bin Laden sees his ratings in the Muslim world and among Muslim minorities in Europe have far surpassed Mr. Bush’s on the scale of credibility and trustworthiness. The administration’s Israel-right-or-wrong policy has now been confirmed — for bin Laden to read in dozens of newspapers — by no less an authority than Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush 41.

In an interview with the global newspaper Financial Times, Mr. Scowcroft said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “has wrapped President Bush around his little finger” and his peace plan consists of evacuating Gaza and three or four minor settlements in the West Bank — “and then call it a day.” Mr. Scowcroft thought he was off the record, but he has since confirmed he did indeed say this.

Bin Laden has read what leading non-royal Saudis have said about him — e.g., in a truly free election in Saudi Arabia he would win hands down against the royal family, which is now cordially and widely disliked, if not despised. The world’s most wanted terrorist also has friends in high places in Pakistan, where president Pervez Musharraf is also widely despised by a majority of the population. In Pakistan as a whole, bin Laden mustered a 66 percent approval rating. In the two provinces governed by the pro-al Qaeda, pro-Taliban coalition of six politico-religious parties, bin Laden’s popularity rating as a “freedom fighter” climbs above 80 percent.

Bin Laden must also have concluded that another September 11 — which would have to be even more deadly than the first — is not possible in the light of ever-tighter security precautions. It could also rekindle the kind of European solidarity with the United States not seen since 2001.

Instead, the European allies that back the war — Britain and Italy in particular — offer the same opportunities as Spain did with the train bombings on March 11. The “new” Europeans have already announced a steady reduction of their modest troop levels in Iraq.

Britain’s highest court scored a minor triumph for bin Laden and a huge blow to the government’s anti-terrorism policy last week by ruling it cannot detain foreign suspects indefinitely without trial.

Bin Laden’s new strategy appears designed to (1) further detach the United States from its European allies — much the way the Soviet Union unsuccessfully tried to do throughout the Cold War; (2) assist the insurgency in Iraq by encouraging more jihadis to volunteer for suicide duty; (3) stoke public opinion against the royals in Saudi Arabia; (4) stoke public opinion against Gen. Musharraf in Pakistan.

All this does not require an attack in the United States with CBRN WMD — chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Bin Laden could be keeping this one on the shelf until his other pawns are in place.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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