- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A dead terrorist outmaneuvered a living president on Thursday. Osama bin Laden’s final taped message was an eerie refutation of President Obama’s major Middle East policy address. Even in death, bin Laden launched a surprise attack with impeccable timing.

The president’s speech was billed as a game changer, an opportunity to put a favorable spin on what has so far been an ad hoc and chaotic American strategic approach to the spontaneous wave of change in the region. Most importantly, Mr. Obama claimed that the Arab Spring is antithetical to bin Laden’s worldview and represents an important victory over al Qaeda. He said bin Laden believed that violence is “the only path to change.” 

Mr. Obama should have listened to the bin Laden tape before speaking. The al Qaeda leader in fact celebrated the Arab Spring for the same reasons Mr. Obama did. “The winds of change flew to [Cairo’s] Tahrir square,” bin Laden said, “and a great revolution was begun. This wasn’t a revolution of starving and pain, but a revolution of giving and peace … [F]ear, humiliation and surrender have fallen … freedom, pride, audacity and courage were risen.” These are words that could easily have tracked across Mr. Obama’s teleprompter. 

Change in the Middle East need not be violent to serve al Qaeda’s ends of Islamism triumphant; there are many roads to Shariah serfdom. For Islamic extremists, violent and otherwise, the Arab Spring is the opportunity of a lifetime. Bin Laden employs the same model of full-phased jihad that Deputy National Security Advisor John O. Brennan lectured The Washington Times editorial staff about last summer. Mr. Brennan waxed about jihad as being much more than armed struggle because it ostensibly also refers to self discovery and argument by the written word. This is exactly what bin Laden believed as well. “Let the truth ring out,” the late terror master said. “Remember those that go out with a sword are true believers, those that go fight with their tongue are true believers, and those that fight in their hearts are true believers.” The White House and al Qaeda agree on more than they know. 

It’s difficult to justify the Obama administration’s argument that the Arab Spring affirms the significance of peaceful change when U.S. warplanes are supporting armed Libyan rebels whose uprising would have been snuffed out by now had the international community not taken action. Likewise, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric about the dignity of change in Syria is cold comfort to dissidents being shot down in the streets by dictator Bashar Assad’s security forces. Mr. Obama demands that Assad stop the massacre; Damascus simply reloads. 

The White House vision of the Arab Spring as spontaneous peaceful change is a pleasant intellectual construct but largely divorced from reality. Hectoring Mideast rulers that they must “begin a dialogue” for change that will probably result in them suffering the same fate as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, now detained and facing charges, is more hope than strategy. Although the president said al Qaeda is losing its struggle for relevance, the latest data from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Project show that the terror group’s approval rating in Egypt is a point higher than America’s. The Arab Summer promises to be more complex, more violent and more dangerous than the Arab Spring.

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