- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 6, 2004

Osama bin Laden’s Election Eve missive appears to have backfired. Indeed, his wild claims he will bankrupt America by forcing us to fund counterterrorism efforts — along with the new warnings from “Azzam the American” that more attacks are on the way — left many Americans scratching their heads.

The tapes offer little help understanding the severity of the terrorist threat against the United States. On the one hand, they demonstrate bin Laden’s capacity to reach a global audience, getting his picture on every cable news channel, displacing election chatter on the nightly news and garnering attention on the Sunday talk shows. On the other hand, that bin Laden has spent more time talking than fighting may reflect the toll of the antiterror war on his terrorist network.

Since September 11, 2001, bin Laden has had few victories to crow about. The bombing in Spain didn’t keep that country or other NATO allies from sending troops last month to help in Afghanistan. And the successful Afghan elections — thoroughly repudiating the Taliban — were hardly good news for the world’s most notorious terrorist leader. Yes, terrorism is rampant in Iraq, but the political process moves forward and Iraqis line up daily at great risk to enlist in their security forces.

So far, since President Bush declared war on terrorism, bin Laden’s greatest achievements have been eluding capture and circulating about two dozen audio and videotapes. Adolf Hitler did as much, spewing defiant speeches from his Berlin bunker almost to the end.

While the tapes offer no definitive proof that terrorism is either waxing or waning, they underscore one key aspect of the struggle: the role of psychological warfare. Bin Laden’s videos are propaganda, pure and simple, designed to weaken U.S. resolve and foster recruiting and fund-raising for al Qaeda.

Defeating terrorism means crushing its campaign to spread ideas and arguments as well as taking out its leadership, support networks and sanctuaries.

Americans tend to think of psychological warfare as a relic of World War II or the Cold War. The phrase conjures images of planes dropping leaflets over some foreign country or radio broadcasts over the Iron Curtain. Most people assume they are immune from the threat of psychological combat. Wrong.

Today, the techniques and instruments for psychological warfare are diverse and readily available. (They include Web sites, e-mail, online media, instant messaging, chat rooms and television.) And they can be as easily deployed against America as they can against distant lands.

Prevailing in the struggle of ideas, as in any battle, requires a sound strategy and deliberate effort. The right strategy involves four points:

(1) Understanding the enemy. Through its efforts on the Internet, in the media and on the Arab street, al Qaeda is waging an aggressive, albeit perhaps desperate, war of words.

(2) Doing more to discredit the ideologies that feed terrorism. At the root of the current wave of violence against the United States and its allies is a blasphemous interpretation of religion that sanctions killing Americans and others — even moderate and orthodox Muslims who disagree with lies that justify killing civilians and glorify suicide bombings and other terror tactics.

(3) Continually making the case there is a credible alternative to extremism and repression.

(4) Making it clear the United States will never retrench or retreat. We must destroy any glimmer of hope among the terrorists that we will ever let their fascist schemes prevail.

These four points provide the core of a sound strategy for winning the struggle of ideas — and turning bin Laden into a media has-been.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation and author of the forthcoming “Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Liberty.”

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