Skip to comments.Bin Laden's losing bet
Posted on 01/13/2004 5:25:53 PM PST by Forgiven_Sinner
By Stephen Blank
The United States' global "war on terrorism" has clearly entered a new phase. Regardless of how one feels about the US-led war in Iraq, the results of that war, and especially the increased capability that US forces have shown in fighting terrorism, capturing Saddam Hussein and gaining valuable intelligence thereby, have had a decisive effect. Even if there has never been any connection between Saddam's government and al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden placed a strong wager in terms of resources and men on Iraq, and he appears to be in great danger of losing his bet.
The tape bin Laden released early this month indicates his sense of gloom and of failure that the Arab states remain in power and have not actively resisted the Americans. In fact the exact opposite has happened, particularly once Saddam was captured. Libya has not only announced the termination of its nuclear and other programs for weapons of mass destruction, Muammar Gaddafi has also invited foreign inspectors into Libya and has now publicly put out feelers to Israel. Egypt has tried to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians - and has duly become the latest recipient of the Palestinians' usual gratitude for such endeavors, so it is unlikely to persist very strongly in its efforts. But it is likely that its ties to Israel will improve, even if only slightly. And in any case Hosni Mubarak, not the Muslim Brotherhood, still reigns.
Syria not only improved ties with India - for bin Laden a leading enemy of Islam - it has also found reason to make similar gestures to Turkey, another of bin Laden's betes noirs and principal targets. Clearly it too feels the US heat and pressure as more and more revelations of its duplicity and conniving with Iraq to evade sanctions become clear. The United Kingdom and the US have both told President Basher al-Assad that he too must give up his weapons of mass destruction at once and do so unconditionally without any regard for Israel's supposed possession of such weapons. Iran too has announced its willingness to have inspections and apparently to make a rapprochement with the US and Europe. And we should probably assume that those elements of al-Qaeda who have found a refuge in Iran are first of all under very tight wraps and, second, probably can sense the ground shifting beneath their feet.
All these defeats signify the failure of bin Laden's quest, and the tape reveals that his response, an entirely predictable one, is to call for more violence and to exhibit more signs of the megalomania that figures like him usually possess. For here he casts himself as the only true defender of the faith against a sea of infidels, betrayers, etc.
However, his worst defeat has taken place, or is about to take place, in Pakistan. Here again the terrorists overreached. By trying and failing twice to assassinate President General Pervez Musharraf, they apparently convinced him that the risks of terrorism outweigh those posed or allegedly posed by India. Therefore the conflict with India must be at least suspended. Moreover, it is clear that the future of Pakistan is at stake and that the terrorist blowback is too great to ignore any longer. Thus Musharraf has acceded to enormous external pressure, much of it but hardly all of it from Washington, and has announced his unconditional readiness to begin consolidated negotiations with India over all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. At the same time, on Thursday Pakistani forces launched a new offensive against al-Qaeda's troops and followers. Very likely there will also be a domestic crackdown on them as well.
For bin Laden and his supporters these Pakistani developments portend the greatest danger he has probably experienced since late 2001. Pakistan, not Iraq, is the original second front in the "war on terrorism". The bombings in New Delhi and Kashmir in late 2001 and early 2002 were strategically intended to take the heat off bin Laden by forcing Pakistan to redeploy forces to the border with India in Kashmir and thus relieve the military pressure on Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan. This relaxation very likely helped bin Laden and his retinue escape Afghanistan and hide out in northwestern Pakistan, an area that has long resisted any effective governmental supervision from Islamabad. Given the numerous local supporters of the jihadi elements and those ensconced within the government, military and intelligence establishments of Pakistan, bin Laden could enjoy an apparently tolerable level of safety.
This period appears to be coming to a close. Since every issue will be on the table in the Indo-Pakistani negotiations, those discussions will not be confined to terrorism in Kashmir. Instead, the entire relationship between the Pakistani state and all the terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan will be a major subject of the discussions, as will both governments' future relationship with Afghanistan. Since Pakistan has used movements such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda to put constant pressure on Afghanistan, the necessity to raise this issue in the context of an effort to reach an overall peace with India under very watchful foreign eyes will pressure bin Laden and those associated with him from at least two directions, India and Afghanistan, if not also from within the Pakistani state.
Given the likelihood of such intensifying pressure upon both bin Laden and his "protectors" within Pakistan, we can reasonably expect an even bloodier and unrestricted terrorist offensive in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and possibly Iraq, if not globally. The intensification of terrorism in advance of efforts to negotiate a comprehensive peace has always been a recognizable trademark of Palestinian and other Arab terrorists with regard to Israeli-Arab negotiations and the same pattern is likely to manifest itself here again. For bin Laden, the jihadis in and out of Pakistan's government, and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan the stakes could not be higher. But because the same is true for both the Indian and especially the Pakistani government, the terrorist offensive, however vicious it might be, is unlikely to succeed if those two states' political leadership can forge ahead regardless of the threats.
While the announcement of these forthcoming negotiations is to be welcomed by everyone, particularly the long-suffering populations of these states, we should not entertain any illusions about the ease with which they will proceed, or the speediness by which issues will be resolved. But even more important, we should also not harbor any illusions that these negotiations can proceed in an atmosphere of calm. Unfortunately, the advent of peace talks is so great a threat to those who have lived too long by terrorism to forsake it that they will continue to kill their own people as well as innocents in order keep those talks from succeeding.
While bin Laden appears to have lost the wager he made last year about Iraq and a worldwide or at least Islamic explosion of terrorism, that does not appear to have softened his resolve. Increasingly restricted and in danger of being trapped in Pakistan, he and his proteges can increasingly be expected to behave like plungers at the gambling table and to double and then redouble their bloody wagers.
Stephen Blank is an analyst of international security affairs residing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Did this really happen or am I just having wishful dreams?
He's been remarkably successful, as this article points out, but I'd guess about 10% of Freepers would rather see a Democrat be President next year.
Naw, its just that 10% of Bush's decisions are really boneheaded.
There seems to me to be the same level of self-delusion, self-aggrandizement, self-everything. Osama wanted to be nothing less than the Caliph of a revolutionary Islam, and fully expected that the common people would rise up, throw off their current ruling class, and flock to his banner. And, in addition, that the United States would rage impotently and do nothing but drop bombs from a safe distance.
I do not think he intended to bring the WTC down, only cause a spectacular explosion, not that he wouldn't (and the event, didn't) greet such an outcome with glee. But even so, no one who had read of Pearl Harbor should be forgiven the illusion that the Americans won't fight if prodded that way and at that level. That it was an underestimation made before, and by smarter people than bin Laden, does not excuse it. It was a massive miscalculation that truly did change the world, but not in the way intended.
At some point his adherents and fellow-travelers are hoping that the United States will go back to sleep, and that they will be able to resume business as usual. That hope is fading, and it should, because we're not done yet.