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The huffers and puffers get help from bin Laden
Maureen Dowd
Thursday, February 13, 2003
The missing link
 
WASHINGTON Osama bin Laden came to the rescue of George W. Bush on Tuesday. The president and his secretary of state had been huffing and puffing to prove a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. George Tenet, who presides over a CIA full of skepticism about the tie, did his best for the boss, playing up the link to the Senate.

Ignoring all the blatant Qaeda hooks to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan; ignoring the fact that bin Laden has never had any use for the drinking, smoking, womanizing, secular Saddam; ignoring the fact that Saddam has no proven record of sharing weapons with Al Qaeda, the Bushies have been hell-bent on making the Sept. 11 connection.

The world wasn't entirely buying that rationale for war. And then who but bin Laden himself should pop up on an audio tape, calling on Muslims to fight the United States if the "infidels" attack "our brothers in Iraq."

His disdain for Saddam still gleamed through. He barely mentioned the Iraqi leader and seemed to be holding his nose when he gave permission to his Qaeda brethren to fight the "crusaders" alongside Saddam's Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party, "even if we believe and declare that the socialists are apostates," and whether Saddam remains in power or not.

Still, the Bush administration pounced on the tape, hoping it would prove to those epicene Old Europeans, with their poufy blue-helmeted UN force, that Al Qaeda and Iraq were "bound by a common hatred," as the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said.

Powell was so eager to publicize bin Laden's statements that he broke the news himself at a Senate Budget Committee hearing, hours before Al Jazeera even acknowledged it had the tape.

He said the tape showed that bin Laden was "in partnership with Iraq" and proved that the United States could not count simply on a beefed-up inspection force in Iraq.

In the past, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has implored the networks not to broadcast the tapes outright, for fear that bin Laden might be activating sleeper cells in code.

But this time the administration flacked the tape. And Fox, the official Bush news agency, rushed the entire tape onto the air. So the Bushies no longer care if Osama sends a coded message to his thugs as long as he stays on message for the White House?

To get Saddam, the Bush administration is even willing to remind the American public that it failed to get bin Laden. Its fixation on Saddam seems to have blinded it to the possibility that bin Laden might be perversely encouraging America in this war. The administration and Al Qaeda both have a purpose for invading Iraq, and both want a regime change. Both talk about "liberating" the Arab people, but bin Laden's vision is apocalyptic. He wants the Middle East - Israel and the Arab monarchies - to go up in flames. By Zionizing the American battle with Iraq and promising an anti-American theocracy, he hopes to radicalize recruits for a jihad against a U.S. occupation of Arab land.

Bin Laden's own fanaticism was forged by foreign occupations - the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan and American forces stationed in Saudi Arabia.

The Bush hawks want to go to war in a nonapocalyptic way, to stabilize the Middle East, not to inflame it. They have a grandiose - if risky - plan to transform Iraq into a model kitchen of democracy, a buffer for Israel that the Palestinians and other Arab autocracies would be pressured to emulate.

Senators quizzed Bush officials Tuesday, asking whether General Tommy Franks, the future mukhtar of Baghdad, would be choosing new Iraqi leaders. They pressed about the time and cost of an American occupation.

Christopher Dodd of Connecticut suggested that there could be unforeseen explosions in the model kitchen, citing an alliance between the Iraqi exiles who might run a post-Saddam government and conservative Iranian clerics who think the United States is the Great Satan.

"You have to level with the American public," the Democratic senator lectured the Bush officials. "It could be very costly and take a long, long time."

But it is the Bushies' dream of a model kitchen in Iraq, rather than a Saddam-Qaeda link, that makes this war seem noble to them.

That is why they were so busy hawking the Osama tape, rather than coming up with ways Americans can protect themselves from the Osama attacks - other than with plastic and duct tape.

Copyright 2003 The International Herald Tribune