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All About Osama | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

All About Osama

In the most unexpected and bizarre October surprise of my lifetime, Osama bin Laden interjected himself into the last days of the presidential campaign by editorializing against Bush. He accused the Bush family of nepotism, cronyism, and corruption. He criticized the Patriot Act by name, saying its purpose is to suppress freedom. And he said he found it easy to provoke and bait this administration. As Bill Maher courageously joked Friday night, "He's stolen Michael Moore's and my act."

Here's Osama's take on the opening scenes of Farenheit 9/11: "It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American forces would leave 50,000 in the two towers to face those horrors alone…because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers. That gave us three times the required time to carry out the operations, praise Allah."

In a perfect world we would treat Osama bin Laden's remarks with the disdain they deserve and ignore them. He is a megalomaniacal murderer who should be captured and brought to justice, not analyzed. He's also an aging diva, who desperately wants to get back into the spotlight after having been displaced by a younger, more vicious version of himself--Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Osama looked tan, fit, and rested for his comeback role as Public Enemy #1. This is becoming like a Jihadist production of All About Eve.

Instead we live in Partisan World, where everything is about the horse race. Immediately the media, aided as always by The Note, was weighing two scenarios. A) It helps Bush because it would turn the topic away from the mess in Iraq to terrorism and Osama. B) It helps Kerry because it underlines his critique of the Bush Administration's failure to focus on Osama instead of going to war with Iraq. On balance, the Gang of 500 thinks it helps Bush.

Many reached this conclusion in part because of the virtually audible collective gasp from Kerry supporters on Friday afternoon. Osama bin Laden is using the same lines of attack against Bush that Democrats have been using for the last three years? Talk about the kiss of death.

But the question arises: kiss of death for whom? Since we have already started down this road, one feels the need to ask: does Osama really want Kerry to win? Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of our few remaining Arab allies, says Bush is a walking recruitment poster for al Qaeda.

Or to borrow the words of blogger Ana Marie Cox, aka Wonkette, "[Osama's] condemning Bush. Which of course means that he wants Kerry to win. Unless he really wants Bush to win and is just by default endorsing Kerry in order to get people to vote for Bush out of spite. But then again, if we're smart enough to figure this out, then maybe Osama knows that too and he really wants Kerry to win, and is endorsing Kerry so that people will at first lean towards voting for Bush but then think that's what Osama wants…So confusing."

None of this should matter. In a perfect world, the Bush Administration wouldn't try to spin this, because if they acknowledge and therefore amplify Osama's political importance, "the terrorists"--to borrow a popular refrain from three yaers ago--"win."

But in Partisan World, the Republicans were barely able to contain their glee as they went spinning away. "When people look at that guy [Osama], they understand we are at war," said Mr. Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman. "And they want to make sure that their commander-in-chief does."

Well, Ken, since you brought the subject up, does this commander-in-chief really understand we are at war with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? It seems to me when Bush had a chance to capture Osama "dead or alive" at Tora Bora he not only blew it but almost immediately turned the attention of the military, the special forces and his Administration to war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, who the 9/11 commission confirmed had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, Kenny Boy, but wasn't it George W. Bush who said at one of his exceedingly rare press conferences in March of 2002, "So I don't know where he is. Nor, you know, I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I...I truly am not that concerned about him"?

And wasn't it President Bush who was so unconcerned about bin Laden that when Kerry brought up that specific quote in the second debate, Bush, apparently having forgotten he made it, denied it, calling Kerry's attack "One of those exaggerations"--drawling out the word "exaggerations" in the affected West Texas accent he breaks out when going for cheap laughs?

No, this dividing-not-uniting Administration can't help trying to turn its failure to capture bin Laden into a political positive. After all, they successfully turned their failure to take Islamic terrorism seriously before 9/11--remember the August 2001 PDB report entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside United States?"--into a political mandate when grieving Americans quite naturally wanted to rally around the flag after the shocking tragedy.

This Administration initially resisted proposals for a homeland security office before flip-flopping, while still making certain to put a poison pill into the bill limiting the legal rights of the new agency's employees. When Senate Democrats, like war hero Max Cleland, who left three limbs in the jungles of Vietnam, voted against this cynical provision, the Bush Administration used their honorable votes to claim they were soft on terrorism in the 2002 elections. As a result, Vietnam draft deferral specialist Saxby Chambliss beat veteran Cleland because of these baseless attacks.

No, this Administration can't help but try and turn its failures of vision, strategy, and policy into political positives. On November 2nd the American people have the opportunity to reject their cruel and cynical opportunism. I pray we do.

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