Is the clock ticking?
[Alarmism is not the goal of this post; just pattern-spotting.] Oct. 6, 2002: A taped voice said to be bin Laden's threatens to attack U.S. economic interests if attacks on Arab and Muslim countries do not stop. 2002 (Oct.): Boat crashes into oil tanker off Yemen coast, killing one. Nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, killed 202, mostly Australian citizens. Sept. 10, 2003: A videotape shows bin Laden and al-Zawahiri walking in mountains. A voice, reportedly al-Zawahiri's, calls on Iraqis to attack American forces and for the Palestinians to resist Israel on an audiotape. 2003 (Nov.): Suicide car-bombers simultaneously attacked two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 25 and injuring hundreds. 2003 (Nov.): Truck bombs detonated at London bank and British consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, killing 26. (See Suspected al-Qaeda Terrorist Acts for the chronology of attacks.) And, bin Laden's latest appearance on election eve was mainly seen through the lens of trying to figure out which candidate he wanted to win, and which he wanted to lose, and few bothered to think that perhaps a new attack was in the offing, based on the pattern of his past appearances. Are his messages tied to follow-on attacks? A central part of this question is whether al Qaeda is an organization or a movement. Like the dual nature of light -- as both photons and waves -- al Qaeda seems to possess both the requisite centralization to perform detailed planning and attacks, and the necessary decentralization to provide mere logistical and moral support for other subsidiary and aligned Islamic movements. So it is difficult to tell which attacks are organized and carried out by those acting under al Qaeda's orders, and those simply inspired by bin Laden. Some analysts saw the content of his most recent message as showing that al Qaeda is an organization on the run, and being effectively marginalized. The most cogent case for this argument is not surprisingly made by Wretchard at Belmont Club. But an alternative analysis lingers. In Terrorists turn up the dial in global PR war, the Christian Science Monitor notes that al Qaeda's propaganda campaign is detailed, lively, and interesting to Muslims -- and a new audio or video tape has been released every 6 weeks since September 11th. Could the seeming weakness on display in Osama's latest video be misinformation? I offer no answers here -- just wish to ask questions . . . In today's Jerusalem Post, Yossef Bodansky states that a WMD attack against the US is in the works:
"All of the warnings we have today indicate that a major strike – something more horrible than anything we've seen before – is all but inevitable," he said. Bodansky, here for the second annual Jerusalem Summit, an international gathering of conservative thinkers, added that "the primary option" for the next al-Qaida attack on US soil would be one that would use weapons of mass destruction. "I do not have a crystal ball, but this is what all the available evidence tells us, we will have a bang," Bodansky said. He said that al-Qaida has not carried out a second major attack on the US until now for internal psychological and ideological reasons, but after the reelection of President George W. Bush, it has gotten "the green light" to do so from leading Islamic religious luminaries, as well as from "the elites of the Arab world." According to Bodansky's reading of Osama bin Laden's mind-set, after the elaborate attacks of 9/11 there was no need for the "bin Ladens of the world" to carry out a second major attack in the US, both because the target audience of the attacks – the Arab and Islamic world – had gotten the message that America could be penetrated, and because a second attack would necessarily have to be more grandiose. Following the attacks and the US-led war on terror, a debate started within the operational arm of the organization over the potential use of weapons of mass destruction, Bodansky said. If, in pre-9/11 days, the theme used by bin Laden was that perpetual confrontation and jihad against the US was the only way to protect Islam, the argument now used is the ability to punish American society, Bodansky said. "Just as the West was challenging the quintessence of Islam by means of the globalization era, there was a parallel need by Islamic extremists to strike at – and hurt – the core of American society, this time with weapons of mass destruction," Bodansky said. A subsequent theological debate emerged within the organization, and its supporters in the Arab world, he said, over whether the mass killing of innocents is permissible. While bin Laden and his associates argued that by virtue of their participation in US democracy, US citizens were enabling their rulers to fight, other Islamic luminaries contended that this does not permit such massive attacks, Bodansky said. The reelection of Bush in November, he said, was viewed by bin Laden and his cohorts as a decisive answer to this deliberation, with Americans now "choosing" to be the enemies of Islam. In bin Laden's mind-set, he said, the stage was set for a non-conventional attack. Bodansky said that while there may still be some vestiges of debate and doubt within Islamic circles, he believes that planing for such an attack is finished. "They got the kosher stamp from the Islamic world to use nuclear weapons," he said.Does Osama really require the permission or tacit acceptance of Muslim clerics to use an atomic weapon in the United States? What was the objective of the 9/11 attacks? Was it to induce the US to leave the Arab world and pay no attention to its affairs, while at the same time, killing the maximum number of Americans? If so, then it was only a partial-success: Al Qaeda misjudged the US reponse to an attack on its soil . . . . . . doesn't planning a nuclear attack misjudge the American response again? Rather than forcing the US into a cocoon, wouldn't a nuclear attack on the US strengthen the likelihood of an overwhelming and decisive US response? Would Americans be content to fiddle while Manhattan burned, or would they demand blood, in even greater numbers and louder voices than before? In the days after 9/11, William S. Lind, one of the thinkers behind the doctrine of maneuver warfare, published an article calling for the immediate launching of a nuclear strike against Afghanistan. Such a tactic seems too harsh -- but what level of violence would see it become justifiable to the majority of Americans? [Later this week The Adventures of Chester will examine the rightist critique of the War on Terror, in addition to posting Part V of the Iran series, which will focus on what Iran brings to the table in a fight.]