12 February 2003
The Evil Alliance Expands
By Gwynne Dyer
“If Hitler invaded Hell, I should make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons,” said Winston Churchill in July, 1941, explaining why he was willing to make an alliance with Stalin now that Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. “The interests of Muslims and socialists converge in the fight against the Crusaders,” said Osama bin Laden in a taped speech broadcast on al-Jazeera on Tuesday, urging good Muslims to fight the American invaders of Iraq despite the “ignorant governments that rule all Arab states, including Iraq.”
And why shouldn’t the al-Qaeda leader try on Churchill’s mantle? Everybody else is doing it, from British Prime Minister Tony Blair (who regularly quotes Churchill on ‘appeasement’) to President George W. Bush (who has Churchill’s picture on the wall in the Oval Office) to US Defence Secretary Don Rumsfeld (who seems to think he is the reincarnation of the Great Man). True, comparing Osama bin Laden to Winston Churchill is not an everyday activity, but in this case the analogy is exact.
Osama bin Laden despises the socialist dictator Saddam Hussein but wants to see American troops mired in Iraq, just as Churchill loathed the Communist dictator Joseph Stalin but longed to see German troops bogged down in the Soviet Union. The objective is to win the wider war, and if your enemy can be diverted into doing something stupid like invading Iraq (or the Soviet Union, in Churchill’s case), that is all to the good. Bin Laden has been condemning Saddam Hussein’s godless socialist regime for years, calling Saddam an ‘infidel’ and advocating his overthrow, but if the United States wants to wade into Iraq and kill lots of Muslims, by all means let it do so. That would kill two birds with a single stone.
Saddam Hussein and his sons will be killed and the secular Baathist regime in Iraq destroyed, which certainly serves al-Qaeda’s long-term goal of establishing Islamist government similar to that of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan in every Arab state. The Baathist regimes of Syria and Iraq are the Islamists’ most serious opposition in the Arab world, as they still retain some remnant of their original socialist and Arab nationalist credentials. And meanwhile the United States will be killing lots of innocent Arab Muslims in Iraq — the more the better, from bin Laden’s point of view, since every Arab victim should bring in dozens of new recruits for al-Qaeda and its fellow Islamist movements in the Arab countries.
That has been bin Laden’s strategy from the start. The Islamist movements have been unable to persuade enough Arabs to join them in overthrowing the existing secular Arab governments — the ‘ignorant governments’, as he calls them — despite twenty years of terrorism in the Arab countries, so al-Qaeda was created to enlist the unwitting support of the ‘far enemy’ (the West) in the struggle. If the United States could be tricked into committing mayhem in the Arab world, that might finally drive enough Arabs into the Islamist camp to get their long-stalled revolutions off the ground.
That was what the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 were intended to produce: an indiscriminate, massive American retaliation against targets linked with the Islamists throughout the Arab world that would create huge ‘collateral damage’ in the form of innocent Arab deaths. Bin Laden had reason to hope for such a response because that was what President Bill Clinton had done, although on a much smaller scale, after al-Qaeda killed 24 Americans in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa in September 1998. Surely killing many thousands of Americans on home ground would make the US government go berserk and do the same thing again, but on a far greater scale.
The Bush administration did not walk into that trap, and instead focussed its attention, quite sensibly, on dismantling al-Qaeda’s bases in Afghanistan. It was nineteen Arabs who hijacked those four airliners on 9/11, but no Arab country has been attacked by the United States from that day to this. Now, however, President Bush has created a similar trap for himself by targeting Iraq, and is about to walk into it. Bin Laden is delighted, and is naturally urging all Muslims to resist: the more Arab casualties, the better, from his point of view.
What is stunning is the smug ignorance of the ‘senior White House official’ who told CNN that the tape shows “a terrorist making common cause with a brutal dictator…it demonstrates a burgeoning alliance of terror. This confirms that bad guys swim with the other bad guys. They live in the same pool.” Can senior White House officials really be so ill-informed about bin Laden’s goals and strategy, or do they just assume that the US public hasn’t got a clue? And if they do understand what bin Laden is up to, why are they planning to do what he wants anyway?
We are way past sensible argument here, so perhaps we should just end with the latest joke making the rounds.
Q: Mr President, why are you so certain that Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons?
A: We kept the receipts.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 9. (“And…exact”; and “We…receipts”)