There’s some interesting information about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida in an Associated Press story based on writings by bin Laden taken from the compound where Navy SEALs killed the terrorist leader last month. Add it up, and it seems we had marginalized bin Laden and, in his view, won the battle of ideas long before we finally killed him:
As Osama bin Laden watched his terrorist organization get picked apart, he lamented in his final writings that al-Qaida was suffering from a marketing problem. His group was killing too many Muslims and that was bad for business. The West was winning the public relations fight. All his old comrades were dead and he barely knew their replacements.
Faced with these challenges, bin Laden, who hated the United States and decried capitalism, considered a most American of business strategies. Like Blackwater, ValuJet and Philip Morris, perhaps what al-Qaida really needed was a fresh start under a new name.
“Al-Qaida,” in bin Laden’s mind, was that it wasn’t evocative enough of a struggle of America versus all of Islam — a notion that President Bush refuted from the very beginning of the war on terror:
The problem with the name al-Qaida, bin Laden wrote in a letter recovered from his compound in Pakistan, was that it lacked a religious element, something to convince Muslims worldwide that they are in a holy war with America.
Maybe something like Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad, meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, would do the trick, he wrote. Or Jama’at I’Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida, meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group.
As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group’s full name, al-Qaida al-Jihad, for The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaida. Lopping off the word “jihad,” bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to “claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam.” Maybe it was time for al-Qaida to bring back its original name.
Bin Laden may have thought it was “deceptive” of America to say it wasn’t at war with Islam as a whole, but it seems Muslims found us more persuasive. That runs counter to the idea promulgated on the anti-war left that we were losing the battle for Muslim hearts and minds by taking the fight to the terrorists.
In fact, bin Laden believed it was al-Qaida, not the U.S., that was losing hearts and minds in Iraq:
In one letter sent to [deputy Ayman al] Zawahri within the past year or so, bin Laden said al-Qaida’s image was suffering because of attacks that have killed Muslims, particularly in Iraq, officials said. In other journal entries and letters, they said, bin Laden wrote that he was frustrated that many of his trusted longtime comrades, whom he’d fought alongside in Afghanistan, had been killed or captured.
And while our search for bin Laden took more than nine years — long than that, if you count President Clinton’s efforts — it seems we had long since succeeded in rendering him ineffective:
Using his courier system, bin Laden could still exercise some operational control over al-Qaida. But increasingly the men he was directing were younger and inexperienced. Frequently, the generals who had vouched for these young fighters were dead or in prison. And bin Laden, unable to leave his walled compound and with no phone or Internet access, was annoyed that he did not know so many people in his own organization.
Any chance this changes the minds of those who claimed Bush had ignored bin Laden and that it took Obama to nab Osama?
– By Kyle Wingfield