Release Date: March 1, 2004
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Will Bin Laden Re-elect Bush?

by Eric Margolis

President George W. Bush's re-election campaign opened this month on the wild mountainous frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan where, according to Pentagon leaks, a cornered Osama bin Laden is about to be captured by US Special Forces.

We have heard such claims before. But this time, large numbers of US troops hunting America's arch enemy have been ordered by the White House to `get' bin Laden at all costs - well before next November elections. They may be close to their quarry.

Pakistan's s military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is playing the key role in hunting bin Laden. He has put his powerful armed forces and intelligence services at the disposal of the US in spite of intense public opposition.

Musharraf is also allowing US forces pursuing bin Laden to covertly operate inside Pakistan. Politically isolated and increasingly unpopular, Pakistan's strongman has come to depend on US support to maintain his grip on power, like another US client, Afghanistan's figurehead leader, Hamid Karzai.

Musharraf's recent one-sided diplomatic concessions to India over the bitter Kashmir dispute, which shocked and angered many Pakistanis, are a sign of his political weakness and growing US influence over his regime.

Last year, Osama bin Laden predicted his own death in combat in 2004. He is probably right. But will removal of Saddam Hussein and then bin Laden make America safe, as Bush claims?

No, according to CIA Director George Tenet, who says that the threat will remain high, `with or without al-Qaida.'

Tenet, for once, is right. Al-Qaida, an organization that never exceeded 300 men, and now has only about 100, was never the vast threat claimed by the White House and US media. At least a score of other anti-American groups are active from Morocco to Indonesia, the North African Salafist Groups being the most dangerous.

The Bush Administration has enflamed the entire Muslim World by its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, antagonistic rhetoric, and total identification with Israel's repression of the Palestinians.

Bush's anti-Islamic policies, designed to play to domestic special interests, have generated a host of new enemies abroad - a perpetual motion conflict machine run by a president who thrives on war and crises. No wonder anti-American foes are popping up faster than they can be counted.

We are still not even sure al-Qaida was responsible for 9/11, as Bush claims. If the Bush Administration was so totally wrong about Iraq's secret weapons and links to al-Qaida, why is its information any more reliable about the shadowy bin Laden?

After promising in 2002 to release proof of al-Qaida's guilt for 9/11, the Administration never did. The main legal evidence cited so far by the US against al-Qaida comes from a former fugitive member who embezzled its funds. Interestingly, much of the phony `evidence' about Iraq came from another convicted embezzler, Ahmad Chalabi.

German courts recently determined the 9/11 plot was hatched in Hamburg, not Afghanistan, and could find no direct link to al-Qaida. Al-Qaida leaders applauded 9/11 - after the fact - but may not have been actively involved in planning or finance.

There seems little doubt al-Qaida was behind bombings of some US targets abroad, like the USS Cole and attacks in East Africa. The 9/11 plotters were largely from Saudi Arabia and operated from Germany. Yet 9/11 was the pretext the US used to invade Afghanistan.

Most of what the White House called `terrorist training camps' in Afghanistan were actually bases for groups fighting to liberate communist-ruled Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and Tajikistan; Chinese-ruled Eastern Turkestan; Indian-ruled Kashmir; and the southern Philippines. Their members (some now prisoners in Guantanamo) had nothing to do with 9/11. As for the `terrorist' Taliban, the US supplied it with millions in aid until four months before 9/11 and has maintained discreet links ever since.

The White House should show the world proof of its claims about al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. Doing so would convince millions of people who regard him as a hero that he was indeed a cold-blooded murderer.

Capturing Saddam did not long arrest Bush's falling polls. But eliminating bin Laden, and proclaiming victory in the faux war on terrorism, will certainly keep Bush in office - that and his US $120 million war chest that will blitz middle America with images of a heroic Bush defending his nation against a host of real and imagined threats.

But this strategy has a dangerous flip-side. If before November elections al-Qaida finally manages to stage a devastating attack on the US mainland, as its number two, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, threatens, Bush will face popular outrage and be sliced and diced by Democrats.

Luckily for the US, what's left of al-Qaida has so far produced more hot air than explosions. Hopefully, the alleged dangers from al-Qaida will be no more substantial than Iraq's infamous but non-existent `drones of death,' which, Bush comically warned, were about to fly off Iraqi vessels and shower America with pestilence.

However, Osama bin Laden vows before his death to punish America for Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. Unfortunately, bin Laden has always been a man of his word. So optimism is not yet in order.

Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000

Enver Masud, "What Really Happened on September 11 Remains a Mystery," The Wisdom Fund, April 27, 2002

Eric Margolis, "Liars or Fools?," Toronto Sun, February 2, 2004

Andrew Cockburn, "The Truth About Ahmed Chalabi,", May 20, 2004

[Senior U.S. officials told 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl that they have evidence Chalabi has been passing highly-classified U.S. intelligence to Iran.--"America's 'Best Friend' A Spy?," CBS News, May 20, 2004]

[When President Bush lands in Islamabad later this week, it may be the closest he ever comes to being in the same neighborhood as Osama bin Laden. His nemesis is probably only a few hours drive away in Pakistan's Pashtun belt, now considered to be al Qaeda Central and one of the world's most dangerous regions.--Ahmed Rashid, "He's Welcome In Pakistan," Washington Post, February 26, 2006]

Copyright © 2004 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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