Kathleen Parker
The Exciting, New, Long-Awaited, Mysterious Smoking-Gun Tape of Osama bin Laden playing Dorian Gray has finally been aired on national television. So now we know what the tape really reveals about our enemy - as opposed to what dozens of congressmen and government officials, including the president of the United States, have said it reveals about what we already knew. Waiting for this inspired breakthrough into the Already Known has had America - and allegedly The Rest of The World - breathless for several days now. The question is, why? How come all the excitement? And couldn't we possibly have managed our curiosity until, say, after Osama has been deposed? At best, the tapes were doomed to disappoint, ranking second only to the Pamela 'n' Tommy Lee honeymoon tapes in the ho-hummer sweepstakes. No, I haven't actually seen the PTL (any similarity between this and any other known acronym is the result of accidental cleverness and should not be construed to suggest any parallels whatsoever) tapes, but who needs to? As with the Osama tapes, we already know what happens. Which begs the question, for how long can one describe something as mysterious after there is no actual mystery? How long does a gun smoke after it fires? Three months after the 9/11 attacks and several weeks into a massive air and land assault on Afghanistan, the Taliban and Osama's human ant farm, do we really need to justify our actions with a smoking gun? Let's hope not. And while we're at it, to whom? The enemy? The enemy's sympathizers? The terminally incredulous? Here's what we knew about the tape's contents before its release: Osama says he planned the attacks but was surprised by the degree of success. He laughs that some of the hijackers didn't know they were on a suicide mission. What, no one saw the movie "Executive Decision"? It's in the script! Osama names Mohamed Atta as the ringleader of the suicide hijackings. No way! Osama is a creep. What else do we now know? Nada. Administration officials said they postponed releasing the tape to make sure nothing in the video threatened national security. Plus, they needed time to allow four Arabic translators to ensure accurate translation of the tape. The effect of postponement, of course, was to make interesting that which was hopelessly thud-bound. And it gave us all something to talk about while we watched Christiane Amanpour's bangs grow at Tora Bora. More mysterious than the tape itself, meanwhile, is why the Bush administration felt compelled to release the video for general perusal, particularly at this juncture. Officially, the reason was to convince the rest of the world that bin Laden was, indeed, behind the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon. Um, isn't it a little late for that? If we're certain that bin Laden is to blame, then we're justified in our military response, end of story. If we're not certain, well, that's just not possible, is it? Certainly, there's no reason to give anyone space to consider the possibility. Yet, our promise and delivery of a video that now will confirm and justify everything suggests that we weren't so certain before. Implicit is a breathless "Phew" that undermines our Good-Guy self-confidence and accomplishes little else. Most likely the Bush administration felt bullied by the media and possibly other nations to justify U.S. actions in Afghanistan. As talk of releasing video gained momentum, critics already were grumbling that the government had no business "managing the news," referring to Condoleezza Rice's request that the television media not air tapes of bin Laden on the chance they might include coded messages to terrorists awaiting further orders. Of course, asking television producers to be responsible during wartime isn't the same as "managing the news." There's every reason to withhold any material that might pose a threat to national security. Meanwhile, whatever the smoking-gun tape does to satiate curiosity, we know with certainty what it won't do, which is change anyone's mind that needed changing.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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