The Osama diaries

Posted: Nov 23, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan has "tentatively" confirmed reports that Osama bin Laden remains alive and at-large. McClellan told reporters that intelligence experts have "authenticated" the terrorist kingpin's voice on the latest audiotape broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite network. So what. Al-Jezeera, al-Qaeda's preferred television organ, has often aired tapes purporting to demonstrate that Osama survived the collapse of his Taliban allies in Afghanistan. By last April, no fewer than eight post-Sept. 11 Osama tapes had found their way into public circulation. Another popped up in October. The latest installment was aired by Al-Jazeera last week. Osama's potent propaganda value for Islamic militants means that he'll probably never be allowed to die. And considering the revealing nature of some of the footage, most memorably Osama's gloating testimonial about how many of the Sept. 11 hijackers were not told that they were on a suicide mission, Osama's real or contrived re-emergence reminds us that the war against terrorism is going to be a long one. The Senate's lame duck passage of legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security represented another necessary step in the war. After stalling the bill for five months, Senate Democrats belatedly permitted its passage -- 90 to 9 -- before Republicans assume leadership of the Senate in January. Sen. Teddy Kennedy, D-Mass., who purported to oppose the bill, was AWOL in Paris attending a fashion tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, leaving Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., to fight a surreal, rearguard action against the measure. Byrd, who has devoted his Senate career to funneling federal largesse to West Virginia, objected to the "massive new bureaucracy" created by the homeland security agency. One wonders if Byrd would have opposed situating the new Cabinet department in his home state. Ironically, the Democrats' were waging a guerilla war against homeland security legislation while simultaneously excoriating President Bush for not having delivered Osama's head on a platter. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., still smarting from the Nov. 5 elections, had the temerity to declare that, "We've got to find Mohammed Omar, we've got to find Osama bin Laden, we've got to find other key leaders of the Al Qaeda network or we will have failed." Tough talk for someone who complicated President Bush's efforts to prosecute such a fight. Byrd, the Senate's ranking curmudgeon, declared the war against terrorism a flop. "We went to Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists," Byrd whined, "but we do not know where Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar are hiding." This defeatism was too much even for San Francisco liberal and incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The war on terror is about more than Osama bin Laden," Pelosi plagiarized, without crediting President Bush with the quote. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer wryly remarked: "Individuals are free to focus on any one person if they think that's the best way to conduct foreign policy. That's a different approach than the president has." Protecting America's citizens from terrorism will require much more than capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. Some may wish to reduce the scope of the threat to Osama's singular evil. But, as Thomas Hobbes recognized long ago, times of tranquility are remarkable exceptions to mankind's much longer history of war. Like the misnamed "Cold War" against Soviet totalitarianism, the struggle against terrorism is likely to be a protracted endeavor, requiring steadfastness, perseverance -- and sometimes, gunfights. The "Cold War" was, after all, very "hot" for the U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines dispatched to fight it between 1945 and 1989. Whether Daschle and Byrd like it or not, the logical next step in this new war is to disarm Saddam Hussein. His fixation with weapons of mass destruction does not represent his only, or even his primary, menace to peace and security. The fascist Iraqi dictator has long sponsored and sheltered terrorists who have targeted American, European and Israeli interests.