Osama the invincible

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Dec 12, 2001 12:00 AM
You begin with what we simply know to be true and can only grit our teeth over: Osama is a hero in great parts of the world. If a popularity contest were taken today in the Philippines, Osama would come in somewhere between George Harrison and John Lennon. That is the straight fico vote: Up yours, America.

Comes then the class of people who are not Muslim jihadists but feel a sense of detachment about Sept. 11, perhaps a touch of maybe America had it coming. They watch the days go by with a trace of exhilaration over what's going on. I mean, here is one bearded fanatic -- you can talk yourself into thinking of him as a John the Baptist -- who is being pounded day after day by the greatest air force of the greatest power in the world. He has tucked himself into a little cavity in a mountain and the 15,000-pound daisy-cutters drop here and there, and on top and on the bottom, and he remains inside there somewhere, reciting the Koran, drinking tea, and consoling his intimate guard with the rightness of their cause and the certainty of their deliverance, if not in this world, then in the next.

And then, the American dragon, Paul Wolfowitz, says to the press that the American people have to be prepared for the fact that we may be hunting this man and his followers "in Afghanistan months from now." Months from now? You would think that in less time than that, the Department of Defense of the greatest-ever superpower could transform Afghanistan from mountainous to tropical. If Osama is alive months from now, he will have gone a long way to claiming eternal life for himself.

Add to the mythogenic scene -- one Arab prophet surviving against the military-industrial complex -- the exploitation of the skeptics in the matter of direct responsibility for Sept. 11. We are not talking about Alan Dershowitz, who having established that O.J. Simpson is not a killer can, with hands tied behind his back, prove that Osama is innocent. No, there are the others. Around my shop, we call them Grassy Knollers -- they are certain that one or more men were there helping out Lee Harvey Oswald that day in Dallas, hiding behind the grassy knoll. Such as these are not fanatics, but they are easily aroused by any little conjectural foreplay. And we had that abundantly early in the week, with the administration's mishandling of the Osama tape.

The authorities released the word: We have on tape Osama discussing the events of Sept. 11 -- discussing them with such specificity as to link him directly do the deed.

How, directly?

Well, he said that it was terrific news that the twin towers collapsed all the way, whereas there was reason to hope only that they'd collapse from the top, to the point of impact.

But he didn't say that he organized the strike, did he? He just described his pleasure that it had gone so well.

What we got from the Defense Department was that the tape would be released sometime during the week. The delay was grist for the doubters. Why didn't DOD release the tape right away? What are they hiding? Who is doing the translating? Is anything being edited in? Edited out?

It is difficult to understand why the administration didn't just hang on to the tape and release it after it was dubbed or translated. The excuse that premature release would permit Osama to transmit subversive commands to his legions is implausible. What commands is he in a position to issue? Word to bomb Detroit? Anthrax the Super Bowl? The notion that Osama would use a filmed interview to send out recondite commands is cryptographic fantasy. All that we succeeded in doing by delaying the issuance of the tape is to fortify those who are nurturing doubts about Osama's direct responsibility for Sept. 11.

And now the British defense secretary announces that if he ends up in their hands, they will not turn him over to the United States unless we promise not to impose the death sentence, which is politically incorrect. So we have to worry about the danger of Osama falling into British hands.

But the legend grows that he won't fall into anybody's hands, save Allah's.