The latest Bin Laden material to be leaked reminded me of the gag about the great actor who opens the morning paper and finds his own obituary. Probably someone by the same name died and the editors mistakenly published a review of his life. Chuckling, he calls his agent: "Herb, you have got to see Page 54 of today's Times!"
Herb steps away from the phone to find the article. When he comes back, his voice is shaking.
"You mean they let you make a phone call from there?"
Osama has been dead for years, of course, in the operational sense. He has not been in the position to lead anything. He was lucky enough to be physically in this world so he could read his own obituary. But he certainly was not about to star in Osama II: The Sequel before the CIA Seek-Well team found his lair. He turned out to be in a suburban hovel rather than in a feral cave, but the basic reality was just as advertised. Once he went over-the-hill in Tora Bora, he was reduced to watching the reruns of his greatest episodes.
It was still a good idea to go get him, both for retributive purposes and to score a symbolic blow.
Yet that narrative is too bloodless for the mythmakers. The ongoing apotheosis of Obama for shooting Osama requires that we confer the Nobel War Prize on Osama retroactively. He was sharp; he was engaged; he was involved; he was calling the shots; he was running the show. Only the fearless Boy Wonder of Pennsylvania Avenue stood between Osama's legions and our Armageddon. Somehow, with the clock ticking away the last seconds of hope for humanity, Barack found the strength to behead the monster and save civilization.
This version of events is making its way into the press through anonymous leakers of high-value intelligence pretending to be whistle-blowers rather than own-horn-blowers. Yes, these breathless conspirators whisper to their tame journalist friends, Osama was still Meester Beeg. Indeed, reports the Associated Press, the new information "shatters the government's conventional thinking about Bin-Laden, who had been regarded for years as mostly an inspirational figurehead whose years in hiding made him too marginalized to maintain operational control…"
It turns out that Osama was in regular contact with the boys in Yemen and elsewhere through UBS flash drives by which he sent computer files with his thoughts. All of this is true enough. But when you read the excerpts they provide, you can laugh your head off… you should excuse the expression.
You can tell immediately that no one is listening to him. His messages are the equivalent of the guy kibitzing at the Scrabble game: "No, the Z… I said the Z… on the Triple Letter Score…" "No, no, don't put down the ING for 20 points… you save that for a chance at a seven-letter Bingo next turn…"
He says to stop attacking big cities, start attacking small cities. Stop targeting small crowds, start big crowds. Stop the planes, start the trains. Clearly the decisions are being made elsewhere. There is not a single one of the successful al Qaeda attacks of recent years that he conceived… or advanced… or coordinated. The only targets of his sniping were the guys who actually ran things. We can all imagine them rolling their eyes when Uncle Ozzie's latest broadside showed up; that is, if they even read them. We found Oz in his pajamas and he wasn't much of a wizard; he didn't give us our courage, or our brain, or our heart.
I hate to say this, really I do, but it looks like we have done Zawahiri and Awlaki a huge favor by taking out their dotty old pensioner. They are off the hook of paying sentimental obeisance to the old mullah emeritus, plus as a bonus they get to invoke his martyrdom as a call to arms. Otherwise they might have had to smuggle him back to headquarters someday and deal with him up close.
It reminds me of another old joke, about the old man who needs a dangerous operation. He insists that he will only trust his son to do the surgery. Before the anesthetic is administered, he leaves his son with one last message to inspire a good performance: "Remember, my son, if anything goes wrong, your mother will move in with you and your family."
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