November 13, 2002

Bin Laden rears his ugly head – and war on Iraq seems more irrelevant (and dangerous) than ever

Last Friday [November 8], Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in an interview with Le Figaro that he thought Osama bin Laden is not only alive, but also plotting new terrorist attacks: "Something worrying is going on," he said. What's worrying is that the Bush administration has been ignoring all indications that the terrorist mastermind might still be around: indeed, they haven't mentioned his name in many months, and have assiduously spread the rumor far and wide that he died at Tora Bora. But that tack may become completely untenable even for them now that a new tape of Bin Laden has surfaced on Al Jazeera, with the voice of the Monster Himself taking credit for the attacks in Moscow, Yemen, and Bali. He also mentioned "killing our people in Iraq," but here, as they say, is the money quote:

"If we get bombed, you get bombed.

"If we get killed, you get killed."

If we're over there, they are coming over here. It's as simple as that. Now, please ask yourself: are you safer now than you were since the day after 9/11?

The timing of the Muslim Pimpernel's return couldn't have been more telling: as the U.S. ratchets up the campaign to go after Iraq, our real enemy rears his ugly head. Nothing could have dramatized more starkly the need for an authentic war on terrorism, not this enormous diversion into Iraq. As the Interpol chief put it:

"All intelligence experts are agreed that al Qaeda is preparing a major terrorist operation, simultaneous attacks that would not target the United States alone but several countries at the same time. The field of battle now stretches to all countries and mobilizes several terrorist groups."

Why are we preparing to conquer and occupy Iraq, a state Bin Laden despises and volunteered to fight against in the first Gulf war, when the man responsible for 9/11 is taunting us and threatening more attacks?

As Americans bombs burst over Baghdad, will the same fate await the Golden Gate Bridge, Chicago's Sears Tower, or some other target of opportunity, either here or abroad?

If the purpose and strategy of the "war on terrorism" is to make Americans safer, to secure and protect the homeland, then why-oh-why are we embarking on a foreign adventure against a nation that has never attacked us? This is not merely an ill-considered war it is crazy, suicidal, an act of ritualized hara kiri carried out by our rulers on the world stage.

As long as Osama bin Laden is around, and a single member of Al Qaeda is alive, American officials from Bush and Rumsfeld, on down to the lowliest gofer should be forbidden by law from so much as uttering the Iraqi dictator's name. Saddam's demise has become an unhealthy and clearly irrelevant obsession on the part of this administration to the point where the security of the nation is now seriously endangered. It is a demented policy, this rush to war, and the invasion of Iraq if it occurs will go down in history as a colossal blunder, the twenty-first century reenactment of Napoleon's march into Russia.

George W. Bush has declared a "war on terrorism," but this war is just as phony as Republican promises of a tax cut and the abolition of the estate tax. He is still living in a pre-9/11 world if he thinks that he can fight Bin Laden by moving armies around on the global chessboard and bombing the pile of rubble that is Iraq. This same assessment is essentially the basis of widespread opposition to Bush's war policy in the U.S. military, best expressed by former Secretary of the Navy James Webb. Speaking at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, Webb came out foursquare against attacking Iraq:

"I am very concerned with the direction this country may be going. Are we going to reshape American foreign policy to put (soldiers) on the ground in the Middle East? I think it's a mistake. There are a lot of recently retired officers with experience who are concerned."

Not to mention the concern by those on active duty. It is interesting to read this news account of Webb's speech, which underscores a point I've been emphasizing in this space all along, and that is the rising opposition to this war in the ranks of the military:

"When former Secretary of the Navy James Webb gave a speech last Thursday at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey slamming the Bush administration's threatened war with Iraq, an outsider might have expected the officers assembled there to give him a frosty reception. In fact, the opposite occurred. The respectful, admiring welcome he received gave an unusual, somewhat counterintuitive glimpse into the often-closed world of the U.S. military. Among the Naval Postgraduate School's students and faculty, at least, it seems that independent, critical thinking is alive and well."

Critical thinking is indeed far more alive and well among experienced military leaders like Webb and General Anthony Zinni than it is among our laptop bombardiers, such Vanity Fair columnist and socialist socialite Christopher Hitchens, who completely and willfully misses the point of the "chickenhawk" argument made by our Pentagon peaceniks. Hitchens pretends to believe that their critique is all about him, i.e. that

"Someone who wants intervention in, say, Iraq ought to be prepared to go and fight there. An occasional corollary is that those who have actually seen war are not so keen to urge it."

But clearly the significance of the military's opposition is that whose who actually know something about winning a war have not been so keen to urge this one. Now, why do you suppose that is? Are these "Islamofascists" in our midst, "appeasers" and "fifth columnists" who "blame America first"? Has Noam Chomsky infiltrated the U.S. military and will "patriots" like David Horowitz soon be calling for a purge of the Pentagon?

Webb's argument, which reflects the views of the majority of America's military leaders albeit not the civilian leadership of the Defense Department was made in a recent Washington Post op ed piece and reflects the views of a number of retired high-ranking officers, who have been outspoken in their opposition to Bush's war plans:

"American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? And would such a war and its aftermath actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism?"

Webb's answer is no, and this new uptick in Al Qaeda's visibility surely underscores his key point: that a war on Iraq is a distraction and perhaps a fatal one. Yet, Hitchens avers:

"My wife is not of military age, and there is little chance of a draft for mothers. Are her views on Iraq therefore disqualified from utterance?"

Like all socialists, Hitchens is an egalitarian, who clearly believes that his wife's opinions are on a par with those of the best military minds in the country. To this one can only shrug, and ask why anyone takes the War Party's court jester seriously.

Yes, the United States is at war against Al Qaeda. Remember them? Now that the CIA has verified that it is indeed the voice of Bin Laden on the latest Al Jazeera tape, perhaps Hitchens dimly recalls the man Dubya called "the Evil One" and what he and his crazed followers did one bright September morning. Is it all coming back now?

In this context, it is clearer than ever that the focus on Iraq, and our Israeli-centric stance in the Middle East, has undermined our fight and played into Bin Laden's hands. As Webb put it at the Naval School:

"'I don't think we have clean hands' in the Palestinian issue, he said, and have failed 'to effect a Palestinian state. Without that happening, anything we do in that region can be misconstrued to our detriment.'"

This is heresy to the neocons, naturally, whose fealty to Israel trumps anything and everything, even the national security interests of their own country. But Webb, and other patriotic officers, retired and otherwise, have a different view, one that puts America's national interest above all other considerations. One can only wonder how long before Webb is accused of "anti-Semitism."

Let's look at it this way: on the one hand, we have opposition to this war expressed by military and political leaders ranging from James Webb, Brent Scowcroft, General Zinni, and retired Marine colonel Larry Williams, among many others. On the other hand we have fulsome support from the wife of Christopher Hitchens, Hitchens himself, Andrew Sullivan who has recently denounced the U.S. Army's alleged "bigotry and stupidity" and a bunch of pasty-faced policy wonks whose closest contact with the military has been watching "M*A*S*H" reruns.

Which side are you on? For me, the choice couldn't be clearer.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.