The Magazine

Bin Laden's video, Scott Ritter, and more.

Dec 24, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 15
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BIN LADEN'S WEAK HORSE

The new bin Laden video has been so thoroughly chewed over by the commentariat that The Scrapbook has only a couple of points to make. First, the tape was much more effective at strengthening the convictions of those who had already grasped bin Laden's depravity than at changing the minds of the deluded. This is unsurprising. If you are inclined to believe that the Mossad engineered the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then you will find it easy to believe that the Mossad can create propaganda videos starring an Osama bin Laden look-alike. A number of people on this planet, after all, still believe the Apollo moon landings were filmed in Hollywood.

Nonetheless--or, rather, for this very reason--the release of the tape was a huge success for the U.S. government. It forced an exquisitely tortuous choice on the bin Laden sympathizers and America haters. They had to declare their party loyalty: sane or demented. Mohamed Atta's father in Egypt said, "It's a forgery, of course." Sufficient reason, if one were needed, to stop listening to his ravings. Perhaps more surprising, especially to its American fan club, was the decision by Qatar-based satellite TV channel Al Jazeera to go with a report from "researcher" Hani Subai in London, declaring the video to have been "fabricated....It is shameful that the strongest nation in the world should be presenting this tape as proof." Something to bear in mind the next time you hear someone extolling the virtues of Al Jazeera.

Second, even as the tape showed the limits of "evidence" in changing the hearts and minds of the delusional, bin Laden himself seemed to confirm that the best American PR comes not from Madison Avenue but from the Pentagon. When people see a "strong horse and a weak horse," said bin Laden, "by nature they will like the strong horse."

Or, as Reuel Marc Gerecht put it in a prescient piece for this magazine ("Liberate Iraq," May 14, 2001):

"Unfortunately, the Arab Middle East easily takes solace in a ruthless despot who can intimidate America. . . . The State Department's Near East Bureau and the Office of Policy Planning . . . do Secretary Powell a disservice when they generate analyses of the Middle East depicting the United States forever on the seesaw of the Arab street. . . . The United States must not try to win a popularity contest in the Arab world--the very act of doing so will make us appear weak. . . . If we are to protect ourselves and our friends in the Middle East, who are many, we have to rebuild the awe which we have lost through nearly a decade of retreat."

We don't need any more bin Laden tapes. The American horse is getting stronger every day.

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S AMERICAN APOLOGIST

Scott Ritter's descent from U.N. arms inspector to apologist for Saddam Hussein was ably chronicled in these pages several weeks back by Stephen F. Hayes. Last week Ritter added to this shameful record, arguing that the Iraqi dictator would be justified in working with an Osama bin Laden operative to blow up a Radio Free Europe facility in the Czech Republic for broadcasting news Saddam disapproves of.

At a Dec. 7 briefing for the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, D.C., Ritter addressed the subject of meetings between an Iraqi spy and Mohamed Atta in Prague: "What it appears transpired was that the Iraqi intelligence officer...spoke with Mohamed Atta at length about an attack, but it was an attack on a radio transmission tower of Radio Free Europe in Prague, Czechoslovakia. . . . If you're the Iraqi government and you're looking at the Iraqi National Congress, they are a legitimate enemy. Indeed," Ritter added, "you could make the case that the Radio Free Europe transmission tower, under international law, is a legitimate target."

Actually, as far as we can determine, even Iraqi intelligence doesn't seem to think destroying a Radio Free Europe transmitter is a "legitimate" thing to be doing. Does anyone besides Scott Ritter think international law would countenance such an outrage? Does Jack Kemp, who as recently as his Dec. 6 syndicated column was still citing Ritter as a disinterested, authoritative expert on Iraq?

Creeping Gannettization

Another milestone to be noted in the Gannettization of a fine, formerly conservative editorial page: The Detroit News did an about-face last week and threw out principle for P.C. pragmatism on the subject of racial preferences at public universities. For years, under editorial page editor Tom Bray, the News had published legally informed, coherent arguments for colorblind admissions to the University of Michigan. Now, hewing to the diversity dogma of publisher Mark Silverman and the Gannett Corp., it announces feebly, "Affirmative action is not a perfect solution. But it works."