Monday, September 14, 2009

New Bin Laden Message, "To the American People," Released September 13

*See the end of this post for Four Updates*

(September 20, 3:25 A.M.)

A new audio message from al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) chief Usama bin Laden (often transliterated "Osama bin Laden") was released late yesterday evening (September 13). The message, entitled "To the American People," (إلى الشعب الأمريكي ) is 11 minutes and 20 seconds in length, and deals primarily with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the the continuity between the U.S. presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan/Pakistan receive direct attention, and are relegated to secondary or tertiary comments.


Bin Laden cites the academic work of American scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer on the influence of the Israel lobby in the U.S., which will certainly make the two scholars cringe and their ideological critics happy:

"We should have a lengthy pause at this point. Any person with an iota of mercy in his heart cannot but sympathize with those oppressed elderly, women, and children living under the deadly siege. Above that, the Zionists pound them with US-made incendiary phosphorous bombs. Life there is tragic beyond limits, to the point that children die b etween the arms of their parents and doctors due to the lack of food and medicine and the power outages. It is indeed a disgrace for world politicians who are content with that, and their loyalists, who are behaving as such with prior knowledge and premeditation, and under the influence of the Israeli lobby in America. The details of that are explained by two of your fellow citizens. They are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book The Israel Lobby in the United States.

"After reading the suggested books, you will know the truth and you will be severely shocked at the magnitude of deception that has been practiced against you. You will also know that those who make statements from inside the White House today and claim that your wars against us are necessary for your security are in fact working along the same line of Cheney and Bush, and propagating the former policies of intimidation to market the interests of the relevant major corporations, at the expense of your blood and economy. Those in fact are the ones who are imposing wars on you, not the mujahidin. We are just defending our right to liberate our land.

"In a nutshell, it is time to free yourselves from fear and intellectual terrorism being practiced against you by the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby. You should put the file of your alliance with the Israelis on the table of discussion. You should ask yourselves the following question so that you can determine your position: Do you like the Israelis' security, sons, and economy more than your security, blood, sons, money, jobs, houses, economy, and reputation? If you choose your security and stopping the wars -- and this has been shown by opinion polls -- then this requires that you act to stop those who are tampering with our security on your end. We are prepared to respond to this option on sound and fair foundations that have been mentioned before."

Screenshots from the audio-video released late yesterday, September 13.

Bin Laden highlights the "sameness" between the previous and current U.S. presidential administrations, as he sees it:

"Here is an important point that we should pay attention to with regard to war and stopping it. When Bush assumed power and appointed a defense secretary who had made the biggest contribution to killing more than two million persecuted villagers in Vietnam, sane people predicted that Bush was preparing for new massacres in his era. This was what took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Obama assumed power and kept the men of Cheney and Bush -- namely, the senior officials in the Defense Department, like Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus -- sane people knew that Obama is a weak person who will not be able to stop the war as he had promised and that he would procrastinate as much as possible. If he were to decide, then he would hand over command to the generals who oppose this aimless war, like the former commander of troops in Iraq, General Sanchez, and the commander of the Central Command who was forced by Bush to resign shortly before leaving the White House due to his opposition to the war. He appointed instead of him a person who would escalate the war. Under the cover of his readiness to cooperate with the Republicans, Obama made the biggest trick as he kept the most important and most dangerous secretary from Cheney's men to continue the war. The days will show you that you have changed only faces in the White House. The bitter truth is that the neoconservatives are still a heavy burden on you.

"Once again, if you stop the war, then that is fine. If you choose not to stop the war, then we have no other option but to continue the war of attrition against you on all possible axes, just as we did with the Soviet Union for 10 years until it disintegrated, with the grace of God. Continue the war for as long as you wish. You are fighting a desperate, losing war that is in favor of others. There seems to be no end in sight for this war.
"Russian generals, who learned lessons from the battles in Afghanistan, had anticipated the result of the war before its start, but you do not like those who give you advice. This is a losing war, God willing, as it is funded by money that is borrowed based on exorbitant usury and is fought by soldiers whose morale is down and who commit suicide on a daily basis to escape from this war."

Some have argued that the absence of English subtitles in the message suggest a "serious degradation" in AQC's media capabilities. However, it is also possible that the problems, assuming there were some, that prevented the inclusion of English subtitles are a much more "local" problem. Thomas Hegghammer, an expert in radical Saudi Islamism and jihadi movements, has suggested that Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri's different locations may explain differences in each one's audio messages released this summer. In short, al-Zawahiri's audio and video releases have been much more comprehensive and "flashy," and the summer messages were released two different ways: Bin Laden's the old-fashioned way via courier to al-Jazeera and al-Zawahiri's the new way, to the Salafi jihadi online discussion forums.


Despite the absence of English subtitles from Usama bin Laden's latest audio message, al-Sahab had no trouble (it would seem) including English subtitles in the last video release from al-Zawahiri, "Path of Doom" (طريق الهلاك ), which was released in late August. This raises the possibility, or even the probability, that two different "wings," for lack of a better term at the moment, of al-Sahab are producing messages from Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, which makes sense, considering the likelihood that the two are in different locations.

In any case, the issue is an interesting one to consider.


The official Arabic language transcript of the audio message is viewable below:

Bin Laden (September 13 Message) Arabic

Listen to the audio message.

Read the United States Government Open Source Center's English language translation of the audio message at Informed Comment, the blog of University of Michigan Middle East and South Asia history professor Juan Cole.

When an official translation from one of the transnational jihadi media outlets becomes available, I will post it.

UPDATE (11:25 p.m. EST): A PDF copy of Profs. Walt and Mearsheimer's working paper on the Israel lobby has been linked-to from the al-Qimmah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Summit) Somali language jihadi online discussion forums. It has also been linked-to on other forums, as has Confessions of an Economic Hitman, another title reportedly referred to (though by the wrong title) in Bin Laden's message.

The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy
View the thread.

UPDATE #2 (12:55 A.M., September 15): Jarret Brachman, research professor at North Dakota State University and former director of research at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, has an excellent post detailing his argument that Bin Laden's tape is nothing new and, if anything, is a poor retread of much older themes from his tapes of yesteryear.

Prof. Marc Lynch of The George Washington University, a specialist on Middle East politics, argues: "Overall, this tape struck me as something significant. Al-Qaeda has been on the retreat for some time. Its response thus far to the Obama administration has been confused and distorted. Ayman al-Zawahiri has floundered with several clumsy efforts to challenge Obama's credibility or to mock his outreach. But bin Laden's intervention here seems far more skillful and likely to resonate with mainstream Arab publics. It suggests that he at least has learned from the organization's recent struggles and is getting back to the basics in AQ Central's "mainstream Muslim" strategy of highlighting political grievances rather than ideological purity and putting the spotlight back on unpopular American policies."

I do not really agree with Lynch's description of all of al-Zawahiri's recent audio and video messages as "awkward." On the contrary, the Egyptian surgeon has always been more ideologically important to AQC than the charismatic, and wealthy, Bin Laden. This should not be misconstrued as me arguing that the latter is "unimportant."

UPDATE #3 (2:27 P.M., September 15): Prof. As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab," argues that al-Qa'ida as an organization is less effective, in contrast to those, such as al-Quds al-'Arabi editor-in-chief 'Abdel Bari 'Atwan, who argue that AQ's "franchising" in places such as Algeria, Iraq, and Yemen, and the independence of these franchises operationally, have made the movement stronger. AbuKhalil argues that AQ, essentially, is weaker and almost ineffectual.

I think that he has a point, to a degree, when discussing AQC; the centralized structure created by Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri is facing significant operational hurdles, and has become (it seems) less able to carry out, or even influence, major attacks further away from its bases of operation. However, the death notice of AQC has been written (wrongly) many times before. I also strongly disagree with AbuKhalil when it comes to at least two of the AQ "franchises": al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM), based largely in Algeria, and al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is now based almost exclusively in Yemen. AQIM has continued to maintain its military capabilities to wage a low-scale but destabilizing insurgency in Algeria, building an impressive media wing, and AQAP has steadily increased its capabilities as well, culminating in the failed kamikaze attack on a Saudi prince, Muhammad bin Nayyif, the kingdom's senior anti-terrorism official. The term "al-Qa'ida" is often used to refer to a group of militant Islamist groups as if they were all one organization, which is demonstrably false. Using the term this way impedes our understanding of the nature of the evolution of movements into more disperse, if ideologically similar, groups.

UPDATE #4 (2:32 A.M., September 16): Prof. Stephen Walt responds to his and John Mearsheimer's book being recommended by Usama bin Laden HERE.

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