Merchant of Death
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Is Bin Laden Worried About His Relevance?
The two most recent statements by Osama bin Laden, after a long silence, seem to me to indicate he is worried about how relevant he remains in the global jihadist movement. They also make clear that the core al Qaeda leaders still want nothing less than a global revolution and uprising.

The NEFA Foundation's recent translations of bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri show the two leaders, whose most notable achievement in recent years has been to survive (and that is no small achievement, but stops making headlines after a while) are trying desperately to interject their thoughts and leadership over conflicts and groups that are out of their orbit of direct influence.

The most recent one, "Fight on, Champions of Somalia," is, in effect, a lambasting of the current Somali leadership of Sheikh Shareef as too moderate, and a hand-wringing over how any serious Islamist could engage in negotiations with non-Islamists.

How can intelligent people believe that yesterday’s enemies on the basis of religion can become today’s friends? This can only happen if one of the two parties abandons his religion. So look and see which one of them is the one who has abandoned it: Shaykh Shareef or America? ...These sorts of presidents are the surrogates of our enemies and their authority is null and void in the first place, and as Shaykh Shareef is one of them, he must be dethroned and fought."

This clearly someone who has no real influence on the ground and is reduced to watching from the sidelines, shouting instructions that no one feels obligated to listen to.

This is not to imply there is not a strong ideological/theological affinity among these groups, only to point out that bin Laden and Zawahiri are trying to become relevant in theaters of operations where they are no longer the guiding lights, and least in an operational sense.

Just a few days earlier, bin Laden had released a statement called "Practical Steps to Liberate Palestine," which of course are not practical at all, and regard a conflict in which al Qaeda has been notably absent (and has lost out to the Muslim Brotherhood).

Like Zawahiri's statements a few days before that, it consisted largely of lamenting the state of Palestine while trying to place that conflict in the context of global jihadist movements.

We are standing with them, and we are avenging them in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Algeria by confronting the ongoing crusader campaign stretching from Chechnya to Somalia, and from Afghanistan to the Islamic Maghreb. I give them the good news that while Israel was bombing resolute Gaza, the treacherous Pakistani Government was forced to cut-off the NATO supply route between Karachi and Jalalabad under the pressure of your brothers, the mujahideen in Pakistan.

This looks like an attempt to make the other jihads relevant to what is happening in Palestine, as it is the one conflict that the outside world is still paying attention to. However, it is not owned or directly influenced by the core al Qaeda leaders, who have paid lip service but little else to the Palestinian cause. It is also surprising how little Afghanistan and Pakistan are discussed with any depth.

It is not too long ago that al Qaeda would have considered the current Somali situation a triumph, but, in the never-ending conflict there, now backs the most hard-line faction. This is, in fact, an encouraging sign which al Qaeda has demonstrated in several conflicts-the complete unwillingness and inability to build coalitions on anything less than their own terms.

This was true in Iraq, where the al Qaeda forces systematically denounced their supposed allies (and were denounced by them), greatly weakening the Islamist movement.

This rigid inflexibility, as students of revolution know, often cost the "vanguards" a victory that would be possible had they been prepared to be less pure in their orthodoxy. And often revolutions triumph because of the ability, at least for a time, to embrace more moderate elements and deferring the conflict over lesser issues until the most important changes are made.

The Sandinistas under the Ortega brothers in Nicaragua and Castro in Cuba are examples of rigidly-orthodox leaders able to pretend to be flexible in order to achieve victory. Then they imposed their agendas ruthlessly.

It is true the world is moving on, and there are now freshmen entering college here who were only 10 years old when 9/11 occurred. The same is true for al Qaeda-there is a generation now maturing to whom they are names, but little more. The flurry of communiques in recent weeks by bin Laden and Zawahiri seem to be more cries for attention than the threat they have posed in the past.

This is not to minimize the threat by radical Islamists, it is there and growing. But the old generation is having a hard time going quietly into the night.
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