November 4, 2004
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Osama bin Laden's
election-eve missive appears to have backfired. Indeed, his wild
claims that he will bankrupt America by forcing us to fund
counterterrorism efforts -- along with the new warnings from "Azzam
the American" that more attacks are on the way -- left many
Americans scratching their heads.
The tapes do little to help us understand the severity of the
terrorist threat against the United States. On the one hand, they
demonstrate bin Laden's capacity to reach a global audience,
getting his picture on every cable news channel, displacing
election chatter on the nightly news and garnering attention on the
Sunday talk shows. On the other hand, the fact that bin Laden has
spent more time talking than fighting may reflect the toll the war
on terrorism has taken on his terrorist network.
Since 9/11, bin Laden has had few victories to crow about. The
bombing in Spain didn't keep that country or other NATO allies from
sending troops last month to help out in Afghanistan. And the
successful Afghan elections -- thoroughly repudiating the Taliban
-- were hardly good news for the world's most notorious terrorist
leader. Yes, terrorism is rampant in Iraq, but the political
process is still moving forward and Iraqis line up every day at
great personal risk to enlist in their security forces.
So far, since President Bush declared war on terrorism, bin Laden's
greatest achievements have been eluding capture and circulating
about two dozen audio and videotapes. Hitler did as much, spewing
defiant speeches from his Berlin bunker almost to the end.
While the tapes offer no definitive proof that terrorism is either
waxing or waning, they do underscore one key aspect of the
struggle: the role of psychological warfare. Bin Laden's videos are
propaganda, pure and simple, designed to weaken U.S. resolve and
foster recruiting and fund raising for al Qaeda. Defeating
terrorism means crushing its campaign to spread ideas and arguments
as well as taking out its leadership, support networks and
Americans tend to think of psychological warfare as a relic of
World War II or the Cold War. The phrase conjures images of planes
dropping leaflets over some foreign country or radio broadcasts
spilling behind the Iron Curtain. Most people assume they are
immune from the threat of psychological combat. Wrong. Today, the
techniques and instruments that can support psychological warfare
are diverse and readily available. (They include Web sites, e-mail,
online media, instant messaging, chat rooms and television.) And
they can be as easily deployed against America as they can against
Prevailing in the struggle of ideas, as in any battle, requires a
sound strategy and deliberate effort. The right strategy involves
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
Osama bin Laden's election-eve missive appears to have backfired. Indeed, his wild claims that he will bankrupt America by forcing us to fund counterterrorism efforts left many Americans scratching their heads.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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