Osama Bin Laden strikes me as a reasonable, intelligent enemy when I read the full text of his speeches. If you can put emotion aside, he makes many fair points about American and Israeli hypocrisy and the 80 years of exploitation of the Middle East. Above that, OBL displays an outstanding grasp of political jujitsu, expertly turning his enemies' strengths against them.
Bin Laden believes that he helped to destroy the Soviet empire by impoverishing it militarily and economically in Afghanistan. He believes that he is successfully destroying the American empire by depleting it militarily and financially in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is probably correct.
The latest revelation of a change in strategy is particularly worrying. OBL and Al Qaida seem to have realised that they can strangle the American empire by choking off its blood supply - oil - rather than by spilling the blood of its citizens. And the beauty is that Al Qaida can attack the oil installations OVER THERE so that they do not need to attack Americans over HERE.
OBL's "Bleed Until Bankruptcy Plan"
- which he declared in the 1 November 2004 pre-election tape - has worked admirably at leading the USA toward economic self-destruction.
On the 19 January 2006 tape OBL offered the American people - who he recognised as turning against Bush - a truce in exchange for US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. OBL suggested that reasonable Americans should see that, "It is better not to fight the Muslims on their land and for them not to fight us [Americans] on our land."
When OBL then threatened further attacks by saying, "The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes," many interpreted this as meaning more terrorist attacks on American cities. In fact, it may have been a hint of the new front in the war is the American dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
This became clearer with the release of a 63 page Saudi Al Qaida policy last week. The attacks in our homes will be on our energy reliance - the essential American comfort of heat, air conditioning, cheap electricity, and cheap gasoline.
From 2001 to 2005 OBL's "Bleed Until Bankruptcy Plan" involved quite small Al Qaida terrorist operations aimed at American targets. These incurred minor financial outlay, but required suicide terrorists and a expert preparations. Examples include the attacks on USA military and diplomatic posts in Africa, the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, and the guerilla attacks which ensure wasteful and pointless occupations and deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
OBL exploited the American tendency to over-reaction as a means of straining the finances and military strength of the USA. Again from the November 2004 speech:
al-Qaida spent $500,000 on the event, while America, in the incident and its aftermath, lost - according to the lowest estimate - more than $500 billion.
Meaning that every dollar of al-Qaida defeated a million dollars by the permission of Allah, besides the loss of a huge number of jobs.
As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars.
Now that the majority of Americans recognise the folly of being led to war by Bush, the mammoth challenge of debt weighing on the economy, and dangers of further turmoil in the Middle East, OBL is changing tactics - and it's brilliant. OBL is escalating, but in a way that is more likely to alienate Americans from Bush than cause blowback in the Middle East.
OBL is taking Bush's "We'll fight 'em over there so we don't have to fight 'em over here" and turning it on its head. Al Qaida will now target oil installations in the Middle East as the most effective means of bankrupting and destabilising Americans at home.
The shift in Irish Republican Army tactics in the 1990s toward economic targets - the City of London, the Canary Wharf financial centre, and shopping malls - marked a very successful change of campaign strategy. Very few lives were lost, but the economic pain and business disruption was enormous. While governments of all stripes seem capable of ignoring loss of life - although loudly decrying it - they tend to pay attention more closely when business interests start to hurt. Whether the IRA's economic targets led to the willingness of the British government to first negotiate and later compromise and finally share power with Irish Republicans may be debatable, but the results are not.
The Al Anzy statement released last week after the Alqaiq refinery attack bodes ill for the future prosperity of Americans:
"Oil is the basis of modern industry and the backbone of industries in infidel countries. With it, America was able to impose its dominance on the world," al-Anzy purportedly wrote in the 63-page document, titled "The Ruling on Targeting Oil Interests."
"God's wisdom has decreed that the oil wealth be concentrated in the Arabian peninsula and Iraq. This, in addition to some religious reasons, is the reason for the American occupation of Saudi Arabia decades ago and its latest occupation of Iraq."
He continued: "Pipelines may be the front line in a long-term war of attrition on oil and its interests. There is a great benefit in targeting oil pipelines to spite enemies in a way not realized by other means. Pipelines are an easy target militarily. Their protection is virtually impossible because of their length."
Oil facilities and tankers also are fair targets, the document said.
"Targeting refineries and oil factories is not very different from targeting oil pipelines" as long as they are owned by the state or "a nonbeliever," he purportedly wrote.
However, oil wells should not be attacked as long as there are other industry targets.
"The harm caused by targeting oil wells in the lands of Muslims outweigh the benefits because of health and environmental damages and because this will deprive Muslims of the benefit (of the oil wells) when God allows victory," the document said.
The Bleed Until Bankruptcy Plan was working well enough. Any haemorrhage of oil from the pipelines, refineries and tankers OVER THERE will speed defeat of Americans HERE.
An excellent analysis by Gal Luft in the Washington Post this morning reinforces the importance of the shift in Al Qaida strategy:
[If the car bombers had succeeded at Abqaiq.] The attack would have removed 4 million to 6 million barrels a day of supply from an already tight oil market. That loss would have exceeded all of the oil taken off the market by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries during the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Depending on the extent of damage to the site, it could have taken months or even years to fix the facility, where two-thirds of Saudi crude oil is processed. Without extra supplies, the only mechanism left to restore the market to equilibrium would be a rapid and uncontrolled increase in prices.
This vulnerability isn't lost on radical Islamic terrorists. They have identified the world energy system as the Achilles' heel of the West and have made attacking it a central part of their plan.
It is difficult to see how America can effectively respond. Luft recommends increasing strategic reserves, but it is hard to see how this could be done with so little spare production and refinery capacity worldwide. Whatever steps we take to secure supplies, the truth is that a single ground-launched missile taking out a tanker in the Straights of Hormuz or a single successful suicide attack on a major Saudi refinery would send the US economy into a tailspin of catastrophic proportions. Without cheap oil from the Middle East, the US economy is about as efficient and productive as East Germany at the time of reunification.
I don't have any answers, but I sure wish the risk were getting more rational analysis. And I wish we had some strategists in the Pentagon that could match OBL for results.