Bin Laden Fights to Stay Relevant

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AFP / Getty

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a new video message.

One conclusion to draw from the new Osama bin Laden video tape is that the mastermind of 9/11 apparently is worrying about his relevance these days.

And judging by the transcript, he has good reason to worry about it. Among other things, bin Laden maunders about corporations causing global warming and the Democrats failing to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Speculation is already rife that he is wearing a fake beard, since his gray of a few years ago has mysteriously disappeared. It seems he's either lost his mind or is the victim of a covert action campaign.

The new tape aside, it's hard to imagine that bin Laden is happy about what he's wrought in the last six years since 9/11. How can he not see that he is accountable for the death of tens of thousands of Muslims, nearly all of them believers, innocent of any crimes against Islam? Whether he intended it or not, bin Laden is largely responsible for destroying Iraq. And displacing two million Iraqi Muslims.

Bin Laden has lost in the Kingdom. The Saudi royal family is still standing, having rooted out bin Laden's networks. Saudi Arabia is no closer now to the Islamic caliphate bin Laden envisaged than it was before 9/11. And Iraq has shown his vision of a supranational radical Islam to be more of a pipe dream than a reality.

The same is true for the rest of the Middle East. Without exception, regimes across the Middle East, from Pakistan to Morocco, are more repressive than they were before 9/11. It's arguable they are more stable and better prepared to crush bin Laden's extremist interpretation of Islam.

September 11 has not forced the United States to lessen its support to Israel. In fact, it has been increased — and with fewer questions. Likewise the United States is less inclined to protest human rights violations in the Middle East.

I have no doubt that bin Laden can and will mount a terrorist operation, anything from bombing the London tube to an attack on New York's subway. Thanks to the Internet, a suicide bomber under bin Laden's sway can buy all the chemicals he needs from his local pharmacy to fabricate a bomb. He also can find the religious guidance, as specious as it might be, to justify the act.

Bin Laden should know by now that if he does manage a terrorist attack, the only thing he should count on is a hardening of America and its allies' positions. Especially in Europe: An attack there, such as the foiled plot in Germany, would sweep away European unhappiness about secret prisons and Guantanamo, once again lining Europe behind the U.S. in its war against al-Qaeda.

Islamic history will remember Osama bin Laden as a bad Muslim. Islamic canon is formal: a Muslim leader must do everything he can within his power to prevent fitna — civil war between Muslims. And that is exactly what bin Laden has done in Iraq, drawing us into a war and creating the circumstances for Shi'a and Sunni to kill each other. Whether or not al-Qaeda is responsible for every market truck bomb in Iraq, it will be laid at bin Laden's feet.

With this kind of carnage tied to his name, bin Laden would be better off staying put in his cave and keeping his mouth shut.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is's intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down