War, lies and audiotape
If truth is the first casualty of war, then this war's second casualty is the credibility of Colin Powell. Yesterday morning he insisted that the new tape from Osama bin Laden would show a "partnership" between al-Qaida and Iraq. He told the nation that he had a transcript of bin Laden's remarks. Understandably, however, the secretary of state didn't read from the transcript he claimed to have in his possession -- because it so clearly contradicted the headlines he was trying to create.
Today, what the Washington Post terms a full translated version of the bin Laden tape is up on the paper's Web site. After the usual florid introduction, bin Laden's first point is that he supports the Iraqi Muslims, not Saddam Hussein. But let's allow him to speak for himself, since the administration no longer worries about airing his words. It's a clumsy translation but clear enough:
"First, the sincerity of intentions for the fighting should be for the sake of Allah only, no other, and not for the victory of national minorities or for the aid of the infidel regimes in all Arab countries, including Iraq."
Nowhere on this tape does bin Laden offer a single word of support for the Baghdad regime. As I argue elsewhere, this tape is probably more than a signal for Islamist terrorism against the West; it is almost certainly a deliberate attempt to encourage war fever in the United States. Does anyone doubt that bin Laden prefers war to weapons inspections?
The other aspect of the bin Laden tape that Powell failed to mention yesterday is bin Laden's long, mocking account of his escape from Tora Bora during the war against the Taliban. He describes the many bomb and missile strikes at the al-Qaida redoubt, and then concludes:
"Despite this tremendous bombing, which was coupled with the outrageous media campaign ... we managed to confront all their daily attacks, thanks be to Allah, and we forced them back each time defeated, carrying their dead and injured.
Despite all that, the American forces did not dare to invade our location. So what clearer proof is there [of] their cowardice and fear and lies ...?"
While I put together my survival kit of duct tape and canned soup, I hope an administration spokesman will explain why we are sending 150,000 troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein when we wouldn't send in 5,000 to capture or kill bin Laden.
[9:02 a.m. PST, Feb. 12, 2003]