New Bin Laden Tape

Osama bin Laden seems to have dropped a new audiotape. The early highlights:

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden described President Barack Obama as “powerless” to stop the war in Afghanistan and threatened to step up guerrilla warfare there in a new audiotape released to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

In the 11-minute tape, addressed to the American people, bin Laden said Obama is only following the warlike policies of his predecessor George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and he urged Americans to “liberate” themselves from the influence of “neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby.”

Two noteworthy points here. One is that the odd framing of Obama as “powerless” — rather than simply unwilling — to stop the war in Afghanistan highlights the extent to which Obama is a PR asset for the United States. It’s difficult for bin Laden to take him on directly, so instead he suggests he’s not really running things. Also a reminder here that the war in Afghanistan is viewed skeptically by most Muslims and that a really prolonged US engagement there runs the risk of inflaming broader sentiment against us.

Second, is that OBL didn’t used to lean very heavily on the Israel issue in his rhetoric. After all, there are lots of militant anti-Israel groups out there. The key conceit of al-Qaeda is that those groups are thinking way too small, and people need to join into a much more grandiose war than an effort to destroy a very small country. I think this reflects al-Qaeda’s recent difficulty recruiting, as you can think of this as bin Laden shifting to a kind of lowest common denominator appeal. We see here that the indifference to Palestinian suffering that’s considered de rigeur by many in American politics is a key strategic vulnerability of the United States; when the well is running dry, this is something people looking to rally recruits against us turn to.