It is widely assumed that Republicans do a better job than Democrats of keeping the nation secure. But the history of Osama bin Laden furnishes many reasons to question that assumption.
The materials picked up at BL compound furnish proof that he was deeply concerned about public perceptions; this was imperative because he constantly had to recruit new followers to replace those killed or captured. Thus, he dyed his beard to appear more youthful and he would re-record his tapes and videos to improve them. He was concerned about how he and his enemies were perceived.
Several days before the 2004 presidential election, on Oct. 29, bin Laden ended almost a year of silence with his most influential videotape ever. The CIA concluded bin Laden, who primarily spoke for strategic reasons, wanted a second George W. Bush term. Deputy CIA director John McLaughlin said "Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president." The crafty and clever bin Laden achieved his objective: a Newsweek poll showed the videotape added six points to Bush support. Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman felt Bush was helped by it and even Bush himself felt it helped him.
Why did bin Laden grease the path for a second Bush term?
* He wanted Bush because everyone wants their enemies to have weak and incompetent leadership. This is similar to some Democrats hoping that Palin, Bachmann, or Santorum get the 2012 GOP nomination. They believe that would guarantee a second Obama term, because their personalities would unite and fortify opposition to them. Bush's arrogance cost the U.S. both allies and respect throughout the world and made it easier for bin Laden to recruit.
* Bush had clumsily overplayed his hand facilitating bin Laden's Jiujitsu. Bin Laden frankly explained his strategy of "provoke and bait": "All we have to do is send two mujahedin ... (and) raise a piece of cloth on which is written 'Al Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses."
* Bush's fixation on Iraq and his desire to leave a "light footprint" enabled bin Laden and many of his forces to escape the clutches of the U.S. at Tora Bora in November-December 2001. Former CIA official, Vincent Cannistraro, told how the search for bin Laden "lost at least half of its original strength" as Bush focused on Iraq.
* Only six months after 9-11, at a news conference on March 2002, Bush made it clear that bringing bin Laden to justice was not a priority: "I truly am not that concerned about him." Since bin Laden had already "met his match" and we were not hearing from him, Bush said it was a mistake to focus on one person.
In the aforementioned tape, bin Laden explained what motivated his 9-11 attack: Reagan's 1983 shelling of Lebanon. Colin Powell said this about that event: "The battleship U.S.S. New Jersey started hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II-style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would."
The U.S. shelling demolished high rises, killing many innocent people.
Bin Laden concluded that "the intentional killing of women and children is a deliberate American policy. He claimed his soul was deeply affected and explains precisely why he targeted towers: "as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children."
Bin Laden, always interested in enlarging his base and adding new recruits, felt the above ideas would resonate with millions because its factual basis is indisputable. Consider:
* Colin Powell implied that the killing of 241 U.S. Marines by a suicide bomber (Oct. 23, 1983) was the direct result of our shelling the area.
* Jimmy Carter told the New York Times in 1989: "We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first hand the intense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers -- women and children and farmers and housewives. ... As a result we became kind of a Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful."
* A 1997 Department of Defense study concluded: "Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States."
All the above points were derived from sources that deplore 9-11; in no way do they constitute a justification for 9-11. But it is profoundly unfortunate and regrettable that bin Laden's excuse resonates with untold numbers because of Reagan's provocative outrages against Lebanon. And we have little capacity to "see ourselves as others see us" (Robert Burns).
In short, one Republican president (Reagan) created enemies and another Republican president (W. Bush) handled those enemies very incompetently while creating plenty of new enemies. Because the nations with the most enemies have reason to feel insecure, I believe those two made the nation less secure.
Jones lives in West Haven.