As Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham,D-Fla., puts it, "We need to try to get inside the motivation of these people." So let’s try.
Since their Oct. 7 appearance on Al Jazeera television, the leaders of al-Qaida have disappeared from view. It would appear that the spy satellites combing Afghanistan in search of the terrorists—who are reportedly defended by 3,000 al-Qaida troops—cannot find the main target of the allied bombardment. Although there’s no sure way of establishing the extent to which Osama Bin Laden is aware of what's going on, he is surely not surprised by the display of U.S. aerial power nor by the absence of large numbers of ground troops. As he said in an interview a few years ago, "We've noticed during the last decade the US Government is going downhill and we also noticed the weakness of the American soldier who is merely programmed to win easy targets and not prepared for long bitter battles."
Nor, one imagines, is Bin Laden surprised that some Americans have sought to implicate Iraq in the massacre of Sept. 11. Indeed, he may welcome American action against Saddam Hussein. Despite signs that Bin Laden's dislike for Iraq's secular dictator has waned recently (and it has never matched his hatred of the United States), it should be remembered that Bin Laden was eager to take up arms against Saddam in 1990. This was soon after the Saudis rejected Bin Laden’s offer to send 30,000 mujahideen to help defeat the Iraqi Republican Guard against 500,000 allied troops, and the incident seems to have sealed the al-Qaida leader’s view about his own country, Saudi Arabia.
Yet surely Bin Laden would be surprised to read so many articles emanating from the American and European press denouncing the House of Faud as corrupt and undemocratic (as well as a harbor for Islamic extremists), for he is in agreement with this assessment.
So what's the less encouraging news for Bin Laden? It's believed that he would like to see the creation of a Pan-Islamic state—one that would stretch from the Atlantic in the West to the Pacific in the East. Yet that state is no more likely now than it ever was. If anything, the effect of Sept. 11 has been to provoke and threaten precisely the opposite. As Indonesian leader President Megawati Sukarnoputri said yesterday, as a result of al-Qaida's actions, her country could "become the Balkans of the eastern hemisphere that will not only never enjoy happiness among ourselves but also will represent dangers for nations around us. … We will become smaller nations with equally smaller states which will be more susceptible to so much pressure from outside." So much for al-Qaida's grand plans.
Finally, if Bin Laden had the chance, he would probably like to point out one small mistake. You know that now-famous photograph of the Bin Laden children in Sweden, leaning against a pink Cadillac. Well, as a friend who knows the family tells me, Osama is not among them. An unscrupulous Swedish hotel owner sold the photo for an undisclosed sum, circled one of the children’s heads, and said that the boy in flares was the al-Qaida leader. In fact, Osama Bin Laden did not go to Sweden that year.