Jewish World Review July 24, 2002/ 15 Menachem-Av, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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A corpse or not, his time is gone | Nobody around here claims to know whether Osama bin Laden is the ugliest dude in the Islamic universe or by now merely what's left of the ugliest corpse. It might not matter very much.

Osama is certainly more useful to George W. alive than dead. Given the Justice Department's timidity and eagerness to cut deals with the terrorists it arrests but finds reasons not to prosecute, an Osama bin Laden in captivity would be a liability indeed. With plea bargaining, he could get off with probation and 100 hours of community service (keeping the grass cut at the mosque).

As long as he is "out there" and alive, the war on terror keeps its original focus, though the momentum is clearly slipping away. Osama was always more the icon of evil than the actual nexus of it, but useful in keeping the focus sharp and tight, more valuable to the West than to al Qaeda.

What is coming clear is that dead or alive Osama is becoming a liability in the Arab world. He's beginning to be seen as just another Arab loser, a big mouth exposed as nothing more than a loose valve in a gas bag, hidden behind a scraggly attempt to grow a manly beard.

In a remarkable dispatch in the Saudi newspaper Arab News, Amir Taheri argues that even if Osama's body is not rotting in a shallow Afghan grave, with his ghost in hot pursuit of his 72 babes, it might as well be. The conditions he exploited no longer obtain and he has become irrelevant.

"Remember you read it here: Osama bin Laden is dead," Mr. Taheri writes. " Of course, we cannot produce the body or pinpoint the grave. What we have in mind is bin Laden's death as a political operator.

"With an ego the size of Mount Everest, Osama bin Laden would not have, could not have, remained silent for so long. He had always liked to take credit even for things he had nothing to do with. So, would he remain silent for nine months during which his illusions have been shattered one after another? If his adjutants can smuggle a video to al-Jazeera in Qatar, why couldn't he?

"Even if he were still alive physically, bin Laden is dead politically. He may live some more years in the hide-outs of the tribal zone in Pakistan, just as some Nazi fugitives survived in the remote areas of Argentina and Paraguay.

"Osama bin Laden is the known face of a particular brand of politics that committed suicide in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001."

Whether wholly accurate or not, this is a remarkable concession for any Arab commentator, and all the more remarkable in a newspaper, even an English-language journal, published in the very belly of the Saudi beast, evidence that George W. and his men have won not only the ground in Afghanistan, but are beginning to win the propaganda war as well.

It's a testimonial to the power of taking a common-sensical position and holding it in the face of enemy fire. The Bush government, being composed of Republicans who instinctively quail at the prospect of politics as a contact sport, often wavers in the face of criticism of its domestic initiatives. But so far it has not wavered in the conduct of war on the overseas front. This will serve Americans well when George W. goes to war against Saddam Hussein.

Saddam's apologists in Europe and at the United Nations understand this, and have begun a drumbeat of assertions that whatever has to be done can't be done. Hans von Sponeck, a former U.N. humanitarian-aid minister who sounds exactly like you would expect a former U.N. minion named Hans von Sponeck to sound, insists that Washington should give it up now because "during the 17 months of the Bush administration just about everything has gone wrong for the U.S. government in preparing the public for military strikes against Iraq."

Writing in the Guardian, the bible of Britain's tea biscuit-and-beansprout left, he argues that since Saddam actually hasn't done very much wrong and certainly isn't doing anything wrong now, the Arab world will explode once the Americans land in Iraq. The Arab street, awake at last. Saddam's crack troops will give the U.S. Army a licking like it hasn't had since First Manassas. And of course it's all the fault of the Jews: "Years of U.S. double standards in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have taken a heavy toll."

That's actually not what is at play at all. What happened was, George W. Bush unleashed American outrage and hasn't backed up. The Arab world, which is not illiterate, is reading the handwriting on a lot of walls.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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