Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bin Laden (and Newsweek) Don't Get It

Newsweek is out with a story that discusses "new technology" in the hunt for bin Laden. Actually, it's little more than a recap of how the military (and the CIA) are using drones to search for suspected terrorists, and take them out. This blog--and a number of others--have discussed UAV employment at great lengths, even noting that video feeds from the drones were greatly reduced in the run-up to the most recent strike, to increase security for the operation. Newsweek also makes the point--which we advanced last week--that the U.S. is now getting better information on the whereabouts of Al Qaida leaders, possibly from within the organization itself. According to the magazine, the CIA now has a large liaision team operating in Pakistan, and information developed by those agents is starting to pay off.

But, in typical Newsweek-speak, the article still manages to take a shot at the Bush Administration. In the final paragraph, the authors note bin Laden's claim (made on his most recent audio tape) that he bled the Russians white in Afghanistan, and can do the same to the USA; they also suggest that "Americans" (read: the White House) don't want to listen.

"Don't let your strength and modern arms fool you," bin Laden said in his message. "We have nothing to lose. A swimmer in the ocean does not fear the rain." As he has so often, bin Laden closed by invoking his successful war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. "We bled their economy, and now they are nothing. In that there is a lesson for you." Perhaps there is. Americans just don't want to hear it from him."

There's a major problem's with Osama's analysis (which Newsweek conveniently fails to mention). The Soviet economy of the 1980s was already on its last legs, burded not only by the War in Afghanistan, but trying to match U.S. defense spending under Ronald Reagan. Additionally, the mujahedin who fought the Soviet Army were aided and supplied by a superpower (the United States), which provided critical training and weaponry--namely Stinger missiles--that turned the tide of battle. Bin Laden's fighters also had the full support of the Pakistani government and intelligence services, another support element that is lacking this time around. While there are elements in Pakistan sympathetic to bin Laden, his troops cannot operate in the country or seek refuge with impunity, as they could twenty years ago.

Finally, Osama--and the editors of Newsweek--need a lesson in basic economics. The U.S. has a $5 trillion economy, and has managed to put a major dent in Al-Qaida with defense spending that is just over 3% of our GDP. Given those numbers, Osama better re-think his plan, and Newsweek needs to rethink its "analysis."

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