What do you do when you need an enemy but there isn't one around? Simple -- make them up.
It's been a rough year for Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
He's been shot at, captured, and executed. His corpse has been dragged in front of Iraqi-run television cameras. And that's not even the worst of it; he's also been declared non-existent by the United States military.
That's got to sting, don't you think?
Al-Baghdadi was the voice behind Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group running loose in Iraq. Since October, he's launched manifestos on the West via the Internet and galvanized insurgents against American troops. Except he hasn't, because he doesn't exist and never did. Instead, the entire organization was a ruse initiated by Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani to entice Iraqis to join al-Qaeda in general, and Osama bin Laden in specific.
Curious. If al-Qaeda already has a legitimate foothold in Iraq (President Bush said on July 17 "the same people that attacked us on September the 11th is the crowd that is now bombing people" there), why the need to craft another one? For the competition? Is it for reasons mentioned above or about putting a face to a largely faceless movement?
Was al-Baghdadi the Emmanuel Goldstein for the Middle East wars?
"In [al-Mashhadani's] words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq," said U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner.
No kidding! It's not the first time something like this has happened, either. In fall of 2002, the Palestinian Authority captured Mossad agents attempting to set up a fake al-Qaeda terror cell in Gaza. They are, to this date, the only "al-Qaeda" to be detained. Similarly, Adam "Azzam the American" Gadahn, the English-speaking "face" of al-Qaeda treasonous enough to make the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list, is more commonly known to friends as Adam Pearlman, a California native whose grandfather was a member of the board of directors of the Anti-Defamation League.
In fact, since 2001 investigations have exposed British (who have a history of false-flag operations), American, Israeli, and Egyptian agents posing as al-Qaeda, but no actual al-Qaeda. Is the organization even real, or is it a "front organization masking foreign influences" sanctioned by various intelligence agencies? I have to admit, a network of terror cells that targets the West just when they need to crack down on security is mighty handy.
Even the Grand Poobah of terror, Osama bin Laden, is suspect. It's well known that prior to commanding his shadow army from the caves of Pakistan, bin Laden was an asset of the CIA; he helped American interests by fighting off Soviet forces during their invasion of Afghanistan. He was also a friend to the wealthy and powerful, including the Bush family. While there's no arguing his hatred of western diplomacy and Israel-coddling, he repeatedly denied having any involvement in September 11. Yet he, too, becomes available the moment the administration needs to amp up some fear and intimidation.
In any event, recent video tapes of bin Laden may show his participantion is as reluctant as al-Baghdadi's. New footage can be dismissed as material filmed just after 9/11, and other video of him over the years is a fascinating study in re-casting, since several people play the role. Many feel bin Laden died of renal failure years ago (he was using dialysis equipment in 2001, difficult machinery to transport over rough terrain), including Fox News and the Bush administration.
"Bin Laden's voice was detected regularly until two weeks ago by intelligence operatives monitoring radio transmissions in Tora Bora, according to the Pentagon," the Telegraph wrote in December, 2001. "Since then, nothing has been heard from the al-Qaeda leader and President Bush has hinted in private that bin Laden's silence could mean he has been killed." Bush confirmed these feelings in 2002 when he noted in a press conference he was not worried about bin Laden.
Why drag him into the spotlight, then? Why not celebrate the death of of the mastermind of September 11? If he's not dead, why not triumph at his media silence? What's the benefit of propping up one's nemesis?
In the wake of al-Baghdadi's unmasking, reporters asked that of White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend. Her reply was to ignore the question and end the press conference.
"Terror is the most dreaded weapon in modern age," bin Laden himself said in 2001, "and the Western media is mercilessly using it against its own people. It can add fear and helplessness in the psyche of the people of Europe and the United States. It means that what the enemies of the United States cannot do, its media is doing that."
Al-Qaeda may be little more than an on-going psychological operation against the world. It is easier, after all, to panic a populace by revealing an organization with a defined hierarchy. Giving someone a face to hate or a name to fear is easy, and we can identify with that. People aren't difficult to dupe; life bears that assessment out on a daily basis.
But take a look at the evidence. Al-Qaeda has consistently been observed as a playground for Western intelligence, and it serves the needs of those who want to dominate the Middle East. Who benefits from that arrangement? If al-Qaeda was looking for legitimacy, wouldn't they stage some raids that don't benefit their enemies?
The American people have been fed a steady stream of lies for many years. As we consider what we've been told about war with Iraq and September 11, so is it time to examine everything, even the evidence surrounding al-Qaeda. As you've read, it could be as real as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
Canon Fodder is a bi-weekly analysis of politics and society.