June 5th, 2009
04:08 PM ET

The spin from Tora Bora

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

There is just no pleasing some people.

No sooner does President Obama make his historic trip to the Mideast to declare a new age of better relations, and the Cranky Pants Club starts complaining. Osama bin Laden and his henchmen emerged from their hiding places to lob Molotov messages in his path, making it clear that for their purposes Mr. Obama can play the foil just as well as Mr. Bush.

President Obama said plainly: The United States is not at war with the Muslim world. Bin Laden’s counter: That’s what you think. The propaganda war is still raging, and every time a skirmish breaks out on that front, the Al Qaeda crowd begins with a kind of home field advantage.

Bin Laden succeeds in that clash with three key strategies.

First, he avoids overexposure. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been on their “Death to America/Down with the Great Satan” tour longer than Hall and Oates have been playing Rich Girl. Well, not quite. But we’ve all heard it, we get it, next.

Bin Laden pops up at critical times, hurls a spear of contempt, and then slinks back into his secret society where I can only guess a good night’s sleep is hard to come by and you can’t get the Stanley Cup playoffs even on pay-per-view. But it works. The last two times he issued a video were in 2004 and 2007; both were covered by the media like Yeti sightings. So, to steal some of the limelight from President Obama’s trip, all he needed was an audio tape.

Second, bin Laden knows his audience, and it’s not us. He is reaching out to disaffected, disappointed members of the Muslim world who can help him exert control over legitimate, albeit often shaky, governments which might deliver more real power into the hands of extremists. Think about who might tip the balance in Pakistan or Afghanistan. That is his target audience. They have long harbored suspicions about America’s intentions anyway, and he does not have to push very hard to remind them of that.

And third, he is focused. As best we know, Osama bin Laden wakes up every morning with only two real chores on his To Do list: Stay alive and wreak havoc with the civilized world. President Obama meanwhile has the economic crisis, health care reform, Supreme Court nominees, and Ed Henry to contend with, just to mention a few items on the agenda.

That’s how bin Laden is remaining in the headlines and relevant long after his fugitive status put him on the run; that, and by remembering that the best propaganda, of course, looks like news.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Paul Isasmendi

    I believe that a great leader knows when to be humble instead of being egotistic; especially when they know they been wrong.

    Hermann Hesse, Demian: Wise Saying
    If you hate a person, you hate something in something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.

    June 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  2. Als

    The great thing about Pres Obama and the Middle East he is trying. He is reaching the very very young where it will count in the 21st century.

    June 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  3. Lesley Anne

    When you said Crank Pants Club, I thought you were talking about the conservatives, who were out in force deriding the entire affair, even to the point of clipping speeches in mid-sentence to make a skewed point. Love the shoutout on Ed Henry btw.

    June 5, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  4. Stella

    Bin Laden is still alive because the previous white house administration spent time and money going after the wrong person/group. If Bin Laden chooses to live his life thinking of "stay alive and wreak havoc with civilized world", that's sad, but that's his life.

    I personally would rather see President Obama spending more time at home (in the U.S.) taking care of our own issues. The main thing that I want to see him doing internationally is getting our troops back home safely with their loved ones.

    We can't take care of other people's issues when we have enough issues ourselves.

    June 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm |