Naturally the news breaks on the one morning of the week that I sleep in.
Catching up now. Mary K‘s got the best round-up. Note in particular the report from Time that she links; CNN said a little while ago that one of Nic Robertson’s sources confirmed that Osama’s very sick (but not dead).
Update: Rusty’s right — operationally, this is bigger news than Osama being dead. If you’re not familiar with Ansar al-Sunna’s handiwork, follow the link and check out Rusty’s list.
Update: Ace lists six reasons to believe the report might be true. The only solid one is number five.
1. As Ace says, AQ has allies within the Saudi government. Saudi police have even been known to let jihadis escape after apprehending them. Presumably they’d also be willing to plant disinformation in the western press if it would benefit Bin Laden. Which it might — if that AQ WMD plot is serious, Osama’s going to want to lie as low as possible for awhile. And then perhaps miraculously “reappear” later.
Bear in mind, this isn’t the first time “someone who would know” has falsely claimed that Bin Laden died.
2. Osama supposedly expired on August 23; Bill Roggio predicted a truce in Waziristan on June 25. The pullout’s been in the works for awhile now. Granted, Musharraf might have used his death as the pretext he needed to withdraw from the region, but in that case, why would he retreat in a position of weakness by paying a ransom? Why not simply announce Osama’s death and declare “mission accomplished” to save face?
There are two possible answers to that. One: because Bush and Rove asked him to keep it quiet for the time being. That’s possible, but what’s more important to Musharraf — pleasing Bush or making sure the jihadis who have been trying to kill him for years aren’t emboldened by what appears to be a withdrawal under fire? If he knew Osama was dead, he’d be using that information to salvage a victory from the situation. Two: because Osama is wildly popular in Pakistan and Musharraf doesn’t want to take credit for his demise. That’s nonsense. The Pakistanis actually fought for credit last month when the details of the UK terror plot became known. They love to triangulate on terror. Taking credit for Bin Laden’s death while giving AQ free reign in the tribal area would have been a perfect compromise.
It’s also worth remembering that, according to the Blotter, this is the second truce between Pakistan and the tribal chieftains. The previous one, in 2003, fell apart when the “militants” didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The Blotter expects this one will fall apart too for the same reasons, and that all parties involved know it. So the contract isn’t “filled and finished.” It’s simply been suspended while they take a breather.
3. How does acknowledging that the U.S. threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” curry favor with Islamists? All it does is prove that Musharraf can be cowed by threats — a “weak horse,” in Mark Steyn’s favorite parlance. Also, how would news that Bin Laden had died of typhoid make things worse for Musharraf? Islamists have been trying to assassinate him since 9/11; finding out that Osama succumbed to a disease he got from drinking rotten water isn’t likely to ratchet up the hate that much. If anything, it’s a sort of victory for them. He died naturally, not by U.S. or Pakistani bombs.
I took the “stone age” thing to be Musharraf’s sop to Pakistani moderates. No doubt some of them aren’t happy with him right now because of the Waziristan pullout. This is his way of reminding them that he did what he had to do after 9/11 to protect them and the country.
4. I had the same thought Ace had when that press conference was announced, but we got a hot tip to tune in about an hour before the conference was held. I can’t believe they were planning to announce Bin Laden’s death as late as that — and had flown in 9/11 families for the big news — but then suddenly changed their minds. Doesn’t add up. Which brings us to the rather more important point of how the U.S. would or could ever confirm that Bin Laden is dead without getting hold of his body. Do we have him in a freezer somewhere? If not, would Bush dare risk announcing his death and then having Bin Laden humiliate him by putting out a new video? No, of course not. No body, no story.
I guess AQ could announce he’s dead, but why on earth would they do that?
5. Can’t argue with Ace here. It’s hard to imagine what else Rove could have in mind as an October surprise. Terrorist kills/captures are really the only events big enough to swing a lot of voters that can be kept secret by the government. Unless they’ve got Zawahiri locked up somewhere, this certainly does point towards Bin Laden’s death. On the other hand, if France knows about this, we surely do too — and yet none of Bush’s enemies in the intelligence community has leaked it in order to foil a planned “October surprise”?
On the other other hand, this news is so big that Bush would surely be keeping it close to the vest.
6. Bush has been downplaying Bin Laden for years, to the left’s great delight. There was a stretch of a year or two, I believe, where he didn’t even mention his name publicly. Partly that’s because it’s embarrassing that we haven’t caught him yet, partly it’s because Osama just isn’t that important to the greater war on terror. The point is, it’s not worth reading into it.
In closing, note that Hamid Mir claims to have met on September 12 with AQ commander Abu Dawood, who allegedly told him that Osama’s fine and still in command. That’s not worth much, but Mir does have excellent contacts in Al Qaeda and would surely love to break the story of Osama’s demise. The fact that he hasn’t mentioned this at all while peddling this story about Shukrijumah and the supposed nuke plot makes me skeptical.
Update: Everyone’s skeptical.
Update: One more thing. Assuming the October surprise thing is true, Rove wouldn’t want this to come out too close to the election. Otherwise he risks a backlash from people disgusted at his cynicism. So if they’re going to announce it, why wouldn’t they have announced it yesterday, when Musharraf was at the White House and had the world’s attention? That would have punctured Chavez’s balloon too by reminding people who the real devil is.
Or, if the symbolism of Pakistan’s president celebrating Osama’s demise in the crusader’s house was simply too “freighted,” why not announce it earlier this week before the Bush-bashing UN session got under way?
Update: Osama’s friends and relatives tell CNN they haven’t heard anything.
Update: The Saudi embassy has issued a press release insisting they don’t know anything.
Update: I mentioned Hamid Mir earlier. The world’s most alarmist website has contacted him about the rumor and Mir says it’s a bunch of “rubbish.”
He also says Osama wants Bush in charge because it makes it easier for him to recruit. The New York Times says — he’s right!
Update: Here’s video from tonight’s Heartland with John Kasich featuring Mir and Annie Triton, a counterterrorism specialist with Phoenix Global Intelligence. Not only do both think Osama’s alive, they’ve each heard very recent reports that he’s crossed over from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan.