Bin Laden Targeting the U.S. Economy

CAIRO, Egypt -- In rhetoric similar to critical U.S. headlines, Osama bin Laden accused President George W. Bush of going to war for Iraq's oil, and said the American people would be the losers.

Bin Laden proved he has kept a close eye on U.S. politics as he detailed al-Qaida's strategy of bleeding America bankrupt, even as Americans weighed their presidential votes largely on the issues of terror and the economy. He provided a financial analysis of al-Qaida's destruction in his latest 18-minute video, a full transcript of which was posted Monday on television network Al-Jazeera's web site.

According to bin Laden's math, each dollar al-Qaida has spent on strikes has cost the United States $1 million in economic fallout and military spending, including emergency funding for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers," bin Laden said, estimating the deficit at more than $1 trillion.

In reality, spending in the war against terror and other factors have resulted in an expected $377 billion shortfall for 2003 -- the highest deficit since World War II when inflation is factored out. The total U.S. national debt is near the $7.4 trillion statutory limit.

Bin Laden credited the "holy warriors" he fought with against the Soviets in Afghanistan two decades ago with having "bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat."

Bin Laden claimed al-Qaida was winning its war with the United States, and that U.S. defense contractors "like Halliburton and its kind" were also benefiting, while the losers were "the American people and their economy."

Bin Laden noted reports that al-Qaida spent $500,000 "on the event" -- referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- while the United States has lost more than $500 billion "in the incident and its aftermath," he added, citing an estimate by a British think tank.

Evan Kohlmann, a U.S.-based counterterrorism researcher, said it was as if bin Laden were following the news from America, perhaps on satellite TV, and drawing shrewd assumptions about what concerns Americans.

Al-Qaida has long made a point of hitting economic targets. In a video that surfaced in December 2001, bin Laden said the Sept. 11 attackers struck the American economy "in the heart."

In August, U.S. officials said they had uncovered indications al-Qaida was targeting financial sites, including the New York Stock Exchange and World Bank buildings.

"There's an acute awareness of where to hit, where it hurts the most," said Magnus Ranstorp, of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at Scotland's St. Andrews University. "There's an awareness of the benefits of targeting critical infrastructure."

Bin Laden's statement was a selective reading of history. Internal problems and U.S. help, not just the Arab "holy warriors," contributed to the collapse of the Soviet experiment in Afghanistan. The U.S. economy was experiencing trouble before Sept. 11.