On Morning Joe this morning, NBC News' Chuck Todd offered his analysis of the Osama bin Laden audiotape released this morning: It's a standard political "prebuttal." Does that mean we've won the war on terror?
If we're analyzing the statements of a guy who launched an attack that killed 3,000 Americans in the same terms that we use to assess the efforts of a comparatively harmless hack like Rep. John Boehner to keep his head above the political waters, then we guess that's a good thing. And there's certainly nothing wrong with pointing out the obvious political and media-relations elements to bin Laden's strategy. Still, Chuck—the political analysis game has its limits.
Let's put it in crass political terms: Your chief political opponent for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world is about to come to the two most important countries in Islam—Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And he's going to give a speech. So of course you want to try to give a prebuttal. In many ways, this is just what any political opponent of the president would do. You want to get into the stories.
Of course, Obama can hit back at bin Laden's charges by painting him as out of touch with the concerns of working Muslims, and by subtly hinting at his age and health issues, which polling suggests is a problem. The big worry in the Obama camp is whether bin Laden will play the "infidel card," and whether the folks who live in Saudi Arabia—which some describe as "Riyadh and Jeddah with central Pennsylvania in between"—can be persuaded to see Obama as one of them.
"This president and his outreach are very threatening to bin Laden and al Qaeda," said a senior administration official. "It's terribly bad news to bin Laden and al Qaeda. They're beginning to lose the propaganda war."
We thought "war room" was a dead metaphor—when you hear that phrase, you don't think of generals planning attacks anymore, you think of George Stephanopoulos lying to someone on a gigantic cell phone. Looks like it's alive again, though.