Two men, two missions
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It is an ironic development, considering both men first pursued their goals with US support. Anxious about the Islamic revolution sweeping the region, President Reagan supported Hussein's battle against Iran. And when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US supported Afghan resistance fighters - mujahideen - like Osama bin Laden.Skip to next paragraph
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Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to a wealthy construction magnate, bin Laden graduated from King Abdul Aziz with a degree in civil engineering. He would end up along the Afghan-Pakistani border, where he helped the mujahideen logistics operation. When the Soviets left Afghanistan, he returned home to Saudi Arabia a hero.
Hussein and bin Laden found favor with the United States during the cold war's final chill only to become confirmed US enemies by the opening of the New World Order. What changed?
"It's pretty clear that one of the real tipping points [toward terrorism] for Osama bin Laden...was at the time of the Gulf War," Kimball says.
For bin Laden, the conflict may have added insult to injury.
First, US resources that had been pledged to Afghanistan in the late 1980s never materialized. Then the Saudis turned a cold shoulder to bin Laden. Worse, in his view, they welcomed a permanent US military presence in Saudi Arabia, land of the two most holy places in Islam: Mecca and Medina.
Soon after, he began transforming the mission of his fledgling Al Qaeda organization from a remnant Afghan resistance group to an ambitious and hard-line terrorist unit.
Experts say bin Laden's path to prominence reflects a sincere - if twisted - religious sensibility soured by feelings of betrayal. "There are people who think [bin Laden is] a manipulative political figure using religion. I don't think so; I tend to think he is deeply religious," Kimball says. Many Muslims themselves dispute this point, arguing that bin Laden has hijacked their peaceful beliefs for political purposes.
Whether pure or perverted, bin Laden's convictions motivated a small army of followers to fly commercial jets into the Pentagon and World Trade Centers. Sept. 11 showed that adherents of a militant strain of Islam could be their own weapons of mass destruction.
As an architect of terror, what does bin Laden's ideological blueprint look like?
Bin Laden desires nothing short of pan-Arab theocracy, says Graham Allison, a Harvard political science professor and former Clinton administration defense analyst. "Bin Laden represents a very extreme form of Islam in which he has...a grand vision of an Islamic revival - an extreme Islamic caliphate that would run across the Middle East from Iraq to Morocco."
He is also part of an Islamic fundamentalist political tradition deeply opposed to nationalism, says Wellesley College political science professor Roxanne Euben. "[Bin Laden] sees himself as engaged in the fight to restore the dignity and purity of Islam from the corruptions of Western culture and power from without, and the betrayal of Islam from within by Muslims, both elite and non-elite, who have allowed Islam and Muslims to be degraded."
Saddam Hussein's political vision, however, appears peripheral to his personal ambitions. The Baathist ideology he promotes is a version of Arab socialism, but as Ms. Euben says, "...the only vision he seems to have is the maintenance and augmentation of his own power, by whatever means necessary."
Are these blueprints compatible? Mr. Allison doesn't think so. "Saddam Hussein and bin Laden are not very closely connected," he says.
As the prospect of war against Iraq grows, bin Laden appears willing to tolerate an "infidel" socialist like Hussein to further the cause of united Muslim opposition to the "Satanic" powers of America. As he is purported to say in his tape, "It doesn't hurt, under these conditions, that the interests of Muslims contradict the interest of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders."