TERENCE SMITH: The bin Laden tape was broadcast late this afternoon on the Arabic satellite channel al Jazeera.
There was no hint of where he was or when he made the tape. Here is an excerpt.
OSAMA BIN LADEN (translated): Now we are in the fourth year after Sept. 11, Bush continues to mislead you about the real reasons; therefore, what happened could be repeated. I will talk to you about the reasons for these events.
And I will be honest about the moments when the decision was taken. I tell you God knows that we have never thought of hitting the towers until we were fed up with the U.S.-Israeli alliance.
TERENCE SMITH: Joining me are Bruce Hoffman, director of the Washington office of the RAND Corporation; and Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland. Welcome to you both.
Bruce Hoffman, what, from your point of view, is the significance of this tape and its release now?
BRUCE HOFFMAN: It is an exquisitely timed message from bin Laden directed to the American people. I think it is an interesting tape because it appears that he is not using any of his verbosity or flowery rhetoric of the past. Rather he is seeking to communicate very bluntly and plainly to the American people. And he is saying if you continue to intervene in the Muslim world, you will continue to be attacked.
TERENCE SMITH: And, Bruce Hoffman, when you say exquisitely timed, what do you have in mind?
BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, bin Laden has always had a flare of showmanship and dramatic appearances.
Coming just days before the election where he'd certainly be the subject of the campaign, he is now deliberately trying to insert himself into the campaign and to be a force.
This, I think, is part of his own hubris, his own vanity, his pretensions to actually attempt to be a force in our election.
TERENCE SMITH: Shibley Telhami, when you look at the tape, including its tone, tenor and appearance, what do you make of it?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, there's no question that what I saw tonight was a man who was laying claim to leadership in the Middle East in ways I haven't seen. This was not the Osama bin Laden who was defending a Puritanical Taliban-like order.
It was not the Osama bin Laden who appeals to religion and the Koran, certainly in the excerpts that we have seen. There may have been others in the tape. But he was focused on policy, policy, policy and he even invoked two terms, freedom and security, that resonate with everyone.
I think this is a man who's sensing a vacuum in the Middle East, there's a vacuum of leadership in the Middle East; it's sensed by everyone. There's a sense of humiliation, there's a rising sense of anti-Americanism.
Even Arafat's sickness plays into his timing, even though obviously the tape may have been prepared before. But it's just an example of what is out there.
And he puts himself in this case as a man who's analytical, who's calm, who's putting forth a clear message, and who's highlighting the issues that resonate with the public.
TERENCE SMITH: Bruce Hoffman, what did you make of his appearance, which was quite different in this tape from the outdoor scenes we've seen him in before?
BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well, we don't know how much of it is staged and how heavily made up he was; he clearly looked older. But at the same time, though, he looked very much alive.
And that, in itself, is the purpose of his choreographed appearance right now, to state that he is still a factor in world politics, just as Shibley has described and that he still can exert an influence.
I mean, bin Laden is the constant opportunist, and right now it's an opportune time for him to make his reappearance.
TERENCE SMITH: Shibley Telhami, in one of his quotes here when he talks about the fourth year, entering the fourth year after 9/11, he says the reasons are still there to repeat what happened.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, he was clearly connecting it to policies. He even talked about what policies specifically for the first time. There may have been new policies but clearly he put that as a personal thing, the Israeli invasion in 1982 while he was, in fact, fighting in Afghanistan with American backing, interestingly enough.
But what he's saying is that American behavior since 9/11 has, in essence, been following the same route that would warrant what he believed was a response. And in that sense he said, look, it's not about Kerry and Bush. It's about what happens in policies.
TERENCE SMITH: And there's an added emphasis, is there not, in this message on the Israel-Palestinian dispute and as Professor Telhami said, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982?
BRUCE HOFFMAN: Absolutely. I think that's quite interesting because while we are focused on Iraq, of course, al-Zawahiri in his statement, bin Laden's deputy, only a few weeks ago first and foremost cited Israel and Palestine as the conflict that most concerns them.
And this is exactly what Osama bin Laden is again focusing on. It's as if to wrench our attention away from Iraq and focus on what he sees as his main battlefront.
TERENCE SMITH: And what was the significance in your view, Bruce Hoffman, of the very direct admission of his role in Sept. 11?
BRUCE HOFFMAN: This is very interesting because he is being completely unequivocal. There was the homemade videotape that was recovered in Kandahar in November 2001 where with his cronies, he chortled, and took credit for it.
This time though he quite forthrightly says I was responsible for it, goes on at great lengths, like all terrorists projects blame onto the victim or the victim country, and then indeed warns of further attacks.
This is precisely where he seeks to derive his power, from fear and intimidation.
TERENCE SMITH: Shibley Telhami, what do you make of the way he balances - he says, in effect, you in the West, the United States, your security, you can't have any more than we do in our nation?
Do you interpret that as a direct threat or a warning, change your policies or else?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Actually there are two messages in this: One is really directed to Arabs and Muslims. And, remember, he's, while he is of course addressing the American people, this is being heard on al-Jazeera. And most people are watching it in the Middle East.
He knows that that's a real deep issue; a lot of frustration, a sense of humiliation, a sense of weakness in the Middle East is connected -- the ineffectiveness of the government, ineffectiveness of them as a people to respond, and he is making a connection in their minds so he is winning them in that regard.
But he is also saying it is about policies and he is saying that, you know, in a sense he is issuing a veiled warning. He is not doing it in the same direct sense that he did it before I think in part because he was really trying to pose as a different kind of man, as a man who is more analytical, as a man who is capable of claiming leadership.
I do think this is the main message that he is putting forth and I believe the timing of the American election is not so much to affect the election, but maybe you can make a case that he might want Bush or he might want Kerry. But I think he knows that everybody is focused right now; that he is going to get the widest possible audience.
And I bet you if I were to take a survey, unfortunately tomorrow in the Middle East, his popularity will have shot up by 50 percent.
TERENCE SMITH: Bruce Hoffman.
BRUCE HOFFMAN: I think bin Laden is remarkably on message. His appearance is new but his rhetoric is the same. In 1996 he made the same point to Americans, change your ways or else you will be attacked.
He repeated that on Oct. 7, 2001. So what he is doing exactly as Shibley described as this vacuum of power in the Middle East; he is asserting himself and making his presence known.
And just his mere appearance on TV he knows is calculated to send fear down the spines of many Americans and people throughout the world wondering whether this is a harbinger of some new attack.
TERENCE SMITH: Was there anything in what you saw Bruce Hoffman or you, Professor Telhami, that was in any way a hidden message of upcoming activity?
BRUCE HOFFMAN: I think one can never discount that. In the past, we've seen that often within forty to fifty days of an appearance of either Ayman al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden there has been a terrorist attack somewhere.
It could be that it's orchestrated in that way but bin Laden for the past few years has made a point of appealing to radical Jihadists throughout the world to act on their own. So it could be a message to start the attack specifically; it could also be just a motivational message to others.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, if I were a planner, I would certainly assume that they're planning an attack, no matter what he says, but if you were going to look at what he says, in fact, he was saying it is not an inevitable thing.
He connected it very much to policy; he said it depends on what happens. So in some ways, he was trying to reduce the threat as he was talking about it -- whether that means that he doesn't have something planned is a different story.
I think it is everybody's responsibility to assume that they're planning an attack.
TERENCE SMITH: Shibley Telhami, Bruce Hoffman, thank you both very much.