Where's Osama bin hiding?
NEW YORK - As Baroness Orczy, the Hungarian-born British novelist who created the roguish escape artist Scarlet Pimpernel, NEVER said: "They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Americans seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven, or is he in hell. That damned annoying bin Laden".
As a master of disguise, the Scarlet Pimpernel, also known as Sir Percy Blakeney, was one of the legendary characters in fiction who kept evading his French pursuers right to the end of every single chapter in Orczy's riveting novels set during the days of the 1789 French Revolution.
But Osama bin Laden is no fiction — and the US believes he may still be alive and well, and living possibly in Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan, with large mountainous or desert areas inaccessible to bounty hunters.
The American military forces have so far drawn a blank in their search for bin Laden, one of the 10 "Most Wanted" men on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of fugitives from justice.
Since several surreptitiously-taped video interviews of bin Laden continue to surface, the only man who seems to know his hideout is probably his video cameraman.
A new imaginary photograph of bin Laden sketched by an FBI artist shows him in disguise — clean shaven and sporting a businessman's suit, and most likely armed with a cell phone and a booby-trapped brief case, James Bond-style.
Frank Spicka, head of Interpol's terrorist division, was quoted as saying that bin Laden's trail has "gone fairly cold."
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf is convinced that bin Laden, who was suffering from a kidney ailment, is dead probably from lack of medical care.
The remote caves in Afghanistan were obviously not equipped with dialyses machines or with out-patients departments (OPDs).
But until there is physical evidence to prove that bin Laden is dead, the US is not giving up on its hunt for the Saudi dissident accused of master-minding the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Meanwhile, the US has opened a new front in its global war against terrorism extending the battle to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
In his "State of the Union" address last month, President George W. Bush singled out the three countries as potential targets.
Bush described the three countries— already on a State Department list of "terrorist states"— as the "axis of evil" and accused them of developing weapons of mass destruction to terrorise the world.
The extension of the war against terrorism is clearly a victory for right-wing hawks in the Bush administration — particularly Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Iran's leader Ali Khameni and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi have come out strongly against the US for its open threat.
"Iran is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq," Khameni warned last week. "Whoever threatens the interests of the Iranian nation or attacks this nation, the answer of the Iranian nation will be harsh and make them regret."
Iran obviously would be a much tougher enemy to deal with than Afghanistan or Iraq.
Even the Europeans — who are in the process of rebuilding strong economic and trade links with Teheran — have publicly expressed reservations about the new US stand against Iran.
Last week Kharrazi lodged a strong protest with the United Nations against "unfounded US allegations" that his country was developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Kharrazi also objected to the use of the word "evil" to describe Iran, which he said, was "a profanity against the Islamic Republic."
Accusing the US of hypocrisy, he said that while the US had been moving away from multilateral disarmament treaties, Iran had been increasingly adhering to these conventions.
Last year, the Bush administration blocked the finalisation of a protocol strengthening the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
Although the US has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), it has done so with conditions, namely, that UN inspectors will not be able to remove any evidence out of the country. Last year, the Bush administration also announced the unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Washington has also rejected the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The only key disarmament treaty it has ratified is the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Iran, on the other hand, is party to the CWC, BWC, CTBT and the NPT.
Since the military-industrial complex is still one of the most powerful lobbies in the US, Bush's attempt to identify new enemies is also an effort to appease the defence industry, which has already received a tremendous boost with the war in Afghanistan.
Kharazi had a valid point when he said that Bush's speech was obviously intended for domestic consumption at a time when the US administration is seeking to double military spending in the United States.