Compared to previous time Osama bin Laden has made threats against the US and West, there's been little attention paid to his latest rant. Apart from the general silence, those few commentators who have talked about him have been mostly saying he made no threats against the US. Juan Cole wonders why they are denying he made threats.
Nevertheless, I think bin Laden is essentially irrelevant in the big picture. Not because he can't cause trouble, but he's essentially a murderer and trouble-maker, not a genuine threat against democracy and the West. He could kill some people, but he can't overthrown Western civilization and install a global Islamic theocracy. Not that he ever could, despite the Chicken Little cry-babies on the conservative-right of politics. (No, the only ones who are destroying the Western virtues of freedom, democracy, tolerance and liberty are our own leaders.)
Bin Laden is especially irrelevant in Iraq. Despite propaganda from the US government, al Qaeda In Iraq doesn't take orders from bin Laden, and even if they did, they're a tiny player in the civil war. As Juan Cole puts it:
Bin Laden, however, is not now and perhaps never has been a credible actor in Iraq. Most Iraqis are nationalists and would not want a Saudi telling them what to do. He made a big but perhaps unavoidable error in attacking the Shiites, and so denying his movement a nationalist platform. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a small cult of hyper-Sunni bigots and serial murderers. Instead of playing Abdul Nasser, who attracted the allegiance even of many Shiite Arabs in his day, Bin Laden long ago chose to play the role of a cultist, a David Koreish with better explosives.
Bin Laden is like a venomous snake, always dangerous, and you never want to underestimate a cobra if it is in striking distance. But Iraq isn't the Afghanistan of the 1980s and 1990s, and if Bin Laden thinks it is, he is very out of touch.
Watching the last six years of stupidity unfolding has just made me more sure than ever that the right response to 9/11 was to treat it as a crime, not an act of war. Maybe the Taliban would have needed some sabre-rattling to cooperate, maybe we'd even need to send in troops to force the issue, but the fundamental strategy would be to treat bin Laden as a mass-murderer, capture him, put him on trial in the Hague, and lock him up to rot forever. No martyrdom for Osama!
Instead, we had the stupid games of the Bush administration threatening war if Afghanistan didn't hand bin Laden over for trial. When the Taliban offered to comply (see also here for another offer), the US invaded. Then, with bin Laden trapped like a rat, US forces were told to stand-down and watch as he escaped into the wilderness. Having sworn that nothing would stand in his way of catching bin Laden, Bush soon lost interest, and apart from occasionally remembering to mention the bogey-man, there has been no serious attempts to catch or kill bin Laden for years now.
A cynic would suggest that having bin Laden free to make threats suited the US government's purposes better than having him in jail or dead. A trial wouldn't have given them the excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.