Bin Laden’s victory?

There’s a great review in the Times today of Lawrence Wright’s new book, The Looming Tower. It offers some surprising insights into Bin Laden and how he was molded into the super-star of terrorists by his sidekick Zawahiri. It’s the last two paragraphs of the review, however, that pack the hardest punch.

Mr. bin Laden’s goal in striking the American embassies and bombing the American destroyer Cole in 2000, says Mr. Wright, was to “lure America into the same trap the Soviets had fallen into: Afghanistan”: “His strategy was to continually attack until the U.S. forces invaded; then the mujahideen would swarm upon them and bleed them until the entire American empire fell from its wounds. It had happened to Great Britain and to the Soviet Union. He was certain it would happen to America.” When neither the embassy bombings nor the Cole bombing was enough to “provoke a massive retaliation,” Mr. Wright suggests, Mr. bin Laden decided “he would have to create an irresistible outrage.”

That outrage, of course, was 9/11. Though American forces would not become bogged down in Afghanistan – at least not immediately in the fall of 2001 – another, longer war was on the horizon. On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the start of the war against Iraq; more than three years and more than 2,500 American deaths later, the United States is still there, fighting just the sort of asymmetrical war Mr. bin Laden so fervently desired.

I always feared 9/11 would end up a complete and total victory for the attackers. Unlike Bush, they truly could proclaim, “Mission Accomplished.” Look at where we were prior to that day and where we are now, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq or the homeland. They have us where they want us, and thanks to Bush’s lofty rhetoric, there is absolutely no way out without a monumental loss of face. No matter what we do, we lose, as Zawahiri and Bin Laden go free, leaving in their wake a Middle East more radicalized and anti-America than ever before.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

I just finished this interesting little book called It Seemed Like a Good Idea: A Compendium of Great Historical Fiascoes. Barring any miracles, I fear this will be in an updated edition…

Interestingly, the very last episode was of the decision by Bush I not to overthrow Saddam, and it gave a littany of reasons why he didn’t (the US couldn’t be an effective occupying power, etc) that in retrospect seem sadly prescient.

used for 98 cents on amazon, how ’bout a splurge?

http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780380807710/It_Seemed_Like_a_Good_Idea/index.aspx (pardon my lack of HTML skillz).

August 1, 2006 @ 4:26 am | Comment

I recently read Bush I’s reasons that you refer to, and they are so chilling: he seemed to know exactly what the repercussions would be. Can you imagine what our former president must be thinking as he looks at the global train wreck created by his son?

August 1, 2006 @ 4:40 am | Comment

Hey, two good books to read. The part of the Times review that really struck me was this:

“Mr. Wright then goes on to describe the radicalization of Mr. bin Laden, the heir to one of Saudi Arabia�s great fortunes, who grows from a shy boy who loved the American television series “Bonanza” into a solemn, religious adolescent influenced, some say, by a charismatic Syrian gym teacher who was a member of the Muslim Brothers organization.”

That
explains
everything

And then there’s this:

“Mr. Zawahri emerges from this volume as an evil mentor, drawing ever “tighter the noose of influence he was casting aroundâ€? the young Saudi by surrounding him with handpicked bodyguards and presiding over his medical treatment (possibly for Addison’s disease). Mr. Wright argues that before meeting Mr. Zawahri, Mr. bin Laden was “not much of a political thinker”"

Older bitter man mentors young confused man who is “not much of a political thinker” in starting a global war, surrounding him with likeminded people… I’ve heard this one before, I just can’t remember where…

And then contrast this:

“Mr. bin Laden is not opposed to the United States because of its culture or ideas but because of its political and military actions in the Islamic world. Mr. Wright observes that Mr. bin Laden allowed his younger sons to play Nintendo and that Al Qaeda’s trainees often watched Hollywood thrillers at night (Arnold Schwarzenegger movies were particular favorites) in an effort to gather tips. One of Mr. bin Laden’s wives favored “brand-name cosmetics and lingerie, preferring American productsâ€?; another held a doctorate in child psychology.”

With this:

“They’re still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.

In the long term, to defeat this ideology – and they’re bound by an ideology – you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.”

Oh sweet Jebus we’re f**ked.

August 1, 2006 @ 7:42 am | Comment

And the funny thing is… the more Bin Laden bombs, the more aggravating actions the United States will pursue in the Middle East (such as disemboweling Iraq.)

Bush tries, but he has the mind of a child. I’m wondering though: why didn’t Cheney or Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz realize this if they had access to so much information? I mean… were they really that retarded? I don’t think so, I’ve met Paul Wolfowitz before (at a international finance seminar) and he’s far more intelligent than I am or ever will be. It makes me wonder, then…

August 1, 2006 @ 11:40 am | Comment

t_co, intelligence and sound judgement are two very different attributes. There are many intelligent fools, you gave a good list of examples.

August 1, 2006 @ 1:13 pm | Comment

Here’s my take on the past 5 years…

1. Bin Laden hijacks & crashes 4 commerical planes in the US – a one-time attack only. His goal was to bring down symbols of America, and he suceeded (World Trade Center, Pentagon, White House?)
2. Bush & Co. have every justifiable reason to invade Afganistan and *try* to root out Bin Laden and his devil posse.
3. Paul Wolfowitz and the other Neo-Cons know their history. They know that every invading force that has ever attacked Afganistan has had their ass spanked from here to tomorrow (for a variety of reasons).
4. They concoct an excuse to get out of Afganistan as quickly as possible so they can avoid the inevitable ass-spanking.
5. Voila! Hussein + WMD = “Get Out of Afganistan Free Card”.
6. Three years later, they still agree that not knowing how to get out of Iraq is better than not knowing how to get out of Afganistan.

August 1, 2006 @ 3:34 pm | Comment

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