David Samuels, in an important essay, argues that Osama bin Laden out-strategized a series of dimbulb American administrations, astutely predicting precisely how they would respond.
judging from his last known private letter, dated April 25, 2011, Bin Laden died a happy man. â€œWhat we are witnessing these days of consecutive revolutions is a great and glorious event,â€ he mused, after watching the fall of the secular, Western-backed regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, which he watched on CNN, before the daring Navy SEAL raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. â€œ[T]hanks to Allah things are strongly heading toward the exit of Muslims from being under the control of America.â€
Even at this late date, it seems difficult for American policymakers to grasp exactly how Bin Ladenâ€™s mastery of the inherently paradoxical logic of warfareâ€”a logic very different than the linear cause-and-effect style of reasoning that governs normal life and electoral politics alikeâ€”allowed a man without a country, heavy weapons, or even broadband Internet access to reshape the world to his advantage. The clarity of Bin Ladenâ€™s strategic insight, which now seems obvious, also suggests that the dynamic that he deliberately set in motion is still unfolding, in ways that he foresaw before his deathâ€”ways that continue to roil the Middle East and will continue to pose a threat to the safety of Americans at home. …
Bin Laden was never shy about explaining what he was doing and why. His public statements about his strategic logic and goals in targeting â€œthe far enemyâ€ remained remarkably consistent, from his first fatwa against America until the last letter he wrote before his death. In his 1996 â€œDeclaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,â€ published soon after the Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia, he explained that â€œit is essential to hit the main enemy who divided the Ummahâ€â€”the Muslim worldâ€”â€œinto small and little countries and pushed it, for the last few decades, into a state of confusion.â€
Americaâ€™s response to an attack would be to get sucked into a war, he predictedâ€”and when the going got tough, the United States would cut and run. Responding to then-U.S. Defense Sec. William Perry, who had called the Khobar bombers cowards and had sworn not to give in, Bin Laden asked, â€œWhere was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H). You were turned into scattered pits and pieces at that time; 241 Marine soldiers were killed.â€ …
In public and private following the Sept. 11 attacks, he returned to the same themes, over and over again, in at least three-quarters of his public statements and in private letters to other jihadists that were seized from his compound in Abbotabad and later made public. â€œThe goal is to weaken America until it can no longer interfere in Muslims affairs,â€ he explained, in a letter whose contents were entirely typical of his communications. â€œOnce the American enemy has been defeated, our next step would be targeting the regionâ€™s leaders who had been the pillars of support for that American hegemony.â€
It is proof of Bin Ladenâ€™s mastery of the unexpected logic that animates strategic thought, and of the glaring inability of Americaâ€™s political leaders to think strategically, that not one but two American presidents have faithfully acted their roles in his geo-political script: George W. Bush, the hawk, with his open-ended and heavy-handed occupation of Iraq; and Barack Obama, the dove, with his precipitous and wholesale withdrawal of American military forces and influence from the Middle East. Both menâ€”and their many advisersâ€”should have known better.
Read the whole thing. It’s depressing reading and hard to argue with.
Hat tip to Claire Berlinski.