Strategy Session
October 18, 2001

Tunnel down to bin Laden’s lair and imagine the deliberations of the killer’s council.  Some have called him a madman, but his crimes, though cruel, are not without calculation.  Others accept the nonsensical notion that like Seuss’ Grinch, “the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” Yet hatred of goodness is a propellant too simple.

Even before he submits to CNN’s six-question pop quiz, this much we know about bin Laden:  He is working a strategy, and we will not thwart it until we understand it.  The papers brim with “Why Do They Hate Us?” scenarios, but while pundits play tea leaves, bin Laden has answered the question himself. "Our Islamic nation has been tasting…for more than 80 years…humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated,” he said in his latest home video.  I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Mohammad.” 

Reject or accept the validity of his bill of wrongs, a man’s motive is his to own.  September 11 was no blind swing of a lunatic’s fist;  rather, it was the deliberate work of a driven tactician.  As for his method, Bin Laden armed his ranks with terror, the only weapon available to the weak, and aimed his blow, in his own words, at America’s “vital organs.” He waited too long and planned too carefully to expect that we would answer by recalling all troops from the Middle East and redirecting Israeli aid to Iraq’s sanction-starved children.  As he played bunker hopscotch, bin Laden anticipated military retaliation, knew that our strength would be superior to his, and recognized that he would spend his numbered days as a fugitive.  Why then light the September 11 fuse?  Because bin Laden knows his enemy.

He took the measure of our might and knew he couldn’t do battle by conventional means.  Thus in a twist of progress serving regression that would do Hegel proud, he sought to eventually drive us out by immediately dragging us in.  And what better place to wear down an empire than the desert he knows well as his own name?  To fight there, America needed regional allies and coalitions don’t come cheap.

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he carried a letter from President Bush promising a “qualitatively new relationship” in return for permission to station U.S. forces.  Implied are both economic payoffs and security guarantees against any Russian ambition to reclaim former territory.   In Pakistan, a nation scarcely in America’s good graces since its nuclear tests in 1998 and the military coup that brought Gen. Pervez Musharraf to power two years ago, the U.S. has dropped economic sanctions and rescheduled more than $375 million in loans.  The Palestinians have gained President Bush’s spoken support of statehood, and the Afghan people just received a $320 million foreign aid injection – in addition to the $170 million we already send each year – along with a pledge to rebuild and restore the government. Finally in the thorniest turn of all, the U.S. may support the ground troops of the Northern Alliance tied to Indians contesting Kashmir and Iranian Shiites who despise the Sunni Taliban. 

American proponents of wider war have sought to draw this web across the Middle East, beginning in Iraq and marching down their hit list of “rogue nations” to Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Iran.  It’s hard to believe bin Laden would be disappointed.

If he knew – and he did – that September 11 would draw a counterstrike, what then was his ultimate goal and what are we doing to deny it?  Said Sun Tzu, “Defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” 

None should take pleasure in wandering the recesses of a wicked mind, but until we understand why bin Laden acted as he did, we play defense while he drives this war.  Our preservation requires his elimination, but after that, we must pause.  Otherwise, bin Laden wins, even in death, the reward he sought all his life – America sucked into the vortex of ancient tension only to straggle out weakened and resolved never to return.

  

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