This year, we are approaching the ten year anniversaries of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan - the longest war in U.S. history. Like many, I find that the war has receded from my day-to-day thinking - I rarely follow the latest news from Afghanistan, except when a story reaches the top headlines like the bombing of the Intercontinental Hotel (given the patriotic events going on around me, this particularly nagged on me).
Realizing this, I decided to step back from the day-to-day and look at the issue of the global war on terror a little more longitudinally. I read the Al Qaeda Reader, a translated compilation of the major pieces of theory written by the leaders of the group, as well as significant speeches and interviews.
I am mostly going to avoid the theocratic theories behind the movement - while they are by far the most interesting and insightful of the collection, I think that few of the writings would surprise. Instead, I want to focus on the policy statements of Osama bin Laden, which I have never seen before.
First, its disappointing that these statements never got publicity at their time of publication outside of the news that bin Laden had spoken. While the statements occasionally go on conspiratorial tangents (usually about Israel and Jews), the bulk of the writings would not be out of place in a major U.S. newspaper like the New York Times or the Washington Post. I understand the patriotic desire to not publish these sorts of writings in major newspapers, but I think the last few years may have been transpired very differently with the added context.
Bin Laden desired to force the United States to go through the collapse that accompanied the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. His entire campaign was devoted to forcing us to spend money on security and wars - draining the country of resources. When we consider the trillions of dollars that gone to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have to say, the strategy definitely appeared to have worked.
Of course, bin Laden could not have predicted the global financial crisis, nor his own demise. So to be fair, his victory will not be a personal one. The potential victory will instead be one of values - who will win the "clash of civilizations."
It is clear that American values have not been trending well in the past few years (if we could even identify what exactly those values are). Fewer people are coming to the United States, American economic models are losing out in developing countries, and even American citizens are in extreme disagreement over the future of the country. The latter can be most recently seen in the government shutdown in Minnesota - a state known for its functional, efficient and excellent state government.
American profligacy and wars over the past decade has led to the greatest crisis facing the country since 1776 - we are no longer the shining beacon on the hill that we have been to generations of people throughout the world. Our stock has plummeted, and greater numbers are shorting it. It's time to bounce back, but I don't think that the attitude is present to make it happen. If Minnesotans can't agree on running the government, there is not much compromise left in the country.
And that is what I am ultimately exploring when I ask: will Osama bin Laden win the war? America is not going to collapse like the Soviet Union - we have much better fundamentals and economic dynamism to prevent that from occurring. Instead, will American values hold the same sway as they did before 9/11, and thus, will we continue to be the "thought leader" of the world?
Osama bin Laden exposed the holes that had developed in America's value systems, not unlike the up-start which tries to break up the old conglomerate. Unfortunately, bin Laden's attacks worked to polarize the country so severely, we have been entirely stagnant in addressing them. That division in the ranks may well be the most successful aspect of bin Laden's campaign - the part that brought us down.
When you, the reader, go to the BBQs and fireworks this weekend, consider where America should be going and how to get everyone on board. Consensus is direly needed, or the terrorist at the bottom of the sea may yet succeed in his goals.