In 2001, Bin Laden was the terror. Today — after 19 years, over a million killed, and 37 million displaced — the terror is America
Bin Laden’s 9/11 attack was the most successful act of asymmetrical warfare in history. With just one attack he engaged a much larger foe and trapped them in an endless quagmire. He said America was a brutal empire crushing Muslims everywhere and they responded YES WE ARE. Now, 19 years later, America’s treasure and reputation are all gone, and they’re collapsing from within.
Bin Laden is dead, but America has lived long enough to become the villain. Bin Laden was a shit, but that’s his true victory over them.
What Did Bin Laden Want?
Make no mistake, Bin Laden was a bastard. He wanted to knock over the American empire to make room for a more tyrannical caliphate. He mixes real criticism of American empire with anti-Semitic, anti-human batshit.
However, simply writing him off as a ‘terrorist’ is wrong. Terrorist is a word that denotes violence without power, nothing more. To the people that suffer, the violence is the same. America has killed over 1 million people now. Were these millions no less terrified, at the moment of their deaths? Are brown populations no less terrified of drones, or torture, or rendition? Terrorism is a political label and not, for our purposes, a military one.
We are talking about war, and in war you cannot write off your enemy. You must know them. As Sun Tzu said, ‘If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose every battle, certainly’.
America has lost every war for decades for precisely this reason. They do not know themselves (they’re not ‘the good guys’) and they do not know their enemy (‘terrorists’ are not irrational).
The Art Of War
Bin Laden knew his enemy well. He knew that the empire was arrogant but brittle, and prone to temper. This made them easy to manipulate. As Sun Tzu said, if your enemy is of choleric temper, irritate him. If he is avid for advantage, use it to lure him in. The Art Of War says:
To excel at defense means hiding oneself away in the deepest recesses of the earth.
To excel at offense means striking from the highest reaches of the heavens.
So from a cave, Bin Laden struck from the sky. He dictated the place of battle, and — well prepared — drew his enemy into ambush. And then he just disappeared. The best formation is no formation, and Al Qaeda simply melted into the mountains. Bin Laden was a bastard, but all commanders were bastards. Bin Laden was a commander who knew the Art of War.
The commander who is expert at drawing out the enemy will first show his opponent something that he is sure to follow, dangling a piece of bait that he cannot resist.
9/11 was such a dramatic hit that America categorically could not resist attacking Afghanistan. They were simply drawn in. Their enemy was prepared and they were not. So they couldn’t find Bin Laden for 10 humiliating years, and even now, they cannot get out. It was an ambush. America walked right in.
As Bin Laden said:
People used to ask us: “How will you defeat the Soviet Empire?” And at that time, the Soviet Empire was a mighty power that scared the whole world. So where is that strong force that God sent to us and our mujahidin brothers? The Soviet Empire has become — with God’s grace — a figment of the imagination. So we believe that the defeat of America is something achievable. (Interview with Al Jazeera, via Messages to the World)
As Sun Tzu writes, war inevitably has pressures on the homefront, especially long wars. I will cover the more later, but here I’ll just note that America also occupied itself during this time, created the DHS as an internal police state that is now beating and abducting people in American cities. America also began militarizing its borders and terrorizing migrants, and that Gestapo has also been turned inwards. At the same time America dumped its civil liberties, normalized torture, and quite publicly destroyed whatever moral standing they had in the world.
This is somewhat standard for empires, but what an empire cannot bear is losing. The great American military was gelded by box cutters and improvised explosives. They’re just a bunch of torturers and murderers to no end. The world largely sympathized with them after 9/11, but their reaction has been both humiliating and horrifying.
The power they really had was soft power. Now that is irrevocably lost. None of these were actions that Bin Laden took, but by knowing his enemy, he was able to get America to quite comprehensively fuck itself.
The Art Of Losing
There has never been a single instance where the court has profited from lengthy engagements… Ground down, with resources gone, the heartland will be emptied of viable households.
And America has spent $6.4 trillion for the privilege. That is, in effect, the amount of treasure that has been drained by Bin Laden in proving his point that America was at war with Islam. America has invested in nothing else for years.
America’s Terror War is both the most pointless and most expensive war in history.
Imagine what this much investment could have meant for American health, or infrastructure, or institutions. Instead they just spent it fucking themselves in public, and spreading untold misery across the globe.
Americans today have no public health. Their passports are worthless. Their postal service doesn’t work. They’re literally on fire. America was the world’s lone superpower for decades and all they did was kill Muslims for sport. Now that power is all spent.
Today America is one of only three countries with declining standards of living. The country has ‘shithole’ levels of inequality, suffering, and unrest. America has fallen straight through the third world, (which is doing great, btw) into the fourth. A nether region for countries which are neither ‘developed’ or developing but in decline.
Like the Soviet Union, it’s not that failed war caused this but it definitely didn’t help. America could have spent less energy bombing people into the stone age and more energy moving forward themselves. This is what comes when you know neither the enemy or yourself. Americans branded their enemy terrorism, which is not what it was. Their enemy was themselves. That it how the greatest military in history was humiliated, and how their empire began falling down.
What Bin Laden Lost
As mentioned, however, Bin Laden is dead. So in that sense he also lost. But, militarily, what a run. He mortally wounded not one but two empires. It is easy to point out that Bin Laden was monstrous, and he was, but the bulk of that monstrosity was executed by the American empire, not him. He merely provoked, and watched the enemy explode in rage. Bin Laden was a bastard, but America should have known better.
America’s body blows missed their target entirely and obliterated innocent people. So many people. For 3,000 innocent souls they have killed a million innocent more. They have displaced over 37 million. These are statistics but please remember that underneath are people like you or me. Who could be you or me. Brothers, sisters, fathers; bloodied and gone. Wept over as they were crushed by the wheel of empire. Families broken, displaced, never to return. Bin Laden was merely a terrorist. America is pure terror.
And yet, even mortally wounded, American troops occupy 85% of the world. They still drone, murder, and torture every day. They still hold people in Guantanamo. Even as people go hungry and homeless in their homeland, the machinery of war grinds on; the gears still greased by blood, the engine still incinerating treasure. But they’re falling, inexorably, they are falling down, and historians will mark the first big crack as appearing on 9/11. That’s when America lost 3,000 souls, then its temper, and then its mind.
Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, by Osama bin Laden. Edited by Bruce Lawrence, Translated by James Howarth
Tzu, S. (2020). Art of War: A New Translation by Michael Nylan. Norton & Company, Incorporated, W.W.