NEW YORK -- I hear Osama bin Laden laughing. I heard him all day on Sunday and Monday as the mass murder of Sept. 11, 2001, was memorialized at the Pentagon and in that field in Pennsylvania and especially here, where the most people died and where countless cameras recorded it all for posterity and an abiding, everlasting anger. He laughs, the madman does, whenever George Bush says, as he has over and over, that America is "winning this war on terror." Bin Laden knows better. He has already won.He planned on getting us mired down in Afghanistan but he never dreamed that the Bush administration would be stupid enough to get mired down in Iraq as well.
It is not merely that bin Laden has not been captured or killed and that videotapes keep coming out of his hideout like taunts. It is, rather, that his initial strategy has borne fruit. It was always his intention to draw the Americans into Afghanistan, where, as had been done to the Soviets, they could be mauled by the fierce mujaheddin. He tried and failed when he blew up the USS Cole off Aden at 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2000, killing 17 sailors and crippling the ship. But he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations when the United States responded to the Sept. 11 attacks by invading Afghanistan and, in a beat, then going to war in Iraq. It remains mired in both countries to this day.
From bin Laden's standpoint, this has been a glorious victory, made possible, it has to be said, by the totally unforeseen incompetence of the Bush administration. It was so intent on going to war in Iraq that it would not finish the job in Afghanistan. So, to bin Laden's absolute amazement -- I am guessing here -- the United States took on his enemy, the secular and ungodly Saddam Hussein, whom bin Laden himself would gladly have murdered. It has to be a wonderful thing when your enemy vanquishes your enemy.As we have said here before there were indeed winners in Iraq, Iran and Osama bin Laden. And Bush continued to gave aid and comfort to our enemy al-Qaeda.
How did bin Laden get so lucky? How did he get so fortunate in his choice of enemies? The Bush administration not only validated his wildest dreams -- dreams that even some of his aides thought were unrealistic -- but went even further. By using torture, by the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, by employing "extraordinary renditions" of suspects to countries where they could be tortured, by insisting on going it almost alone in Iraq, by telling the international community to shove it, by declaring a war for an idée fixe -- this fierce obsession with Hussein goes back a long way -- the United States has made itself reviled in much of the world.Yes, Osama has won abroad and as John Mueller pointed out he has also won domestically.
However, although the alarmists may exaggerate, a proclivity that is by nature (and definition) central to their basic makeup, the subtext of their message should perhaps be taken seriously: ultimately, the enemy, in fact, is us. Thus far at least, terrorism is a rather rare and, appropriately considered, not generally a terribly destructive phenomenon. But there is a danger that hysteria over it could become at least somewhat self-fulfilling should extensive further terrorism be visited upon the Home of the Brave.The "War on Terror" itself is a victory for bin Laden as terrorizes the American people much more effectively than bin Laden ever could. The DLC's Marshall Wittmann rants about how many on the left see the administration of George W. Bush as a greater threat than bin Laden. I plead guilty!
A key element in a policy toward terrorism, therefore, should be to control, to deal with, or at least productively to worry about the fear and overreaction that terrorism so routinely inspires and that generally constitutes its most damaging effect.