Demosthenes argues that
the current war on terror plays into Osama’s hands by creating a massive conflict between the Arab world and the United States.
I think al-Qaeda was hoping for exactly the opposite. They’ve shown a pattern of escalation, first with the first World Trade Center bombing, then the African embassy bombings, then the USS Cole, and so on. They were testing our limits, trying to determine how much we would react.
In each scenario, we did effectively little. We sent a few cruise missiles towards Afghanistan, but that was it. Very little effort was made to uncover and destroy active al-Qaeda cells. Because we failed to act, they knew that they could continue their attacks with relative impunity.
al-Qaeda only committed to the September 11 attacks because they knew it had a good chance of sucess. That’s the lesson that needs to be learned here. Letting these groups go is the most absolutely dangerous thing we can do. It is absolutely imperative that we ensure that no terrorist group has the opportunity to operate with impunity again.
Where bin Laden miscalculated is that he honestly believed that any American action in Afghanistan would so inflame the Arab street that they would spontaneously rise up and defeat the Americans. (In other words, he wanted to make our Afghanistan experience the same as what the Russians experienced – a war that would drain American resources along with our will to fight.) What really happened is that the people of Afghanistan accepted the Americans as liberators, and the Taliban fell apart once it recieved a real military challenge.
The lesson that needs to be learned from all of this is that bin Laden was wrong. We’re not a nation that’s weak and will give up on this war easily. Quite the opposite, most Americans see the necessity of pursuing terror wherever it hides, from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden wanted a clash of civilizations only because he thought that the Arab world had more will to fight. He was wrong – we will see this through, from Afghanistan to Iraq, and wherever the threat of terrorism requires us to act.