Saturday, May 07, 2011

Is Osama bin Laden having the last laugh?

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, who won? The answer, most would say, is that we did. Not only did we slay the charismatic leader of Al Qaeda, we recovered a big cache of documents that will help us to find and destroy his henchmen.

Not so fast, though, because in a key sense it is Osama bin Laden who may have won. So at least argues Daveed Gartenstein-Ross [G-R], a counterterrorism expert who specializes in al-Qaeda, (Until this morning I had never heard of Gartenstein-Ross; I owe my knowledge of his views to a characteristically brilliant column by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post).

According to G-R. Bin Laden’s real goal was to bankrupt the United States. Looking at the gloomy economic news and the gridlock in Washington, it is hard to deny that that colossal disaster has actually come upon us. It is well known that Bin Laden cut his spurs in Afghanistan when it was seeking to escape the Soviet yoke. The US organized that campaign. (Yet we did not enlist Osama bin Laden in our ranks as Michael Moore misleading maintains; he was acting independently). The Reagan strategy had been to bankrupt the USSR, and the debacle in Afghanistan made a major contribution to achieving that goal.

As Klein remarks, “superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield. [Moreover,] superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand. This was bin Laden’s plan for the United States, too.”

In an article in the magazine Foreign Policy, G-R argued “[h]e has compared the United States to the Soviet Union on numerous occasions — and these comparisons have been explicitly economic. . . . For example, in October 2004 bin Laden said that just as the Arab fighters and Afghan mujaheddin had destroyed Russia economically, al Qaeda was now doing the same to the United States, ‘continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.’ ”

As Klein pertinently notes, “Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the price tag on the Iraq War alone will surpass $3 trillion. Afghanistan likely amounts to another trillion or two. Add in the build-up in homeland security spending since 9/11 and you’re looking at another trillion. And don’t forget the indirect costs of all this turmoil: The Federal Reserve, worried about a fear-induced recession, slashed interest rates after the attack on the World Trade Center, and then kept them low to combat skyrocketing oil prices, a byproduct of the war in Iraq. That decade of loose monetary policy may well have contributed to the credit bubble that crashed the economy in 2007 and 2008.”

Just a minute, though. Did Bin Laden actually foresee these developments? America could not have reached this parlous state without the collaboration of an unendicted co-conspirator, George W. Bush. It was Bush who lowered taxes while initiating an unnecessary war in Iraq, supposedly as part of a grand, post-9/11 strategy of Middle Eastern transformation. In this decision, the Israel Lobby, surely in no sense an ally of Bin Laden, played a major part.

Have we learned anything from all this? Apparently not, to judge by our bungling intervention in the Libya quagmire.



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