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Bin Laden Toppled More than the Twin Towers

“We anticipate a black future for America,” bin Laden told ABC News more than three years before the 9/11 attacks. “Instead of remaining United States, it shall end up separated states and shall have to carry the bodies of its sons back to America.”

Bin Laden did not win the war of ideas. But neither did we. To an unnerving degree, the United States moved toward the enemy’s fantasies of what it might become — a nation divided in its sense of itself, exposed in its moral and political compromises, conflicted over wars it did not want but would not end. When President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, he asserted that America was attacked because it is “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world, and no one will keep that light from shining.” Bush was correct; al-Qaeda could not dim the promise of America. Only we could do that to ourselves.

Carlos Lazoda

Spencer Ackerman makes a similar if more detailed argument in Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Destablilized America and Produced Trump. Read it if you still need to be convinced that when all is said and done bin Laden's attack succeeded beyond his most optimistic expectations. Yes, he was eventually caught and killed, but he succeeded because he could count on the U.S. to respond as stupidly as possible to the 9/11 attack. Bin Laden toppled more than the Twin Towers, he toppled what was left of our collective sanity, and there's a good chance that might in turn lead to the toppling of America as an open society and liberal democracy. This isn't over.  

One of the most effective tactics of the warriors of the Near East dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times (and earlier) was feigned retreat and then counterattack. Genghis Kahn used the same tactic. I'm too lazy to look up a particular historical example, but they are numerous. Let's say the Parthian light cavalry confronts a Roman army. They play to the Roman ego by pretending to panic and hightail it. The Romans are elated and give chase until the find themselves in a trap. The Parthians turn around in a place where they have all the advantages and then decimate the Romans with their archers or some other ambush-like counterattack. Disaster ensues.

You play to the overconfidence of the foe, or you insult their manhood, ego, the need for vengeance, or use some other ploy to cloud their better judgment, and sure enough they respond with expected stupidity. Anybody who points out that maybe giving chase isn't such a good idea is pushed to the fringes--not a real patriot, a coward. So disaster inevitably ensues. You'd think Westerners would have learned by now. But Bin Laden knew that was unlikely. As Lazoda puts it quoting Richard Clark--

Clarke’s conclusion is simple, and it highlights America’s we-know-better swagger, a national trait that often masquerades as courage or wisdom. “America, alas, seems only to respond well to disasters, to be undistracted by warnings,” he writes. “Our country seems unable to do all that must be done until there has been some awful calamity.”

The problem with responding only to calamity is that underestimation is usually replaced by overreaction. And we tell ourselves it is the right thing, maybe the only thing, to do.

In other words, American complacent cluelessness was followed by fanatical vindictiveness. It's as predictable as poking a hornets' nest. The American reaction to 9/11 showed little more intelligence or shrewdness than an insect's. That kind of predictable stupidity is easy for a shrewd adversary to manipulate. 

Lance Morrow recently wrote an astonishingly stupid Wall Street Journal opinion piece entitled "You Are Living in the Golden Age of Stupidity". He gives as an example Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan. He also talks about the stupidity of the Democrats twice trying to impeach Trump likening the Democrats to Wile E. Coyote to Trump's roadrunner. This is the guy who wrote in Time magazine a few days after 9/11 " A Case for Rage and Retribution". Here's the nut of it:

A day cannot live in infamy without the nourishment of rage. Let's have rage... Let America explore the rich reciprocal possibilities of the fatwa. A policy of focused brutality does not come easily to a self-conscious, self-indulgent, contradictory, diverse, humane nation with a short attention span. America needs to relearn a lost discipline, self-confident relentlessness and to relearn why human nature has equipped us all with a weapon (abhorred in decent peacetime societies) called hatred... This is the moment of clarity. Let the civilized toughen up, and let the uncivilized take their chances in the game they started."

I don't know if Bin-Laden had a chance to read this article, but if he did, it would have been a very strong indicator to him that he'd succeeded.

One of the chief characteristics of "stupid" is not to recognize it in oneself. For someone like Morrow everyone else is stupid, never you. Let's get after them chickenshit heathen Parthians and teach them a lesson. But what's really, truly astonishingly stupid is to fall for their ploy over and over again.

Conservatives like Morrow are prodigies of projection--they never quite grasp that the stupidities that they see in others are projections of their own. Whenever you hear someone on the Right accuse the Left of something nasty, they are almost always talking about themselves. The more unhinged the accusations, the more deeply rooted the projection. It would never occur to him that it is he and the hate- and vengeance-driven minions on the Right are those who most resemble the benighted Mr. Coyote. As Morrow says, stupid is as stupid does. 

Update 9/12/21: "See also After 9/11 the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong" by Garrett Graf. An excerpt:

Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.” [See my  post on "Naive Idealism"]

At the time, some commentators politely noted the danger of tilting at such nebulous concepts, but a stunned American public appeared to crave a bold response imbued with a higher purpose. As the journalist Robert Draper writes in To Start a War, his new history of the Bush administration’s lies, obfuscations, and self-delusions that led from Afghanistan into Iraq, “In the after-shocks of 9/11, a reeling America found itself steadied by blunt-talking alpha males whose unflappable, crinkly-eyed certitude seemed the only antidote to nationwide panic.”

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