September 13, 2003


Usama’s strategic reasons behind the attacks (Walid Phares, September 13, 2003,

In a summarized manner the main goals behind the Jihadist onslaught on American soil are as follow:

1) Chaos

It is one certainty that the man who ordered the destruction of the American centers of finances, military and political powers aimed at creating national chaos in the United States. The mass killing of civilians, including personnel in the military bureaucracy doesn’t produce a battlefield defeat as in the case of Pearl Harbor by way of comparison. While the element of strategic surprise –infamy- was the most common characteristic between the two aggressions, Nippon ultimate goal was to break down US military power in the Pacific, hence removing American deterrence from Japanese immediate designs in Asia. In the case of al-Qaida the direct outcome sought by the Jihad war room from 9/11, was to bring chaos to the American mainland, even though US Task forces were not touched around the world. The real and first objective of the Ghazwa (Jihad raid as it was called by UBL) was to trigger a chain of reactions, both on the popular and political levels. He saw hundred thousand Americans in the streets exploding in anger against their Government as Israelis have done against their cabinets in the 1980s. He hoped Congress would split in two and get paralyzed, campuses would rebel and companies would collapse. He wanted chaos, and a divided nation, scared, and turning onto it self. He believed time was ripe for the fall of the giant. He had many reasons to believe so.

2) Backlash

If you were Bin Laden, or the product of his political culture, you’d anticipate revenge. Had similar events took place in his region of the world, whomever was the majority, or empowered community would have unleashed bloody punishments on the perceived kin aggressor. That’s how things are dealt with from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans. Deep down, inside his instincts, Usama was expecting Americans to attack Arabs and Muslims in sort of pogroms. Not the 420 reported incidents –which by American standards are to be condemned at once- but the Sub-Indian style where thousands of armed civilians would wreck havoc in entire neighborhoods. He fantasized about Arab and Muslim blood spilled on the street, a la Middle East. Ironically, some Jihadist callers in the first days after 9/11 were reporting alleged backlashes live to al-Jazeera. Has such nightmare occurred in America, al-Qaida would have ruled in Muslim lands and recruited in the hundred thousands.

3) American wrath overseas

With chaos and ethnic wounds inside the country, the engineer of mass death projected American grapes of wrath abroad. Had he had such military power, and had his Caliphate been attacked in similar ways, he would have unleashed Armageddon against the infidel world. In reverse psychology, Bin Laden expected the US military to carpet bomb Afghanistan and many other places. He thought he’d draw the Yankee’s raw power into the entire Muslim world, and expected a global intifada to ensue. Interestingly enough the Jihadists anticipated millions of death in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Some indications lead me to guess that the Sultan of the Mujahedin wanted the great Satan to do the unthinkable and resort to dooms day devices.

Considering how freely people condemn Americans for not understanding the world beyond our shores, it's always remarkable to realize how little they understand us. As Mr. Phares makes clear, al Qaeda completely misjudged the effects of its attack on 9-11. The comparison to Pearl Harbor should have been instructive--in exchange for sinking a few ships, destroying some planes, and killing 2,400 Americans, the Japanese got a war that left three million of them dead to our 60,000 and their society transfigured in our image. Osama can't have been hoping for a similar result, but why'd he think he'd get one?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2003 5:57 AM

Your 60,000 figure seems a bit small to me. I thought we lost around 260,000 in both theaters of WWII. I always thought the Pacific theater was bloodier than the European one. It also lasted a few months longer. I don't have the stats in front of me.

Posted by: pchuck at September 13, 2003 9:42 AM

I read it in Bix's Hirohito bio, but here's another cite:

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2003 9:47 AM

Remember that, for the US, the Pacific war was a naval war. Island taking was terribly bloody and, when a ship went down, most of the hands went with it, but there was no great clash of armies.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 13, 2003 10:20 AM

Osama hoped to draw us into a war in Afghanistan, but he thought he would win in a war of attrition. He had a greatly exaggerated view of how effective the Afghan Arabs were in driving out the Red Army, and thought he could repeat history with America. He seems to have believed that once America got into a long guerilla war we would eventually cut and run once we started taking significant casualties, just as we cut and run from Somalia.

He may have even thought that America would break up as the USSR did. In an interview a few years ago he gloated that American states would secede rather than continue supporting Israel.

In the meantime, as Phares notes, Muslim governments friendly to America would be in the untenable position of supporting America even as pictures of Americans killing Muslims were televised across the world, and would thus become susceptible to Islamic revolution. This in fact was his principal goal: Osama was using America as a tool for instigating Islamic civil war.

Posted by: Peter Caress at September 13, 2003 10:40 AM


And you want us to change our foreign policy so as not to alienate this nut further?

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2003 10:45 AM

"I will attempt to do that with as much as(sic) caution as possible, while allowing raw data to interact with instincts." We are not in a position to guess the nature of Whalid Phares' instincts. Note that Mr. Phares has the gall to mention that he will draw upon "raw data" ... then he manages to present no raw data whatsoever. This bullshitter certainly keeps his "data" close to the vest. So in the spirit of Phares' writeup, I will present similar wild-ass guesses, but in contrast to Whalid Phares there will be no claim that my conjecture is grounded in significant information.

The media fails to present any interpretation of 9/11 which DOES NOT place the United States at the center of Osama Bin Laden's agenda. That may be an error. Self-centered perspective tends to be less reliable than landscape perspective.

Apparently OBL became even more determined, after American military forces were stationed on Saudi Arabian soil. To whatever extent this made him infuriated toward the Americans, this made him even more incensed about the Saudi royal family, since they made this blasphemy possible. So OBL hates America even more than he did previously; he despises the royal family even more than the Americans. So what's a fellow like Osama Bin Laden going to do about such a revoltin' development?

Here's a possibility that is less speculative than Whalid Phares' claims: the 9/11 attack IS part of a progression of attacks(note use of the present-tense "IS" instead of the past-tense "WAS") that serves as a means to another end. That end is, naturally, more meaningful than any particular terrorist incident; also the end is more attainable than such pie-in-the-sky developments as:
national chaos
...Congress would split in two and get paralyzed...
Usama was expecting Americans to attack Arabs and Muslims in sort(sic) of pogroms.
...carpet bomb Afghanistan and many other places.

Let's keep in mind that OBL may have mentioned that such developments might occur, but that's part of a zealot's modus operandi in order to get his followers riled up and inspired.

So what might be a goal, the end that I referred to, for which a decades-long campaign of terrorist attacks would be justified? The goal has to be significant enough to justify the risk that resulted from 9/11. This perspective places 9/11 as a high-visibility event intended to further promote attention to OBL's cause, and to therefore spur the recruitment of additional militant arabs.

The end,(i.e., the goal for the next decade or so,) is the downfall of the Saud family, the family ruling the home of Mecca and Medina. The figurative "radar screens" in the west appear to not discern, that a possible outcome of the OBL/Arab terrorist campaign, is the downfall of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, into the clutches of an even more fundamentalist arab group. Control of Mecca can be a far greater yearning to such Muslim zealots, than striking at the west in general and the USA in particular. Control of Saudi Arabia is more attainable, and its consequences more predictable, than is taking a risky action to bring about "splitting Congress in two," or carpet bombing, or national chaos. Now keep in mind that OBL may refer to these as possible developments - - he's gotta keep the troops inspired(especially since he claims that the Jewish western press won't admit that these neat things have occurred.)

Unfortunately for the West, OBL has not yet demonstrated a propensity for overreaching; he has methodically proceeded with one onslaught after another. So what is the likelihood that he blew his wad, that he risked and will lose everything in going up against the Infidel nation this time? Unfortunately for us, Osama Bin Ladin has been consistently realistic(as compared with people such as Whalid Phares.) So once again, has OBL made a great leap in his campaign - - a quixotic strike at the USA - - or was 9/11 just another in a progression - - for a goal that is significant not to the West but to these fundamentalist Muslims?

The American notion of "They're out to get us" is pathetic self-centered paranoia. To folks who groove on telling each other, "We're the most powerful country throughout all time, and in the whole World," a self-centered perspective is less unlikely. By the way, these folks underestimate themselves: the USA is the MOST powerful country in the entire .... universe.

The regime changes in Libya and Iran let us speculate what the effect will be of a regime change in Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: Larry H at September 13, 2003 1:34 PM

I don't think we should cravenly appease terrorists at every turn, but I recognize that the Libertarians are right when they say that our Middle East policy carries a risk of terrorist attacks. If Israel hadn't been created, if Iraq hadn't invaded Kuwait, and if America were neutral towards Saudi Arabia and Egypt instead of being close allies, would 9-11 have happened? I have my doubts.

As things stand, I would stop coddling Arab dictators. I support our alliance with Israel and the present occupation of Iraq, but I recognize that many Arabs view Israel and Iraq not as messy political problems but as American plots to steal oil and humiliate the Arab world. Islamists furthermore view these policies as an attempt to ram un-Islamic governments down Muslim throats. Therefore these policies greatly increase the risk of terrorism, though I adjudge the benefits to be worth the risk.

Posted by: Peter Caress at September 13, 2003 1:57 PM


Did the Balinese intervene in the Middle East?

Being alive carries a risk of terrorist attack. we get to choose how we live.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2003 5:04 PM


tut, tut--no profanity, please.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2003 5:06 PM

Our problem isn't so much that 9-11 happened -- some doomsday cult could have done it -- but rather that millions of people think it was a legitimate attack. Why did so many people consider 9-11 a good thing? Because they hate American foreign policy. Fanatics like Osama consider our support for the "apostate" House of Saud and other "hypocritical" Muslim governments to be our biggest sin. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, our support for Israel is our major sin: whether it's an Imam in Sudan or a Pakistani teenager whose favorite food is KFC, when talking about 9-11 they soon say, "The Palestinians get it every day. What did the Americans expect?" I just think we should recognize this.

The attacks in Indonesia reveal an important point about the radical Islamists, one that cannot be emphasized enough: they're not using terrorism to conquer the West(*), they're using terrorism to extirpate all un-Islamic influences from their own countries.

(*)Not that don't consider conquering the West to be a fine idea, but even the Islamists understand that they can't do that until they rid the world of apostate Muslim governments and reestablish the Caliphate.

Posted by: Peter Caress at September 13, 2003 7:47 PM

I think the key to understanding these events lies more with Zawahiri than with Bin Laden. If there is a discernible larger purpose behind them. Maybe we're looking for patterns that aren't there - or are there but we miss.

It seems to me that they simply wish to kill us and believe that we'll then run. Somlia, Lebanon, Vietnam. We're weak, decadent, immoral. Much like the Japanese saw us; or the Nazis, or the Communists or every other enemy of western liberal democracies. We'll withdraw our support for the House of Saud, for Mubarak, those nations will collapse and be replaced by friendlier regimes.

Nothing more than that. I'm sure in the caves somewhere they have larger goals - say they will do A and B and C and a whole series of attacks and maneuvers that will lead to D and E.

Bin Laden is the poet, the propagandist weaving Islamic historic events into his narrative, promising future glory by connecting ancient victories to today's events. Nothing more.

Zawahiri fascinates me more.


Posted by: SteveMG at September 13, 2003 8:41 PM

Half of America and all of Europe hates our foreign policy too. But they don't feel compelled to blow us and themselves up. The problem isn't us but the immaturity and irresponsibility of the Islamicists. That won't change when we adjust our behavior to their limitations.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2003 8:59 PM

Europeans may hate our foreign policies, but they don't consider our policies a threat to the very fabric of their societies. They don't think Western ideas and American-friendly governments endanger anyone's soul. Neither do they consider it a religious duty to fight on behalf of oppressed Musims. Not so with radical Islamists.

I don't think anything I've written can be construed as saying that the problem is with us. When I decline to stroll through Central Park at 3AM am I "enabling" muggers and "adjust[ing] my behavior to their limitations," or just showing proper caution?

In a better world, Muslim cultures (especially Arab cultures) would be less immature and irresponsible and would produce fewer evil terrorists. But in the real world, there's not much we can do about these cultures except hope they'll improve over time. In the meanwhile, we should stay out of the way when we can, and fight when we must.

Posted by: Peter Caress at September 13, 2003 9:40 PM

I would be loath to grant Benny or anyone else in his little club any credit for any grand plan or strategic vision that isn't based on, and therefore limited by, the same pathologies that average arabs have. And those pathologies somehow always come back to the Jews.

Has there been any other people in history that have been put upon like the Jews have, as the all purpose scapegoat for all time? Gypsies maybe? Who did people blame for their problems before the Jews existed? An angry sun God? Who did they blame where they didn't have Jews, like in Asia?

Posted by: Vea Victis at September 14, 2003 5:30 AM


You've ceded the park to the criminal element.

We shouldn't cede the world similarly.

Posted by: oj at September 14, 2003 5:31 AM

Larry is too ethnocentric. He can't understand that the Jihadists do not "react" strategically. They didn't attack the US just because US forces happen to be in the Arabian region, but because in their minds, it was America's turn. Larry should read more about the mind of the Jihadists.Hhe need to eat the "raw" meat in their ideology. Otherwise he will continue to inhale the clouds of American pre 9/11 naivete.

Posted by: Sami Abdallah at April 13, 2004 12:13 AM