There can't be many people who will miss Osama bin Laden. It's nonetheless dismaying to see people reacting in pretty much exactly the same way they do to winning sports events. Chest-thumping makes most anyone look thick. This was a sobering, violent waypoint along the same road that brought sobering violence to our shores on a deeply traumatic day a decade ago. So how about we keep the beer hats at home?
Anyway, here's the best article I've seen so far on putting bin Laden in a broader context (called "Don't Get Cocky, America"). It chronicles the beginning of the man trained by the United States to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan who then turned against us.
Perhaps the most interesting claim of the article is about what kind of battle bin Laden claimed to be waging against us versus the kind we think we've been engaged in. This author claims bin Laden's goal was fighting a long-scale economic war. He puts a recent small terrorism scare into stark focus that makes the whole business much more complicated.
He's probably right, though I hope not, considering the ease of the kind of anti-America success he's discussing. Ought at least to be good food for thought:
...bin Laden has spoken of how he used "guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for ten years, until it went bankrupt." He 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 mujahidin 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." Similarly, in a September 2007 video message, bin Laden claimed that "thinkers who study events and happenings" were now predicting the American empire's collapse. He gloated, "The mistakes of Brezhnev are being repeated by Bush."
But it is not apparent that American planners clearly saw the link between al Qaeda's war and the U.S. economy even after bin Laden boasted of it on the world stage. Moreover, had U.S. officials understood al Qaeda's goal of broadening its fight against the United States, they might have raised more objections to the invasion of Iraq, which created a far broader battlefield for America.
These twin pillars of al Qaeda's strategy have not died with Osama bin Laden. Rather, they permeate the organization and its affiliates. To comprehend this, one need look no further than Inspire, the English-language magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP), the group's Yemen affiliate. A special issue of the publication released in November 2010 commemorated a plot that managed to place pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) bombs inside printer cartridges that were flown on FedEx and UPS planes. The issue outlined the great disparity between what the plot cost the terrorists and what it cost their enemies -- a $4,200 price tag for AQAP versus, in the magazine's estimation, a cost of "billions of dollars in new security measures" for America and other Western countries.
In fact, Inspire warned that future attacks would be "smaller, but more frequent," an approach that "some may refer to as the strategy of a thousand cuts." In this strategic vision, the fact that the ink cartridge plot killed nobody did not mean that it had failed: Rather, AQAP's ability to get the disguised explosives aboard planes, and thus significantly drive up the West's security costs, made the plot a success.
ADDITIONAL: Keeping comments in line with consensus reality can be difficult, but is required lest they look like mere insult.
Or provocation for its own sake, of course.