Friday, May 06, 2011

Mark Weisbrot: Osama Bin Laden Provoked a US "War on Terror" that Strengthened His Movement

I must say I appreciate the historical perspective provided by Mark Weisbrot in his recent article in The Guardian newspaper of Britain. True to his word, Weisbrot takes "a sober look at the reality behind all the hype" around the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden (right) by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Weisbrot's commentary is reprinted below with added images and links.


Osama bin Laden: Cold War Veteran

Al-Qaida's mastermind knew only too well how to manipulate
US foreign policy to make America behave like an imperial tyrant

By Mark Weisbrot

The Guardian
May 3, 2011

Osama bin Laden, in a cave while fighting in the Afghan-Russian war in the 1980s.
(Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features.)

The killing of Osama bin Laden is being celebrated by the US media and government officials who spin it as one of the most important events since 11 September 2001. To the extent that it weakens al-Qaida, that would certainly be a gain. But it is worth taking a sober look at the reality behind all the hype.

Bin Laden, who – like Saddam Hussein and other infamous mass murderers – was supported by the United States government for years before he turned against it, changed the world with the most destructive terrorist act ever committed on US soil. But the reasons that he was able to do that have as much to do with US foreign policy at that particular juncture as with his own strategy and goals.

Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan during the war with Russia.
(Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features)

Bin Laden's goal was not, as some think, simply to bring down the US empire. That is a goal shared by most of the world, who – fortunately for us – would not use terrorist violence to further this outcome. His specific goal was to transform the struggle between the United States and popular aspirations in the Muslim world into a war against Islam, or at least create the impression for many millions of people that this was the case. As we look around the world 10 years after the attack, we can see that he had considerable success in this goal. The United States is occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, bombing Pakistan and Libya, and threatening Iran – all Muslim countries. To a huge part of the Muslim world, it looks like the United States is carrying out a modern-day crusade against them, despite President Obama's assertions to contrary Sunday night.

This situation, along with the United States' continued role of supporting the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, pretty much guarantees a steady stream of recruits for any terrorist movement of the kind bin Laden was organising, for the foreseeable future. In that sense, bin Laden was successful.

This is somewhat remarkable considering that, as many observers have pointed out, bin Laden at first appeared to have made a tactical blunder with the attacks of 11 September 2001, since this caused him to lose his base in Afghanistan – the one Islamic state that was at least sympathetic to his organisation. But after President Bush decided to use 9/11 as a pretext not only for invading Afghanistan, but also Iraq, these wars combined to put bin Laden and his movement back in business on a larger scale.

Could bin Laden have known that the US response to 9/11 would have made his movement even stronger, even if he lost his base in Afghanistan? I would say it is likely. While it was not predictable that President Bush would necessarily invade Iraq – although it was a strong possibility – it was foreseeable that the US government would seize on 9/11 to create a new overarching theme for its interventions throughout the world.

For a decade prior to the 9/11 attacks, Washington was without such an overall ideological framework. Until 1990, there were four decades of a "war against communism" that was used to justify everything from the overthrow of non-communist democratic governments in the western hemisphere (Guatemala, Chile, etc) to large-scale warfare in Vietnam, as well as hundreds of military bases throughout the world. The Soviet Union collapsed, the cold war ended, but the military bases and interventions continued. Prior to 9/11, the military interventions had to be done on an ad hoc basis (for example, "enemy-of the-month" as in Panama or the first Iraq war). But this is a weak basis for mobilising public opinion, and, in general, Americans have to be convinced that their own security is at stake in order to acquiesce to most sustained military adventures.

The "war on terror" was made to order for the post-cold war era, and enthusiasts such as then Vice President Dick Cheney noticed this immediately, before any wars were launched. Within five days of the 9/11 attacks, Cheney was on television proclaiming that the war against terrorism was "a long-term proposition": the "kind of work that will take years".

Indeed, it has, and with US drone strikes in Pakistan killing civilians and generating more hatred weekly, a cycle of violence is perpetuated that can go on for many years to come.

Of course, this was not inevitable. Ironically, the killing of bin Laden confirms what the left has maintained since 2001: that the occupation of Afghanistan was not necessary or justified in order to go after bin Laden. The killing of bin Laden was mainly an intelligence operation – the US did not have to invade or occupy Pakistan in order to carry it out. The same would have been true while he was in Afghanistan.

And now that he is gone, calls in Afghanistan for the US to leave are already intensifying; and they are picking up in the US, as well.

Since bin Laden is now dead, we will never know what he was thinking when he planned the 9/11 attacks. But as someone who was Washington's ally during the cold war, he could easily have understood how these attacks would likely lead to a "war on terror" that would strengthen his movement. Despite being a fanatical terrorist, bin Laden knew his enemy.

– Mark Weisbrot
The Guardian
May 3, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Killing of bin Laden and the "War on Terror" World Socialist Web Site (May 3, 2011).
The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Obama's "Historic Moment" World Socialist Web Site (May 4, 2011).
Washington's Official Story Unravels, Confirming Extra-Legal Execution of Bin Laden – Barry Grey (World Socialist Web Site, May 5, 2011).
Fresh Doubts Raised Over the Legality of Killing of Osama bin Laden – Owen Bowcott (The Guardian, May 5, 2011).
Revenge is Not the Way – John Dear (National Catholic Reporter, May 3, 2011).
Dead and Alive: Osama bin Laden’s American Legacy – Tom Engelhardt (, May 5, 2011).
Killing of bin Laden: What Are the Consequences? – Glenn Greenwald (, May 2, 2011).
The Osama bin Laden Exception – Glenn Greenwald (, May 6, 2011).
Why Aren't I Happy He's Dead? – Alison Leigh Lilly (Alison Leigh Lilly: Peace, Poesis and Wild Holy Earth, May 6, 2011).
Justice or Vengeance?
– Phyllis Bennis (Institute for Policy Studies, May 2, 2011).
Everyone's Missing the Point
– Barry Lando (, May 3, 2011).
The Ability to Kill Osama bin Laden Does Not Make America Great
– Kai Wright (, May 2, 2011).
Bin Laden's Crimes, and Ours
– Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive, May 2, 2011).
A Monster of Our Own Creation
– Robert Scheer (, May 4, 2011).
Osama bin Laden is Dead; Let the Peace Begin
– Medea Benjamin (, May 2, 2011).
Bin Laden's Death: "Why Kill the Goose?"
– Tariq Ali (The Guardian, May 4, 2011).
Accomplish the Mission: Bring the Troops Home
– Amy Goodman (, May 3, 2011).
Bin Laden: The War in His Words
– Rowenna Davis (The Guardian, May 4, 2011).
The 10 Key Myths About Osama bin Laden
– Jason Burke (The Guardian, May 3, 2011).
Osama bin Laden: His Life in Pictures
The Guardian (May 4, 2011).
Osama bin Laden's Compound in Abbottabad – in Pictures
The Guardian (May 4, 2011).
Native American Activist Winona LaDuke on Use of "Geronimo" as Code for Osama bin Laden: "The Continuation of the Wars Against Indigenous People" Democracy Now! (May 6, 2011).
US Football Player Targeted for Criticizing Celebration of Bin Laden Killing – Jerry White (World Socialist Web Site, May 7, 2011).
In Wake of Bin Laden Killing: US Targets American Citizen in Yemen – Bill Van Auken (World Socialist Web Site, May 7, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – May 1, 2011
Karen Armstrong on the 9/11 Attacks: A “Flagrant and Wicked Abuse of Religion”
Praying for George W. Bush
United 93 – A Socialist Perspective

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having wandered through your blog now and then, on a variety of topics, it seems that when you describe it as "progressive, gay, Catholic", you are telling its prioritized truth. Progressivism is your first commitment, then the gay stuff, and whatever is left of Catholicism comes in third. All of which makes you, IMHO, a sort of Episcopalian.

Ask yourself, does your Catholic identity ever require you to make a substantive critique and or rejection of the agendas or values of the gay or the progressive worlds?