It was our misfortune and Osama bin Ladenâ€™s good luck that Washingtonâ€™s dreams were not those of a global policeman intent on bringing a criminal operation to justice, but of an imperial power whose leaders wanted to lock the oil heartlands of the planet into a Pax Americana for decades to come. So if youâ€™re writing bin Laden’s obituary right now, describe him as a wizard who used the 9/11 attacks to magnify his meager powers many times over.
After all, while he only had the ability to launch major operations every couple of years, Washington — with almost unlimited amounts of money, weapons, and troops at its command — was capable of launching operations every day. In a sense, after 9/11, Bin Laden commanded Washington by taking possession of its deepest fears and desires, the way a bot takes over a computer, and turning them to his own ends.
It was he, thanks to 9/11, who insured that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan would be put into motion. It was he, thanks to 9/11, who also insured that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be launched. It was he, thanks to 9/11, who brought America’s Afghan war to Pakistan, and American aircraft, bombs, and missiles to Somalia and Yemen to fight that Global War on Terror. And for the last near-decade, he did all this the way a Tai Chi master fights: using not his own minimal strength, but our massive destructive power to create the sort of mayhem in which he undoubtedly imagined that an organization like his could thrive.