Cole Interview: Bin Laden an Utter Failure

My interview on the significance of Bin Laden’s passing with Detroit Channel 2’s Bill Gallagher is now available.

I argue that to take full advantage of this political moment, the US must withdraw from Iraq and support the declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly in September.

U-M Professor Juan Cole Sees bin Laden’s Movement as a Failure:

Posted in al-Qaeda | 8 Responses | Print |

8 Responses

  1. I really have to disagree with you on the significance of Usama bin Laden. He won, and ultimately changed the U.S. His actions drew the U.S. into two wars, costing us over 6,000 reported troop deaths and countless civilian casualties, and over a trillion dollars spent on these wars. He drew us into this “war on terror”, which could theoretically never end. In addition, he changed the way this country views security and freedom:

    * We’ve sent terrorist suspects to “black sites” to be detained without trial and tortured.

    * We’ve turned terrorist suspects over to other regimes, knowing that they’d be tortured.

    * In those cases when our government later learned it got the wrong guy, federal officials not only refused to apologize or compensate him, they went to court to argue he should be barred from using our courts to seek justice, and that the details of his abduction, torture, and detainment should be kept secret.

    * We’ve abducted and imprisoned dozens, perhaps hundreds of men in Guantanamo who turned out to have been innocent. Again, the government felt no obligation to do right by them.

    * The government launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign implying that people who smoke marijuana are complicit in the murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens.

    * The government illegally spied and eavesdropped on thousands of American citizens.

    * Presidents from both of the two major political parties have claimed the power to detain suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, based solely on the president’s designation of them as an “enemy combatant,” essentially making the president prosecutor, judge, and jury. (I’d also argue that the treatment of someone like Bradley Manning wouldn’t have been tolerated before September 11.)

    * The current president has also claimed the power to execute U.S. citizens, off the battlefield, without a trial, and to prevent anyone from knowing about it after the fact.

    * The Congress approved, the president signed, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a broadly written law making it a crime to advocate for any organization the government deems sympathetic to terrorism. This includes challenging the “terrorist” designation in the first place.

    * Flying in America now means enduring a humiliating and hassling ritual that does little if anything to actually make flying any safer. Every time the government fails to catch an attempt at terrorism, it punishes the public for its failure by adding to the ritual.

    * American Muslims, a heartening story of success and assimilation, are now harassed and denigrated for merely trying to build houses of worship.

    Usama achieved a lot and inspired countless followers; the spring uprisings are not over, and it’s going to be a fierce summer in Afghanistan. What would happen to if we discover the Pakistani government was in fact hiding him? I can’t imagine our relations with Pakistan are going to improve in the near future. It will likely derail our already luke warm relations and possibly end with them closing off supply routes and open hostilities. It is just way too early to declare victory over Usama and al Qaeda.

    * bullet points via link to

    • Right, UBL has caused political and moral havoc in the U.S., which continues and will not end in the foreseeable future, if ever. At most, the man UBL has come to an end.

    • Unfortunately, I have to agree with the essence of Mr. Shorter’s comments. I do not believe that Usama believed he could win a conventional military victory over the U.S. His strategy was actually much more insidious and effective. He sought to seriously weaken the U.S. by bleeding our economic resources in a long, drawn out and expensive multinational campaign. In effect, to do to the U.S. what he helped accomplish against Russia in Afghanistan. In this regard, he has suceeded to some extent has he not? When you consider that the Iraq adventure has cost this country somewhere between $2 – 4 TRILLION dollars and still counting. The U.S. is now much less stable financially than it was when G. Bush assumed the presidency.

      Unfortunately, for our country, Usama had the perfect foil for his strategy in our then commander in chief, George Bush. I believe president Bush had the worst temperment possible for a president especially against a wily and resourceful opponent like Usama. Former president Bush did not then nor even today strike me as a deep thinker. He is Texas through and through (everything is done big in Texas, hmm). He has a tendency to use a sledge hammer to kill a gnat. In short, it is the only tool in his toolbox. He reacted to 9/11 in a manner consistent with his temperment. Like an elephant in a china shop he first starts the Afghanistan campaign which he bungles badly. Remember, Usama escaped from our clutches first in this country and likely fled to Pakistan while we dithered. Then to my utter amazement, Bush unilaterally invades Iraq. Talk about a huge lack of focus. I am confident that this military action will go down in history as a blunder of epic proportion. Usama, at this point began to score big points against the U.S., possibly beyond his wildest dreams. He escaped with his life and Bush had mired our country in two different Arab countries with no coherent, short term goal in sight. In short, we began to spend huge amounts of money for military excursions without a foreseeable end. At the same time, Usama puts the U.S. in an antagonistic posture against Arabs in general. So the cost of this campaign exceeds the strictly monetary. Usama has suceeded in having the U.S. antagonize Arabs throughout the region as well.

      Eliminating Usama does translate into progress in our fight against terrorism, however, we still have a long way to go. The reasons why terrorism continues are complex and not all of the underlying factors were eliminated with Usama’s demise. Hence, I hesitate to declare Usama an utter failure. He succeeded to some degree in certain respects. He certainly did not reach the finish flag but, unfortunately, points were certainly scored.

      This is my first post to your website. I find your site to be very informative.

      • I think John Shorter and Bob F have some good points. Sometimes tactics don’t really fit strategy. Was the collapsing of American domination bin Laden’s strategy, or tactics? Well, if Robert Scheuer was right, the goal was simply to serve as an exemplar to encourage Moslems to rise up against their own governments, not necessarily by using his same methods. If the usual Islamophobic narrative was true, bin Laden’s strategy was to quickly build some sort of all-jihadi 3rd Reich that would conquer the world.

        Now if the latter was true, then collapsing America was merely a tactic, since a lot of things would still have to happen to creat an actual caliphate. In fact, it turned out to be a terrible tactic, because America’s decline is causing a power vacuum that is being filled by two states that a Wahhabi should abhor: Iran and China.

        But if the former was true, then collapsing America was a strategy for empowering people in countries like Egypt to recognize that their governments were US puppets, and then having enough power to overthrow those governments. If this was true, then bin Laden was very successful. The problem then, however, is that he didn’t mean for those governments to be replaced by parliamentary democracy ruled by mostly secular law.

        So he exposed America as a villain all right, but Arabs chose a different replacement than he wanted.

        Another way to look at this is that sometimes a movement, or a group trying to start a movement, will create something very different than what it intended. The Japanese militarists in WW2 claimed they wanted to liberate the Asian peoples from the Western empires. They were lying, but some Japanese officers really believed it, and so when things went bad they worked hard to prepare their local collaborators to rebel against the returning West. Most importantly, the mere fact the Japanese had beaten the West for a while destroyed the racist myths that the West used to keep Asians impotent. So the revolutions happened, the West was driven out, but instead of fake nationalism controlled from Tokyo, Japan had inadvertently gifted Asia with real independence, with at least a chance for democracy. This may be what is happening to al-Qaeda’s legacy.

        • I’d like to revise part of what I wrote above. The Arab people decided not to choose a charismatic gun-toting superman as their hero. Instead, they chose to be their own heroes.

  2. “I argue that to take full advantage of this political moment, the US must withdraw from Iraq and support the declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly in September.”

    From your lips to God’s ears. But are these steps, especially the second, in the realm of political possibility for a national US politician in 2011?

    If not, what can the US do from here?

  3. The only thing I wonder about is if the U.N. wants a declaration of a Palestinian state, how can such a thing be established with the constant incursions/annexations by the Israelis on Palestinian land. The “two-state solution” is always promoted, but I don’t see such a thing as being politically or economically feasible any more. I expressed this view to my U.S. representative Tim Walz last September. What is to be done? As a first-time commenter here, I also have to express my admiration for this website.

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