It is considered a success of the Bush administration that there has not been a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. This is used as a defense for the strategy, policy, and tactics employed against terrorism, and it is a confirmation that things are working as they are and do not need to improve. It is an excuse to let up. It provides less motivation to seek better understanding of Arab/Iraqi/Muslim/tribal culture, international intelligence and judicial cooperation, and innovative ways to combat terrorism.
I have a theory why the U.S. has not been attacked since 9/11. Bin Laden had carefully outlined in publically-released statements his plan for awakening the jihad, and it consisted of a very long-term strategy with many parts.
The jihad is viewed by the west as being an emotional, ephemeral, yet extremely devoted reaction to western influence. To Bin Laden, the jihad is a war spanning centuries, back to the days of the great Muslim expanse, the days of the warrior prophet Muhammed to the merciful yet virtuous Salaheddin. The west will continue to invade, yet the mujaheddin will always counter in a defensive manner. To Bin Laden, the jihad is not the aggressive seeking of destruction of western culture. It is employed in a language of defensiveness, which is legal under kooky interpretations of the Koran. Get the invaders out, and form an Islamic caliphate.
To Bin Laden, this is not a battle of a few years. It is a multi-dimensional war lasting ages. When he authorized 9/11, he had already pulled back many of his allied Taliban fighters from easy-to-hit places in Afghanistan, even moving them to other countries. He implored them to leave, even though they wanted nothing more than to stay and fight. He left behind a minimal force to mount a resistance. He had already prepared for the inevitable U.S. response, which he must’ve been surprised occurred much later by a few months.
He was declaring war on the west. The U.S. was more than happy to go along with it, rattling its sabres like an angry, angstful teenager, not understanding his enemy or seeking to.
Now, think about it. What good would further attacks on the U.S. do at this point? We’ve already freaked out and implemented policies and laws which do little to curb the realistic methods of terrorism but which have alienated our own people. We’ve become involved in not only Afghanistan but Iraq too. It is a huge cost burden on us to undertake the Global War On Terrorism. While we can withstand one or two years easy, Bin Laden understands that after that, our will begins to decay. At some point there is an economic impact, even in an economic environment as healthy sa ours is.
Al-Qaeda did not attack U.S. soil anymore after 9/11. But what DID it do? The media claims it has failed to have success infiltrating the U.S. because of the PATRIOT Act and various safeguards at airports. But it’s a myth that we are more secure. Loose ports, uncoordinated name rosters, agents already in the U.S. and those who manage to make it in under cover.
Al-Qaeda busied itself with gaining connections in the wild world of Iraq, turning Iraq into a training ground (literally) for the new generation of mujaheddin who grew up worshipping the Afghan mujaheddin.
It is expanding its network, incorporating the activated sheep into its fold.
Most importantly, it is achieving goals that offer the most reward. What does it gain by attacking U.S. soil more right now? It could have skilled personnel, valuable intelligence, and funds busted if detected. And the U.S. has already been pulled into the fight. It has already sent its sons and daughters all the way across the world to become easy targets. It already has suffered from the fallout of an international community that disdains or even hates what the U.S. has chosen to do. Bin Laden could not have asked for anything more.
Al-Qaeda attacked London and Madrid, and also took responsibility for attacks in Bali and the Philippines. What this means is that it is getting more countries involved. It is opening the eyes of more and more people around the world. It is forcing Islam into the forefront through violence and terror. Is this not what terrorism seeks to accomplish? Spain pulled out of coalition involvement after it was attacked. England wearily confirmed its desire to remain involved in Iraq after it was attacked. The attacks have put these countries in bad spots — positions where they’re no longer calling the shots.
So Al-Qaeda is mobilizing, awakening, recruiting. You have to think long-term about what they are trying to do. Next they will try to export skills and train internationally and not at select bases in countries with little security.
After that, they will try to shut the world down economically and socially, spreading fear and insecurity and uncertainty through violent attacks on infrastructure.
Look at Iraq. In December 2005, oil output in Iraq was at its lowest levels since the beginning of the American invasion. Insurgents and terrorists are looking to hit vital infrastructure now, and since oil exports account for 90% of Iraq’s income, this is a significant hindrance to Iraqi prosperity. Combined with attacks on Iraqi security forces, forcing individuals to hide their identities, the insurgents have lessened emphasis on attacking American soldiers and have concentrated more on infrastructure, much of which is easier to hit and less well-guarded by coalition forces.
I think Al-Qaeda’s very small window for success in achieving their goals is getting smaller, but I’m not sure they know it. If peace and prosperity spread through the Middle East along with political reform, then the terrorists are doomed because they will lose their tenuous Muslim support for jihad and will have to worry about more honest law enforcement ferreting them out of their lairs. Why worry about an Islamic caliphate, which is a distant fantasy, when there are successful Muslim-led representative models that provide more freedom (and yes, more instability)?
I was watching FOXNews today and one of the talking heads was referring to the lack of any post-9/11 attacks as an effect of stern, aggressive action. This type of ignorant hawkishness is what I loathe most, and I suspect many are alienated by it also. It’s the same blind bellicosity that declares a moral, unyielding path one day, then admits some mistakes the next, then re-states the past by calling those mistakes “glaring errors” instead the next. When the 9/11 Commission gives us failing grades across the board for implementing national security measures, and when our borders are so unchecked that everyone is aware of it, things need fixing.
The U.S. is committed to the fight already. Attacking it offers little reward versus risk. That’s why you’ll see attacks scattered across the world, not centered on any one country repeatedly. Polarizing the world through terrorist attacks is what Al-Qaeda wants. It thrives off of the internal conflict of its enemy. This is not an invitation to give our government carte blanche to do what it wants. What it is is an opportunity for us to better protect ourselves, strengthen our social ties and communication, and distribute information better so that fear and uncertainty, a terrorist’s weapons, have mitigated effects.