Did Osama bin Laden Win the War Against the United States?

After the dust settled and the United States celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden, many wondered how successful bin Laden really was.  What was his true objective?  What did he want to accomplish and did he indeed reach his goals?  All we have to do is look to Bin Laden’s previous major success – Afghanistan.

The Washington Post noted:

According to counterterrosism expert, Gartenstein-Ross, Osama bin Laden had a strategy that we never bothered to understand, and thus that we never bothered to defend against. What he really wanted to do — and, more to the point, what he thought he could do — was bankrupt the United States of America. After all, he’d done the bankrupt-a-superpower thing before. And though it didn’t quite work out this time, it worked a lot better than most of us, in this exultant moment, are willing to admit.

Osama Bin Laden was crucial part of the resistance to the Soviet Union’s attempt to conquer Afghanistan in the 1980’s.  He provided not only firepower but military and strategic knowledge that helped the resistance fighters hold back the Superpower.  The notoriety Bin Laden gained from his successes in Afghanistan propelled Bin Laden from his rich, wealthy Saudi Arabian family to the terrorist mastermind we came to know him as.  What many fail to see though, is that his success in Afghanistan not only repelled the Soviet invasion but contributed to the communist superpower’s economic collapse a few years later. 

The lesson Bin Laden learned was that superpowers fall when their economies collapse, not when they are defeated on the battlefield.  Bin Laden understood that Superpowers will do anything and everything to win a war, including throwing billions of dollars towards the effort.  Superpowers know that if their military dominance is ever in question, they lose a significant component of their economic domination – the ever present threat to force opponents to bend to their economic demands.  Bin Laden used the lessons learned in Afghanistan to formulate his United States policy, a policy to promote the economic collapse of the world’s richest country.

“He has compared the United States to the Soviet Union on numerous occasions — and these comparisons have been explicitly economic,” Gartenstein-Ross argues in a Foreign Policy article. “For example, in October 2004 bin Laden said that just as the Arab fighters and Afghan mujaheddin 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.’ ”

According to the Washington Post:

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the price tag on the Iraq War alone will surpass $3 trillion. Afghanistan likely amounts to another trillion or two. Add in the build-up in homeland security spending since 9/11 and you’re looking at yet another trillion. And don’t forget the indirect costs of all this turmoil: The Federal Reserve, worried about a fear-induced recession, slashed interest rates after the attack on the World Trade Center, and then kept them low to combat skyrocketing oil prices, a byproduct of the war in Iraq. That decade of loose monetary policy may well have contributed to the credit bubble that crashed the economy in 2007 and 2008.

Then there’s the post-9/11 slowdown in the economy, the time wasted in airports, the foregone returns on investments we didn’t make, the rise in oil prices as a result of the Iraq War, the cost of rebuilding Ground Zero, health care for the first responders and much, much more.

But it isn’t quite right to say bin Laden cost us all that money. We decided to spend more than a trillion dollars on homeland security measures to prevent another attack. We decided to invade Iraq as part of a grand, post-9/11 strategy of Middle Eastern transformation. We decided to pass hundreds of billions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts and add an unpaid-for prescription drug benefit in Medicare while we were involved in two wars. And now, partially though not entirely because of these actions, we are deep in debt.

In retrospect, Osama Bin Laden may not have won, but he did cost the United States dearly, even if we’re not smart enough to recognize it…

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