As we dutifully remember the events of Sep 11, 2001, it’s useful to tell the short story of Osama bin Laden and why he orchestrated the attack. That terrible day may seem fresh in our minds, but in the next Presidential election there will be people voting who don’t remember it. There’s a lot of young people now coming of age who were just kids, millions more not yet born, on that terrible day. And the story is as short and easy to follow as it it is tragic.
We begin with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and a young, idealistic heir to a vast family fortune named Osama bin Laden.
Simply put the Soviets waded into a quagmire worse than Vietnam, one US operatives eagerly exploited by helping rebels with a mountain of US money and weapons. One of those rebels was a Saudi man, Osama bin Laden or OBL, who left the safety of a wealthy, pampered life and answered the call for Islamic Jihad against the godless Russians. The Soviets were eventually chased out and OBL became a legend in the Middle East and especially in his home country. There’s no real good western analogue for what OBL was to his countrymen, but if there was it might be something like a cross between Robin Hood and David facing Goliath.
OBL enjoyed that fame and developed his prior network of donors to the Afghan cause into a global donor base, nicknamed simply the base, or in Arabic nicknamed Al Qaeda. But like so many who reach great fame he craved that high and wanted to relieve it in all its glory forever. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, OBL thought he had his big chance. He argued publicly and behind closed doors that the entire middle east should unite in a massive religious army and throw the secular Hussein out. When Saudi leaders ignored him and opted instead for a US led coalition that would actually work against Hussein’s large, well equipped forces, OBL went a little crazy. He was eventually confined for the duration of the Gulf War by the Saudis for shooting his mouth off about it and, by some accounts, mistreated while in jail. From that point on OBL hated the US with the same contempt he once had for the USSR.
The 9-11 attacks were orchestrated by OBL in the belief the US would invade Afghanistan and get stuck in the same quagmire the USSR had. OBL as the instrument of Allah would then not only defeat the west and repeat his earlier performance, the struggle would cause the economic and social collapse of the US similar to what happened to the Soviet Union. When George Bush and his neocons pals not only went into Afghanistan but also invaded Iraq, OBL must have surely thought Allah was on his side and that that was indeed his destiny. Of note here: there were no atheists in those hijacked cockpits.
There are nuances and details that could and have filled books. But that’s basically it in a nutshell. September 11, 2001, had little to do with Palestinians or Israel or freeeeedom or any of that stuff — although OBL and his buddies were happy to frame it that way if they thought it would generate wider support in the Muslim community. A religiously motivated anti-communist guerrilla, who tasted and enjoyed great fame in the closing years of the cold-war, hoped to bring down the US, all because we helped the Saudis and Kuwaitis in 1991 and set foot on what he considered holy soil in the process. He was still waiting for the banking collapse or some other divine event to finish us of and claim victory when Navy SEALs shot him dead in 2011. In retrospect — or in parallel universe — it’s frightening to speculate on how close actually came to pulling it off.