Mission accomplished

We did what he wanted all along:

Bin Laden’s transition from scion of a wealthy family to terrorist mastermind came in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union was trying to conquer Afghanistan. Bin Laden was part of the resistance, and the resistance was successful — not only in repelling the Soviet invasion, but in contributing to the Communist super-state’s collapse a few years later. “We, alongside the mujaheddin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt,” he later explained.

The campaign taught bin Laden a lot. For one thing, superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield. For another, superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand. This was bin Laden’s plan for the United States, too.

“He has compared the United States to the Soviet Union on numerous occasions — and these comparisons have been explicitly economic,” Gartenstein-Ross argued 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.’ ”

For bin Laden, in other words, success was not to be measured in body counts. It was to be measured in deficits, in borrowing costs, in investments we weren’t able to make in our country’s continued economic strength. And by those measures, bin Laden landed a lot of blows.

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 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. Bin Laden didn’t — couldn’t — bankrupt us. He could only provoke us into bankrupting ourselves. And he came pretty close.

3 thoughts on “Mission accomplished

  1. I (Heart) EK & how can we fit his talking points on a bumper sticker? Will the Sunday Talking Heads ever arrive at this stage of analysis? Stay tuned.

    Now that the MSM floodgate has been opened far enough to allow the major players to be credited with the takedown, let’s hope the gate is also opened far enough to permit discussion of the jiu-jitsu of asymmetrical warfare. We have to get this under our belt.

    I found myself a bit slack-jawed last night when a certain commentator said that he could not “remain ambivalent about the death of another human being” [when weighing the fact of] “competing ideologies” (theirs is just about blowing sh!t up). Not so fast, Stewie.

    What a show it would be to have EK on as a guest to argue the talking points vis our similarity to Russia, trillion-$$$ price tag, disproportionate spending (domestically and worldwide comparatively), and a Constitution & Bill of Rights in tatters.

    Because really, once the endorphins subside, the public will have to deal with the cognitive dissonance that just because OBL is now out of the picture, we STILL can’t leave AFG. Why is that?

    “You see, it’s a little more complicated than just OBL.”

    Uh huh. You don’t say.

  2. Klein isn’t exactly right, but he understands what bin Laden was up to — that bin Laden knew the U.S. had become a land of bluster and delusion, and that an attack on American soil therefore would cause a panic with disastrous repercussions. Take a look at those beery, flabby fans at the baseball park chanting “USA” at the news of bin Laden’s death and you will get an inkling of why bin Laden was so sure of himself.

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