Bin Laden’s Got Us Good

David Miliband’s article this week asserting that Osama Bin Laden “made news, not history”, far from being a reasoned examination of 9/11 and the events that followed, demonstrates a ubiquitous kind of patriotic narcissism, which, to employ a Bush malapropism, combines wishful thinking with a “misunderestimation” of the West’s disasterous reactionary policies in this post-9/11 era.

Here’s how Osama is changing history and bringing “the West” he hated so passionately to its knees, even from beyond the grave…

Raising Religious & Racial Tensions: OBL may have lost his life at the hands of America, but his influence stretched far beyond the mere group of extremists he commanded. His actions changed the way the West perceived Muslims – and the way Muslims perceive the West. Such generalising is (generally) dangerous, but it is fair to say that latent tensions have been both fabricated and exacerbated by Bin Laden’s actions and the West’s reactions- wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the restriction of civil liberties.

With Congress’ passing of such legislation as the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001, in the wake of 9/11, Bin Laden indeed succeeded in forcing the West to forgo some of its moral superiority.

Combine this with the simple fact that most Afghans have never heard of the terrorist attacks of September 11th (and of those who have, most in Afghanistan believe them to be the work of the American government or the result of a “zionist conspiracy”, a view espoused recently and prominently by imam and former chairman of Kabul’s provincial council, Maulvi Abdulaziz Mujahed)… and you’re left with a bleak picture. A muddied understanding of why NATO is in Afghanistan isn’t helped by Taliban propaganda that portrays western forces as imperialist raiders seizing the country’s riches for itself- a “modern” army of crusaders trying to undermine and overthrow Islam.

Financially Crippling America: The immediate effect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was a sharp drop in the worldwide stock markets.

The actual cost of damage done directly to New York City came close to $55 billion (according to a New York City comptroller report in 2002).

Estimations of the losses resulting from reduced travel, event cancellations and interruption to business range from $40-$123 billion.

The bulk of the impact on America’s economical wellbeing, however, directly result from the reactionary measures entered into by the Bush administration. $470 billion in additional homeland security and domestic intelligence spending and $100 billion in lost time at airports… along with the not entirely insignificant figure of $1.649 trillion spent fighting two unwinnable, objectiveless wars in Iraq & Afghanistan and on indirect defence costs.

The War in Afghanistan will cost America another $223 billion to fight over the next five years and assuming a further 5,000 troops remain stationed in Iraq through 2016, spending there will expand by a further $55 billion.

Linda Bilmes of Harvard University estimates the future costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could amount to $589 billion over the next 40-years ($33 billion in social security payments, $201 billion in medical fees and $355 billion in disability payments).

9/11 wasn’t all shock-and-awe-and-over-in-time-for-tea. It was a terrorist attack that changed the mandate of the world’s foremost superpower… an act of terrorism that cost just $500,000 to perpetrate; resulting in a $3 trillion shift in spending (Source: Joseph Stiglitz & NYT). In the decade before 9/11, the Pentagon spent $4.2 trillion. In the ten years since 9/11, that figure has doubled.

Conclusion: Whilst al-Qaeda claims the motivation for 9/11 was “the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, U.S. support of Israel, and sanctions against Iraq” (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), no PR-firm in the world could have constructed a better advertisment for the group. The terrorist act itself should be seen as a means to an end. Their goal was to elicit the forceful response from America that they did, turning public opinion in the Arab world in favour of their politically-Islamist worldview. America and NATO acted independently of the United Nations in invading Iraq, acting like the very imperialists that Bin Laden claimed we were. In essence; we became that which we feared and fought.

“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” ~Benjamin Franklin

The western response to 9/11 has been expensive and ineffective. Anti-American and Anti-European sentiment grows still further yet with each instance of military interventionism and the opportunity cost of the wars will forever be immeasurable. Aside from the obviously lower number of lives lost amongst serving personnel, government finances would be significantly stronger and many western nations facing debt crises today would not find them so unmanagable, struggling with unsustainable levels of “defence” spending. For nearly a decade, Osama was our Goldstein, and now we pay the price.

As this article is an optank “quickie”, it is designed to provide food-for-thought without the length of an entire essay. If you would like to read more around the is topic, the following articles may be of interest:

Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of American Empire and Why the US Continues to be Bin Laden’s Best Ally
9/11: How Osama bin Laden caused our banking meltdown and financial crisis
It is Western Muslims who will beat al-Qaeda
The 9/11 Anniversary Reader

The Price of 9/11