EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
A decade after 9/11: bin Laden's failure
, September 17, 2011
Ten years ago, from his secret mountain bases in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden struck a deadly blow against the United States, when terrorists he commanded seized four American airliners in flight, crashing two into the World Trade Center towers in New York, and a third into the Pentagon in Washington, while the fourth crashed after passengers attempted to recapture control of the aircraft in flight.
In doing this, he wanted to prompt a global Islamic uprising against the United States and, more broadly, the Western world.
He expected that the Islamic uprising would drive the West out of the Middle East, and then bring about the overthrow of pro-Western regimes throughout the region. Ultimately, he foresaw the establishment of the Caliphate, a single political and religious regime across the Islamic world.
This audacious plan was outlined in a book published in Arabic in 2005 by Jordanian journalist, Fouad Hussein, who interviewed top leaders of the terrorist network. (The Age, August 24, 2005).
The plan succeeded in its immediate objective of landing a devastating blow on the U.S., and it was warmly welcomed across much of the Islamic world. It was followed over subsequent years by a succession of terrorist attacks in all parts of the world by al Qaeda affiliates, with the loss of thousands of lives, including the Australians killed in Bali and Djakarta.
The cost of meeting the terrorist challenge has been astronomical. In addition to the massive cost of upgraded security at airports, in aircraft and at public facilities throughout the world, the United States and NATO have had to spend hundreds of billions of dollars for military operations to overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and then to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
These costs have undoubtedly aggravated the U.S. government deficit, which is one of the major causes of the current economic crisis afflicting the United States.
Thousands of lives have been lost, not only of Allied troops deployed on distant battlefields, but far more substantially, among the innocent people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and other countries such as Pakistan which have been caught up in the war.
Despite this, bin Laden’s plan for an Islamic uprising against the West has now completely failed.
Having sought an Islamic revolution through acts of terror, bin Laden himself died last May when an elite team of U.S. Navy SEALS invaded his secret fortified compound in the Pakistan garrison town of Abbottabad, from where he had been operating.
The overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq showed that no tyrant could ever be truly safe. Despite the widely-held view in the Arab world that the United States was merely a colonial power seeking to control the Middle East’s oil wealth, the U.S. handed over political authority in both Iraq and Afghanistan to Muslim politicians who had been elected by their people, forging new democratic governments in a part of the world where government had been synonymous with tyranny.
The stability and permanence of the new governments remain open to question, but no one could doubt that they represented a new beginning.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya recognised the new reality by abandoning his terrorist ambitions, and seeking an accommodation with the West.
The advent of the internet, smartphones and independent Arabic TV networks, such as al Jazeera and al Arabiya created new means of communication in the Arab world, beyond what had been available through government-censored media.
This meant that the deep divisions in Arab societies, between Sunni and Shiite, between different tribal and ethnic groups, between the disgustingly rich, the rising numbers of unemployed youth and the overwhelming majority of rural poor, were now openly on display.
The problems of the Arab world could no longer be blamed on the United States which bin Laden had called “the great Satan”, or more generally the West.
Small popular demonstrations arising from local grievances quickly grew into mass protests against despotic regimes throughout the Arab world, from Tunisia, to Libya and Egypt, and into the Gulf States.
Since the “Arab Spring” began in 2010, three regimes have been toppled, and others are under threat, despite often ferocious repression. The outcome of this struggle is completely uncertain. It could lead to greater democracy. Alternatively, well-organised Islamist forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could cement their grip on power, as the Shiite Ayatollahs did after a popular uprising overthrew the Shah of Iran in 1979.
The legacy of bin Laden’s bid to provoke war between Islam and the Christian West will be very different from what he expected. Global war has been averted, but the future of the Middle East, which remains the centre of the world’s oil supplies, is still desperately uncertain.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.