As Osama bin Laden has re-entered the news with a fresh communication following a 3-year hiatus, and on the eve of the anniversary of the reprehensible and needless 2001 terrorist attacks, I would like to comment briefly on what I consider to be Mr. bin Laden's single and primary strategic error.
Regular readers will recall that I have attributed the rise of Islamic extremism principally to a failure of imagination on the part of primarily privileged young Islamic males in response to new opportunities against a background of cultural dislocation and rapid change.
Further, I have asserted that despite his analytical brilliance, Mr. bin Laden is more a visionary than a strategist or tactician.
It is well known that in Mr. bin Laden’s view, an attack of “100 blows” to America's underpinnings will “bring down” the United States as the world’s dominant superpower. In his view, America is corpulent, soft and weak, and thus vulnerable to collapse.
Indeed, a lengthy essay could be composed on this topic, with the intention of countering Mr. bin Laden's ideological proposition.
However, let me make only a single primary and critical observation on this eve of the September 11, 2001 tragedy, though I will couch that in a bit of context.
I will start by acknowledging that there is much correct in Mr. bin Laden’s analysis. That is, I do not wish to denigrate Mr. bin Laden's intelligence. He is a shrewd and insightful man.
In my view, the US is indeed poorly led at many levels, and as a matter of fact, the country is spinning wildly out of control in a number of spheres simultaneously. The US is in decline, and no help from Mr. bin Laden is needed to further the process.
I will assert, along with Mr. bin Laden, that President Bush has proven a weak and uninsightful leader, with only a faint grasp of global realities. Before Mr. Bush, President Clinton and his bureaucratic infrastructure also proved woefully inadequate in response to Mr. bin Laden's earlier challenges to our free way of life.
Further, American economic policy is founded on the fragile and unsustainable underpinning of artificially-manufactured economic (excess) liquidity, giving the appearance of prosperity without the necessary underpinnings to assure its long-term preservation. Every political and economic challenge is answered with the now reflexive and therefore entirely unconsidered printing of yet more unbacked Federal Reserve Notes.
Politically, the US is relying upon military technology and wasting the lives of young soldiers, when strategic repositioning and cooperative problem-solving would address the great majority of our global problems far more effectively.
However correct Mr. bin Laden may be, therefore, in assessing the economic, political and (strategic) military weakness and ineptitude of the United States, he is missing a key point.
First, and most importantly, it has been my observation as a psychologist that it is our strengths that get us in trouble, and not our weaknesses.
Of this key principle in human affairs, Mr. bin Laden demonstrates no awareness whatsoever, and I assert here that eventually, this scotoma will prove the downfall of Mr. bin Laden and his twisted ideology, whether in the near future, or in generations hence.
Yes it is true that bin Laden and his committed followers are nearly fearless in their willingness to die for the cause of the destruction of the United States and Israel (and the other shifting targets of the so-called Islamic jihad) together with the values of freedom and openness that their chosen enemies represent.
Bin Laden and his men (women are by-and-large excluded from this male-dominated Islamic “counter-crusade,” except as instrumental helpmeets), are trained in the use of weapons of destruction, including the weapons of mass destruction that most attract bin Laden (a known proponent of nuclear terror).
While we laugh, love, sleep, dream and eat, bin Laden and his cohorts are in preparation day and night to attain mastery of the technologies of destruction with which they intend to defeat us with 100 blows. (While the Mujahideen once ridiculed bin Laden and his Arab followers for their amateurish and romanticized militarism, decades of devotion have hardened and sharpened the resolve of this prominent Sunni arm of the Islamic terrorist movement.)
By many objective criteria, therefore, and I will not attempt to enumerate them, for this is not my key concern, Mr. bin Laden and his cohorts are tough, strong and ready, whereas we are unfocused, disoriented, self-absorbed and weak.
To his credit, Mr. bin Laden perceives his strength and our weakness with clear, sharp and nearly-correct vision.
Unfortunately, however, this position of demonstrable relative strength is not the strategic edge that Mr. bin Laden imagines it to be.
Indeed, the Apostle Paul, a zealous Jew and then a Christian convert, and therefore a man representing everything hated by bin Laden, revelled in his acknowledgement that “strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
I do not mean to sermonize by citing the Apostle Paul here, but rather to choose to cite the words of an articulate proponent of a key strategic principle which is necessary to understanding the processes of life at their deeper levels.
But what exactly am I referring to?
North Americans, in our relative weakness and vulnerability, and in stark contrast to Mr. bin Laden's severity, discipline and strength, have opened our lives to possibilities that are excluded from Mr. bin Laden's austere and ascetic worldview.
Let me name only a few of these possibilities and interests – the ability of men and women to relate equally, openly and freely with each other in many ways (including consensual sexual relations between adults); the freedom of citizens to voice their conflicting thoughts openly and in the absence of fear; the separation of church and state; the tolerance of variant – even disruptive – viewpoints among the populace; and the respect for individual autonomy in the resolution of personal and private moral issues.
There are in fact many, many more of these “fruits of our openness, weakness and vulnerability,” but I must now drive to my single primary point.
Mr. bin Laden, in his strength, boasts that he and his followers love death more than we love life.
In his love of death, I cannot dispute Mr. bin Laden. He is one of the world’s supreme proponents of the worship of death.
But there is something – not only life – that we North Americans – in fact free peoples all around the world – love more than he loves death – and that is liberty.
I cannot advance beyond Patrick Henry's luminous words here. To the present day, almost every North American continues to love liberty above all things, and we will accept death, indeed, fight to the death, to preserve it.
In our weakness, we have grown to love liberty. We have discovered liberty to be entrancing, captivating, gorgeous, deeply valuable and precious. It is, if you will, “to die for.”
I remain confident that, preserving a tradition of many centuries, there remain few among us who would not rather die than surrender liberty for a narrow and restrictive lifestyle of the kind that Mr. bin Laden advances – indeed – to which he recently called us (using threatening rather than invitational language) in his September 2007 videotape release.
Yes, we are weak, scattered, and various in our pursuits and our goals, whereas Mr. bin Laden and his minions are single-minded and strong.
But, for the single reason that we love liberty more than he and his converts love death, our weakness – under pressure to survive – will surely become our strength. Liberty shall not be vanquished in the name of the cause of death, terror and destruction.
Goaded by the love of liberty, when the eventuality arises that we must necessarily become strong – when there is no other alternative which would enable the preservation of liberty – we shall prove as strong as will be required in the defense of the liberty that we love.
Indeed, we are growing stronger now, because we are an open and not a closed society – and Mr. bin Laden is growing weaker, because without strength, he cannot move forward.
The tables are turning as I speak, and in this, Mr. bin Laden shall ultimately be the loser, no matter how much he imagines that death and destruction will further his cause. In his strength, Mr. bin Laden, and those who follow him, will surely die – and nothing lasting will be created through their heedless sacrifice of the precious gift of life in the absence of liberty.
Therefore, let me close by recalling the sentiments of Patrick Henry: Give me liberty, give all of us – every one of us – liberty, and give Mr. bin Laden that which he treasures above all else, which is death.
Postnote: What then is my strategic analysis of the means of Mr. bin Laden’s undoing? I believe that Islamic extremism will encounter mounting disunity with every victory – and that rivalry among these clashing advocates of death will be their ultimate undoing. That is, it is victory that these isolative denizens of the darkness are least able to tolerate. This is the precise mechanism by which strength will prove to be the undoing of the Islamic death cults of our historic era.