A reader writes:
How would you rate the ability of Osama Bin Laden as a strategist. It seems like he has a clear conception of how to position his cause in the public mind that is very close to what Sun Tzu teaches. Thank you
If the goal of Osama Bin Laden was to win fame for himself, he has done very well. If the goal was to bring about a worldwide Islamic caliphate, as he claims, he is further from that today that he was six years ago before the 9/11 attacks. His latest rambling diatribe
was more about the following that Noam Chomsky has in the media than it was about Islam. His failed strategy of proving Al Qaeda's strength has turned into a rather pitiful attempt at spinning the parts and pieces of the news into a message about the failure of freedom and Democracy.
One of the problems that people have evaluating strategic positions is balancing their objective nature against their subjective nature. Strategic positions consist of both objective and subjective components. The objective component consists of a physical position while the subjective component consists of people's opinions. The objective components determine relative physical and financial strength. The subjective components determine the relative strength of support and opposition. These two create one another as subjective opinions shape real events and real events change people's opinions. Bin Laden has been reduced to trying to leverage the subjective half of this equation with nothing to support it on the objective half.
The original strategy of the attacks on 9/11 was that of advertising Al Qaeda's strength. The purpose was to improve the subjective opinion of potential Al Qaeda supporters. At first, this was dramatically successful. However, in the six years following the attacks, the real possibility of an Islamic caliphate headed by Al Qaeda seems more remote than ever. Fewer and fewer people believe in Al Qaeda because Al Qaeda's objective failures are much more plentiful than their successes.
Al Qaeda's physical position in throughout the world grows weaker every day, continually drained by the loss of their most active members in Iraq. Just as importantly, their financial apparatus is just a remnant of what it once was. Because of the world's increased vigilance in both the Islamic and non-Islamic world, terrorist cells are regularly caught around the world before they can cause any serious damage most recently in Germany, Denmark, and the US.
While the subjective opinion of Al Qaeda was dramatically enhanced after 9/11, that subjective opinion has been continually eroded even since by their objective failures. Where they temporarily held sway, they were seen to be both brutal and incompetent. Shia Iran seems much more believable as the leaders of any future of Islamic caliphate than the Sunni Al Qaeda.
More than ever, the future of Al Qaeda is not longer in their own hands, but in the hands of the American people. If Al Qaeda survives, it will be because of the pressures of internal American politics not because of their successes. Al Qaeda's only hope at this point is that anti-war forces in America will do in Iraq what they did earlier in Vietnam but such any victory would be a Pyrrhic one. North Vietnam was allowed by the US Congress to win and millions died as a direct result, but, in the end, the Communist world, including Vietnam and Cambodia, gave up on the goal of Communism. Its only remnants today, Cuba and North Korea, are momuments to to the power of oppressive dictatorship not to the ideal of Marxism.
Islamic fundamentalism has already had its first failed state in Afghanistan. Iran, though currently the cause's leading light, is falling apart economically.
While Osama Bin Laden may become the next Castro, an important symbol of those who hate America, his strategy has already failed. By exposing the Al Qaeda's agenda well before the organization was ready to tackle a real war, he put the entire world on guard against them. His personal fame was assured by the move, but the cause for which he claimed to fight was doomed.