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Dr. Walid Phares



Dr. Walid Phares


WHY 9/11?   Usama'sstrategic reasons behind the attacks

By Walid Phares

For two years since the massacres of Manhattan, Washington and Pennsylvania, Americans have been trying hard to absorb the strikes, and understand their motives. Despite silly conspiracy theories that attempted to implicate the US government itself, but which the terrorists themselves have discredited by taking direct responsibility, a universal consensus has accused al-Qaida of masterminding and executing 9/11. From there on, a lesser consensus, but still on global scale, legitimized an all out campaign against the Bin Laden organization worldwide. The Taliban regime was removed and dozens of countries, including many Arab and Muslim Governments have engaged in the widest manhunt in history: to find and capture Usama.

But beyond the world campaign against al-Qaida, labeled as the War on Terror, a single dramatic question remains mostly unanswered. And that is to know why did Bin Laden order these strikes, and in other words what were his expectations, his projections, and ultimately the place of the September 11 attacks in his wider scope. In sum, what was shooting for? It goes without doubt that the answers to these questions are not just necessary on historical grounds but crucial for the understanding of the war on Terrorism, and therefore for the emergence of a longstanding international consensus on collective action around the world. Answers to these questions will shed light on dramatic developments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab world, as well as in Europe and evidently would shape the sense and future of what we have baptized Homeland Security in the US.

So what was on the mind of Usama when he engineered what he declared as "blessed strikes," (al-darabat al mubaraka)? Short of interviewing him directly or possibly reading his memoirs one day, one has to connect the dots from a combination of statements, over a span of a decade at least, and additionally read that material with the deepest possible knowledge of the movement that produced Bin Laden. I will attempt to do that with as much as caution as possible, while allowing raw data to interact with instincts. These would be my readings of the man's real strategic objectives behind September 11. In a summarized manner the main goals behind the Jihadist onslaught on American soil are as follow:

     1) Chaos

It is one certainty that the man who ordered the destruction of the American centers of finances, military and political powers aimed at creating national chaos in the United States. The mass killing of civilians, including personnel in the military bureaucracy doesn't produce a battlefield defeat as in the case of Pearl Harbor by way of comparison. While the element of strategic surprise -infamy- was the most common characteristic between the two aggressions, Nippon ultimate goal was to break down US military power in the Pacific, hence removing American deterrence from Japanese immediate designs in Asia. In the case of al-Qaida the direct outcome sought by the Jihad war room from 9/11, was to bring chaos to the American mainland, even though US Task forces were not touched around the world. The real and first objective of the Ghazwa (Jihad raid as it was called by UBL) was to trigger a chain of reactions, both on the popular and political levels. He saw hundred thousand Americans in the streets exploding in anger against their Government as Israelis have done against their cabinets in the 1980s. He hoped Congress would split in two and get paralyzed, campuses would rebel and companies would collapse. He wanted chaos, and a divided nation, scared, and turning onto it self. He believed time was ripe for the fall of the giant. He had many reasons to believe so.

       2) Backlash

If you were Bin Laden, or the product of his political culture, you'd anticipate revenge. Had similar events took place in his region of the world, whomever was the majority, or empowered community would have unleashed bloody punishments on the perceived kin aggressor. That's how things are dealt with from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans. Deep down, inside his instincts, Usama was expecting Americans to attack Arabs and Muslims in sort of pogroms. Not the 420 reported incidents -which by American standards are to be condemned at once- but the Sub-Indian style where thousands of armed civilians would wreck havoc in entire neighborhoods. He fantasized about Arab and Muslim blood spilled on the street, a la Middle East. Ironically, some Jihadist callers in the first days after 9/11 were reporting alleged backlashes live to al-Jazeera. Has such nightmare occurred in America, al-Qaida would have ruled in Muslim lands and recruited in the hundred thousands.

     3) American wrath overseas

With chaos and ethnic wounds inside the country, the engineer of mass death projected American grapes of wrath abroad. Had he had such military power, and had his Caliphate been attacked in similar ways, he would have unleashed Armageddon against the infidel world. In reverse psychology, Bin Laden expected the US military to carpet bomb Afghanistan and many other places. He thought he'd draw the Yankee's raw power into the entire Muslim world, and expected a global intifada to ensue. Interestingly enough the Jihadists anticipated millions of death in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Some indications lead me to guess that the Sultan of the Mujahedin wanted the great Satan to do the unthinkable and resort to dooms day devices.

That is the war that Usama Bin Laden wanted to instigate. A war that would drive America into nihilism, shatter international law into pieces and project himself as the new Caliph. He was very close, had he calculated differently. His reading of human collectivities was highly ideological. He made the implacable mistakes of his two predecessors, the Nazis and the Bolsheviks. But let's not project the course of future events too early. For the reasons that made Bin Laden believe America was ripe are still deeply incrusted in our collective tissue. Perhaps we need to take a hard look at our own lenses before another more tragic calamity would take us by surprise.

Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and an MSNBC analyst 

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