Taking Stock of the Forever War

I. Seldom has an image so clearly marked the turning of the world. One of man’s mightiest structures collapses into an immense white blossom of churning, roiling dust, metamorphosing in 14 seconds from hundred-story giant of the earth into towering white plume reaching to heaven. The demise of the World Trade Center gave us an image as newborn to the world of sight as the mushroom cloud must have appeared to those who first cast eyes on it. I recall vividly the seconds flowing by as I sat gaping at the screen, uncomprehending and unbelieving, while Peter Jennings’s urbane, perfectly modulated voice murmured calmly on about flights being grounded, leaving unacknowledged and unexplained – unconfirmed – the incomprehensible scene unfolding in real time before our eyes. "Hang on there a second," the famously unflappable Jennings finally stammered – the South Tower had by now vanished into a boiling caldron of white smoke – "I just want to check one thing. . .because. . .we now have.. . .What do we have? We don’t. . .?" Marveling later that "the most powerful image was the one I actually didn’t notice while it was occurring," Jennings would say simply that "it was beyond our imagination."

Looking back from this moment, precisely four years later, it still seems almost inconceivable that 10 men could have done that – could have brought those towers down. Could have imagined doing what was "beyond our imagination." When a few days later, the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen remarked that this was "the greatest work of art in the history of the cosmos," I shared the anger his words called forth but couldn’t help sensing their bit of truth: "What happened there – spiritually – this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art." No "little by little" here: however profoundly evil the art, the sheer immensity and inconceivability of the attack had forced Americans instantaneously to "jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life" and had thrust them through a portal into a strange and terrifying new world, where the inconceivable, the unimaginable, had become brutally possible.

In the face of the unimaginable, small wonder that leaders would revert to the language of apocalypse, of crusade, of "moral clarity." Speaking at the National Cathedral just three days after the attacks, President Bush declared that while "Americans do not yet have the distance of history. . .our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." Astonishing words – imaginable, perhaps, only from an American president, leading a people given naturally in times of crisis to enlisting national power in the cause of universal redemption. "The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology," declared the National Security Strategy of the United States of America for 2002. "The enemy is terrorism – premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents." Not Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern terrorism or even terrorism directed against the United States: terrorism itself. "Declaring war on ‘terror,"’ as one military strategist later remarked to me, "is like declaring war on air power." It didn’t matter; apocalypse, retribution, redemption were in the air, and the grandeur of the goal must be commensurate with the enormity of the crime. Within days of the attacks, President Bush had launched a "global war on terror."

Today marks four years of war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies.

How are we to judge the global war on terror four years on? In this war, the president had warned, "Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign." We could expect no "surrender ceremony on a deck of a battleship," and indeed, apart from the president’s abortive attempt on the U.S.S. Lincoln to declare victory in Iraq, there has been none. Failing such rituals of capitulation, by what "metric" – as the generals say – can we measure the progress of the global war on terror?

Four years after the collapse of the towers, evil is still with us and so is terrorism. Terrorists have staged spectacular attacks, killing thousands, in Tunisia, Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Istanbul, Casablanca, Jakarta, Madrid, Sharm el Sheik and London, to name only the best known. Last year, they mounted 651 "significant terrorist attacks," triple the year before and the highest since the State Department started gathering figures two decades ago. One hundred ninety-eight of these came in Iraq, Bush’s "central front of the war on terror" – nine times the year before. And this does not include the hundreds of attacks on U.S. troops. It is in Iraq, which was to serve as the first step in the "democratization of the Middle East," that insurgents have taken terrorism to a new level, killing well over 4,000 people since April in Baghdad alone; in May, Iraq suffered 90 suicide-bombings. Perhaps the "shining example of democracy" that the administration promised will someday come, but for now Iraq has become a grotesque advertisement for the power and efficacy of terror.

As for the "terrorist groups of global reach," Al Qaeda, according to the president, has been severely wounded. "We’ve captured or killed two-thirds of their known leaders," he said last year. And yet however degraded Al Qaeda’s operational capacity, nearly every other month, it seems, Osama bin Laden or one of his henchmen appears on the world’s television screens to expatiate on the ideology and strategy of global jihad and to urge followers on to more audacious and more lethal efforts. This, and the sheer number and breadth of terrorist attacks, suggest strongly that Al Qaeda has now become Al Qaedaism – that under the American and allied assault, what had been a relatively small, conspiratorial organization has mutated into a worldwide political movement, with thousands of followers eager to adopt its methods and advance its aims. Call it viral Al Qaeda, carried by strongly motivated next-generation followers who download from the Internet’s virtual training camp a perfectly adequate trade-craft in terror. Nearly two years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a confidential memorandum, posed the central question about the war on terror: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?" The answer is clearly no. "We have taken a ball of quicksilver," says the counterinsurgency specialist John Arquilla, "and hit it with a hammer."

What has helped those little bits of quicksilver grow and flourish is, above all, the decision to invade and occupy Iraq, which has left the United States bogged down in a brutal, highly visible counterinsurgency war in the heart of the Arab world. Iraq has become a training ground that will temper and prepare the next generation of jihadist terrorists and a televised stage from which the struggle of radical Islam against the "crusader forces" can be broadcast throughout the Islamic world. "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," Porter J. Goss, director of the C.I.A., told the Senate in February. "These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in, and focused on, acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

As the Iraq war grows increasingly unpopular in the United States – scarcely a third of Americans now approve of the president’s handling of the war, and 4 in 10 think it was worth fighting – and as more and more American leaders demand that the administration "start figuring out how we get out of there" (in the words of Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican), Americans confront a stark choice: whether to go on indefinitely fighting a politically self-destructive counterinsurgency war that keeps the jihadists increasingly well supplied with volunteers or to withdraw from a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq that remains chaotic and unstable and beset with civil strife and thereby hand Al Qaeda and its allies a major victory in the war on terror’s "central front."

Four years after we watched the towers fall, Americans have not succeeded in "ridding the world of evil." We have managed to show ourselves, our friends and most of all our enemies the limits of American power. Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions. And we have finished – as the escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, the grinding Iraq insurgency, the overstretched American military and the increasing political dissatisfaction at home show – by fighting precisely the kind of war they wanted us to fight.

II. Facing what is beyond imagination, you find sense in the familiar. Standing before Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, George W. Bush told Americans why they had been attacked. "They hate our freedoms," the president declared. "Our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." As for Al Qaeda’s fundamentalist religious mission: "We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions – by abandoning every value except the will to power – they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies."

Stirring words, and effective, for they domesticated the unthinkable in the categories of the accustomed. The terrorists are only the latest in a long line of "evildoers." Like the Nazis and the Communists before them, they are Americans’ evil twins: tyrants to our free men, totalitarians to our democrats. The world, after a confusing decade, had once again split in two. However disorienting the horror of the attacks, the "war on terror" was simply a reprise of the cold war. As Harry S. Truman christened the cold war by explaining to Americans how, "at the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life," George W. Bush declared his global war on terror by insisting that "every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." The echo, as much administration rhetoric since has shown, was not coincidental. Terrorists, like Communists, despised America not because of what our country did but because of who we are. Hating "our values" and "our freedoms," the evildoers were depicted as deeply irrational and committed to a nihilistic philosophy of obliteration, reawakening for Americans the sleeping image of the mushroom cloud. "This is not aimed at our policies," Henry Kissinger intoned. "This is aimed at our existence."

Such rhetoric not only fell easily on American ears. It provided a familiar context for a disoriented national-security bureaucracy that had been created to fight the cold war and was left, at its ending, without clear purpose. "Washington policy and defense cultures still seek out cold-war models," as members of the Defense Science Board, a Defense Department task force commissioned to examine the war on terror, observed in a report last year. "With the surprise announcement of a new struggle, the U.S. government reflexively inclined toward cold-war-style responses to the new threat, without a thought or a care as to whether these were the best responses to a very different strategic situation."

Al Qaeda was not the Nazis or the Soviet Communists. Al Qaeda controlled no state, fielded no regular army. It was a small, conspiratorial organization, dedicated to achieving its aims through guerrilla tactics, notably a kind of spectacular terrorism carried to a level of apocalyptic brutality the world had not before seen. Mass killing was the necessary but not the primary aim, for the point of such terror was to mobilize recruits for a political cause – to move sympathizers to act – and to tempt the enemy into reacting in such a way as to make that mobilization easier. And however extreme and repugnant Al Qaeda’s methods, its revolutionary goals were by no means unusual within Islamist opposition groups throughout the Muslim world. "If there is one overarching goal they share," wrote the authors of the Defense Science Board report, "it is the overthrow of what Islamists call the ‘apostate’ regimes: the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan and the gulf states.. . .The United States finds itself in the strategically awkward – and potentially dangerous – situation of being the longstanding prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes. Without the U.S., these regimes could not survive. Thus the U.S. has strongly taken sides in a desperate struggle that is both broadly cast for all Muslims and country-specific."

The broad aim of the many-stranded Salafi movement, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and of which Al Qaeda is one extreme version, is to return Muslims to the ancient ways of pure Islam – of Islam as it was practiced by the Prophet Muhammad and his early followers in the seventh century. Standing between the more radical Salafi groups and their goal of a conservative Islamic revolution are the "apostate regimes," the "idolators" now ruling in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman, Islamabad and other Muslim capitals. All these authoritarian regimes oppress their people: on this point Al Qaeda and those in the Bush administration who promote "democratization in the Arab world" agree. Many of the Salafists, however, see behind the "near enemies" ruling over them a "far enemy" in Washington, a superpower without whose financial and military support the Mubarak regime, the Saudi royal family and the other conservative autocracies of the Arab world would fall before their attacks. When the United States sent hundreds of thousands of American troops to Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Al Qaeda seized on the perfect issue: the "far enemy" had actually come and occupied the Land of the Two Holy Places and done so at the shameful invitation of the "near enemy" – the corrupt Saudi dynasty. As bin Laden observed of the Saudis in his 1996 "Declaration of Jihad": "This situation is a curse put on them by Allah for not objecting to the oppressive and illegitimate behavior and measures of the ruling regime: ignoring the divine Shariah law; depriving people of their legitimate rights; allowing the Americans to occupy the Land of the Two Holy Places."

But how to "re-establish the greatness of this Ummah" – the Muslim people – "and to liberate its occupied sanctities"? On this bin Laden is practical and frank: because of "the imbalance of power between our armed forces and the enemy forces, a suitable means of fighting must be adopted, i.e., using fast-moving light forces that work under complete secrecy. In other words, to initiate a guerrilla warfare." Such warfare, depending on increasingly spectacular acts of terrorism, would be used to "prepare and instigate the Ummah. . .against the enemy." The notion of "instigation," indeed, is critical, for the purpose of terror is not to destroy your enemy directly but rather to spur on your sleeping allies to enlightenment, to courage and to action. It is a kind of horrible advertisement, meant to show those millions of Muslims who sympathize with Al Qaeda’s view of American policy that something can be done to change it.

III. Fundamentalist Islamic thought took aim at America’s policies, not at its existence. Americans tend to be little interested in these policies or their history and thus see the various Middle East cataclysms of the last decades as sudden, unrelated explosions lighting up a murky and threatening landscape, reinforcing the sense that the 9/11 attacks were not only deadly and appalling but also irrational, incomprehensible: that they embodied pure evil. The central strand of American policy – unflinching support for the conservative Sunni regimes of the Persian Gulf – extends back 60 years, to a legendary meeting between Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Saud aboard an American cruiser in the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt. The American president and the Saudi king agreed there on a simple bond of interest: the Saudis, rulers over a sparsely populated but incalculably wealthy land, would see their power guaranteed against all threats, internal and external. In return, the United States could count on a stable supply of oil, developed and pumped by American companies. This policy stood virtually unthreatened for more than three decades.

The eruption of Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1978 dealt a blow to this compact of interests and cast in relief its central contradictions. The shah, who owed his throne to a covert C.I.A. intervention that returned him to power in 1953, had been a key American ally in the gulf, and the Islamic revolution that swept him from power showed at work what was to become a familiar dynamic: "friendly" autocrats ruling over increasingly impatient and angry peoples who evidence resentment if not outright hostility toward the superpower ally, in whom they see the ultimate source of their own repression.

Iran’s Islamic revolution delivered a body blow to the Middle East status quo not unlike that landed by the French Revolution on the European autocratic order two centuries before; it was ideologically aggressive, inherently expansionist and deeply threatening to its neighbors – in this case, to the United States’ Sunni allies, many of whom had substantial Shia minorities, and to Iraq, which, though long ruled by Sunnis, had a substantial Shia majority. Ayatollah Khomeini’s virulent and persistent calls for Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, and the turmoil that had apparently weakened the Iranian armed forces, tempted Saddam Hussein to send his army to attack Iran in 1980. American policy makers looked on this with favor, seeing in the bloody Iran-Iraq war the force that would blunt the revolutionary threat to America’s allies. Thus President Reagan sent his special envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad in 1983 to parlay with Hussein, and thus the administration supported the dictator with billions of dollars of agricultural credits, supplied the Iraqis with hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced weaponry through Egypt and Saudi Arabia and provided Hussein’s army with satellite intelligence that may have been used to direct chemical weapons against the massed infantry charges of Iranian suicide brigades.

The Iraqis fought the Iranians to a standstill but not before ripples from Iran’s revolution threatened to overwhelm American allies, notably the Saudi dynasty, whose rule was challenged by radicals seizing control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in November 1979, and the Egyptian autocracy, whose ruler, Anwar el-Sadat, was assassinated by Islamists as he presided over a military parade in October 1981. The Saudis managed to put down the revolt, killing hundreds. The Egyptians, under Hosni Mubarak, moved with ruthless efficiency to suppress the Islamists, jailing and torturing thousands, among them Osama bin Laden’s current deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Merciless repression by both autocracies’ effective security services led thousands to flee abroad.

Many went to Afghanistan, which the Soviet Red Army occupied in 1979 to prop up its own tottering client, then under threat from Islamic insurgents – mujahedeen, or "holy warriors," who were being armed by the United States. "It was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul," Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, recalled in 1998. "And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." It was a strategy of provocation, for the gambit had the effect of "drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap.. . .The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the U.S.S.R. its Vietnam War."

If, to the Americans, supporting the Afghan mujahedeen seemed an excellent way to bleed the Soviet Union, to the Saudis and other Muslim regimes, supporting a "defensive jihad" to free occupied Muslim lands was a means to burnish their tarnished Islamic credentials while exporting a growing and dangerous resource (frustrated, radical young men) so they would indulge their taste for pious revolution far from home. Among the thousands of holy warriors making this journey was the wealthy young Saudi Osama bin Laden, who would set up the Afghan Services Bureau, a "helping organization" for Arab fighters that gathered names and contact information in a large database – or "qaeda" – which would eventually lend its name to an entirely new organization. Though the Afghan operation was wildly successful, as judged by its American creators – "What is most important to the history of the world?" Brzezinski said in 1998, "some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?" – it had at least one unexpected result: it created a global jihad movement, led by veteran fighters who were convinced that they had defeated one superpower and could defeat another.

The present jihad took shape in the backwash of forgotten wars. After the Soviet Army withdrew in defeat, the United States lost interest in Afghanistan, leaving the mujahedeen forces to battle for the ruined country in an eight-year blood bath from which the Taliban finally emerged victorious. In the gulf, after eight years of fantastically bloody combat, Saddam Hussein forced the Iranians to sign a cease-fire, a "victory" that left his regime heavily armed, bloodied and bankrupt. To pay for his war, Hussein had borrowed tens of billions of dollars from the Saudis, Kuwaitis and other neighbors, and he now demanded that these debts be forgiven – he had incurred them, as he saw it, defending the lenders from Khomeini – and that oil prices be raised. The Kuwaitis’ particularly aggressive refusal to do either led Hussein, apparently believing that the Americans would accept a fait accompli, to invade and annex the country.

The Iraqi Army flooding into Kuwait represented, to bin Laden, the classic opportunity. He rushed to see the Saudi leaders, proposing that he defend the kingdom with his battle-tested corps of veteran holy warriors. The Saudis listened patiently to the pious young man – his father, after all, had been one of the kingdom’s richest men – but did not take him seriously. Within a week, King Fahd had agreed to the American proposal, carried by Richard Cheney, then the secretary of defense, to station American soldiers – "infidel armies" – in the Land of the Two Holy Places. This momentous decision led to bin Laden’s final break with the Saudi dynasty.

The American presence, and the fatal decision to leave American forces stationed in Saudi Arabia as a trip wire or deterrent even after Hussein had been defeated, provided bin Laden with a critical propaganda point, for it gave to his worldview, of a Muslim world under relentless attack, and its central argument, that the "unjust and renegade ruling regimes" of the Islamic world were in fact "enslaved by the United States," a concrete and vivid reality. The "near enemies" and their ruthless security services had proved resistant to direct assault, and the time had come to confront directly the one antagonist able to bring together all the jihadists in a single great battle: the "far enemy" across the sea.

IV. The deaths of nearly 3,000 people, the thousands left behind to mourn them, the great plume hanging over Lower Manhattan carrying the stench of the vaporized buildings and their buried dead: mass murder of the most abominable, cowardly kind appears to be so at the heart of what happened on this day four years ago that it seems beyond grotesque to remind ourselves that for the attackers those thousands of dead were only a means to an end. Not the least disgusting thing about terrorism is that it makes objects of human beings, makes use of them, exploits their deaths as a means to accomplish something else: to send a message, to force a concession, to advertise a cause. Though such cold instrumentality is not unknown in war – large-scale bombing of civilians, "terror bombing," as it used to be known, does much the same thing – terrorism’s ruthless and intimate randomness seems especially appalling.

Terror is a way of talking. Those who employed it so unprecedentedly on 9/11 were seeking not just the large-scale killing of Americans but to achieve something by means of the large-scale killing of Americans. Not just large-scale, it should be added: spectacular.

The asymmetric weapons that the 19 terrorists used on 9/11 were not only the knives and box cutters they brandished or the fuel-laden airliners they managed to commandeer but, above all, that most American of technological creations: the television set. On 9/11, the jihadists used this weapon with great determination and ruthlessness to attack the most powerful nation in the history of the world at its point of greatest vulnerability: at the level of spectacle. They did it by creating an image, to repeat Peter Jennings’s words, "beyond our imagination."

The goal, first and foremost, was to diminish American prestige – showing that the superpower could be bloodied, that for all its power, its defeat was indeed conceivable. All the major attacks preceding 9/11 attributed at least in part to Al Qaeda – the shooting down of U.S. Army helicopters in Mogadishu in 1993, the truck-bombing of American military housing at Khobar in 1996, the car-bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, the suicide-bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden in 2000 – were aimed at the same goal: to destroy the aura of American power. Power, particularly imperial power, rests not on its use but on its credibility; U.S. power in the Middle East depends not on ships and missiles but on the certainty that the United States is invincible and stands behind its friends. The jihadis used terrorism to create a spectacle that would remove this certainty. They were by no means the first guerrilla group to adopt such a strategy. "History and our observation persuaded us," recalled Menachem Begin, the future Israeli prime minister who used terror with great success to drive the British out of Palestine during the mid-1940’s, "that if we could succeed in destroying the government’s prestige in Eretz Israel, the removal of its rule would follow automatically. Thenceforward, we gave no peace to this weak spot. Throughout all the years of our uprising, we hit at the British government’s prestige, deliberately, tirelessly, unceasingly." In its most spectacular act, in July 1946, the Irgun guerrilla forces led by Begin bombed the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, most of them civilians.

The 9/11 attacks were a call to persuade Muslims who might share bin Laden’s broad view of American power to sympathize with, support or even join the jihad he had declared against the "far enemy." "Those young men," bin Laden said of the terrorists two months after the attacks, "said in deeds, in New York and Washington, speeches that overshadowed all other speeches made everywhere else in the world. The speeches are understood by both Arabs and non-Arabs – even by Chinese.. . .[I]n Holland, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last 11 years." To this, a sheik in a wheelchair shown in the videotape replies: "Hundreds of people used to doubt you, and few only would follow you until this huge event happened. Now hundreds of people are coming out to join you." Grotesque as it is to say, the spectacle of 9/11 was meant to serve, among other things, as an enormous recruiting poster.

But recruitment to what? We should return here to the lessons of Afghanistan, not only the obvious one of the defeat of a powerful Soviet Army by guerrilla forces but the more subtle one taught by the Americans, who by clever use of covert aid to the Afghan resistance tempted the Soviets to invade the country and thereby drew "the Russians into an Afghan trap." Bin Laden seems to have hoped to set in motion a similar strategy. According to a text attributed to Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian Army colonel now generally identified as bin Laden’s military chief, "the ultimate objective was to prompt" the United States "to come out of its hole" and take direct military action in an Islamic country. "What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere." ("This is a new kind of evil," the president said five days after the attacks, "and we understand. . .this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.")

The 9/11 attacks seem to have been intended at least in part to provoke an overwhelming American response: most likely an invasion of Afghanistan, which would lead the United States, like the Soviet Union before it, into an endless, costly and politically fatal quagmire. Thus, two days before the attacks, Qaeda agents posing as television journalists taping an interview murdered Ahmed Shah Massoud, the charismatic leader of the Northern Alliance, with a bomb concealed in a video camera – apparently a pre-emptive strike intended to throw into confusion the United States’ obvious ally in the coming invasion of Afghanistan.

For the jihadists, luring the Americans into Afghanistan would accomplish at least two things: by drawing the United States into a protracted guerrilla war in which the superpower would occupy a Muslim country and kill Muslim civilians – with the world media, including independent Arab networks like Al Jazeera, broadcasting the carnage – it would leave increasingly isolated those autocratic Muslim regimes that depended for their survival on American support. And by forcing the United States to prosecute a long, costly and inconclusive guerrilla war, it would severely test, and ultimately break, American will, leading to a collapse of American prestige and an eventual withdrawal – first, physically, from Afghanistan and then, politically, from the "apostate regimes" in Riyadh, Cairo and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

In his "Declaration of Jihad" in 1996, bin Laden focused on American political will as the United States’ prime vulnerability, the enemy’s "center of gravity&quo

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