Tag Archives: usama bin laden

A look in the mirror at America

Summary:  Again we attempt to recalibrate our vision of America, adjusting for its incredible rate of decline.  People watching its power and money will find the probable future crash a surprise.  Not so those watching the decay of its vision, heart, and mind.

The future of the American dream (by Maverick Zack)

The secondary goal of the FM website is to help readers better understand our world, especially current trends and likely futures. A look at the Past Predictions (right ones) and Smackdowns (wrong ones) pages shows three things about the FM website.

(1)  We provide a stream of accurate predictions about the near future, on a wide range of subjects, such as correctly forecasting the outcome of our wars, peak oil (2005 was not the peak, but the cornucopians were also wrong), the debate about climate science (much bad analysis and failure to follow norms of scientific procedure).

(2)  We gave early attention to subjects now receiving wide attention, such as the increasing success of women over men, the college bubble, and rising inequality in America.

(3)  Unfortunately we’ve gotten the big issues about America mostly wrong, being far too optimistic. We’ve re-calibrated (eg, here and here), but inadequately.  Today we’ll try again.

America here and now

Waging war requires the State to mobilize resources, the most important resource being the people.  Since every action creates a reaction, the process of war shapes the people and the nation, its effects lasting far after the war ends.  Now, almost 11 years after 9-11, we can see several effects of our long war.  It’s exacerbated existing ailments in US society.  As a result we’re rotting, becoming a danger to ourselves and the world. It’s happening faster than I imagined possible.

So far the process has continued with few reactions from our enemies and friends.  Even in the Internet age people change their opinions only slowly.  Our actions carve away the image of America built during the 20th century, leaving a much darker remnant.  We see ourselves as the benign global hegemon, so the coming loss of both leadership and respect will hit us hard.

Rising bloodlust

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The vital things to know about 9-11, painful and so seldom mentioned today

Summary:  A look back at 9-11.  What have we learned?  What were the important responses to 9-11?  How should we see this event in the context of America’s history?  At the end are links to other useful articles about 9-11 and al Qaeda.


America is flooded today with emotional  commemoratives about 9-11.  For that I recommend reading “Let’s Cancel 9/11 – Bury the War State’s Blank Check at Sea” by Tom Engelhardt — as usual for Engelhardt, it’s brilliant and well-written.  But the FM website provides something different:  a cold focus on the facts necessary for survival.   In that light there are two essential things to know about 9-11:

  • It was the one of the (perhaps the) most effective single military operation in the history of the world.
  • It was exploited by both western governments and jihadists, operating in an almost symbiotic manner.

Both of these have been described extensively since 9-11, both on the FM website and elsewhere.  This post gives a summary.


  1. 9/11 was the most effective single military operation, ever
  2. About our lost civil liberties
  3. About al Qaeda and our jihadist foes

(1)  9/11 was the most effective single military operation, ever

This was posed as a question here on 11 June 2008.  Three years later the answer is clear, as the Obama Administration has institutionalized the course changes made by Bush Jr in the evolution of America:  militarization of foreign policy, cancerous growth of the US internal security, intelligence, and miliary apparatus.  Massive erosion of civil liberties.  They are now bipartisan policies.  In our system that makes them almost impossible to change.

With a single strike al Qaeda changed the course of the world’s hegemon, by many measures the most powerful nation (relative to its time) that the world has ever seen. Al Qaeda did this at a negligible cost in money and manpower.   As RJH said in the comments:  “The purpose of an action is the reaction.”

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In modern America we protect ourselves from truth with a bodyguard of lies

Summary:  The assassination of bin Laden is rich in lessons for America.  Here are a few.  Everyday we learn a bit more about our world and how its changing.

Third in a series about bin Laden’s death.  Previous chapters:

The pattern remains consistent over the years.  The military gives us a story, bold and appealing — confirming their narratives.  The stenographers calling themselves journalists write headlines.  Minds are molded by these strong impressions because we want to believe.  Adding to the effect are hundreds of articles by our geopolitical experts and pundits, carefully rearranging the details fed to us by government officials.

Then come the corrections.  Step by step, eroding away the story.  In the cases of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch leaving almost nothing of the original left.

But we never learn.  We respond just the same when we’re fed the next story.  Like fish that take the bait each time.  Or Charlie Brown — each time he believes Lucy’s promise.

Perhaps we’ll learn, someday.  On that day the Republic will become much stronger.

Here ae some of my favorite articles debunking the stories about our assassination of  bin Laden.  At the end are links to more information.

  1. A classroom demonstration of finding terrorists by mathematics
  2. How are criminals often caught? Not always by detective work.
  3. Our Russian friends congratulate us, happy that we’ve joined them on the dark side
  4. One of our few real journalists is an attorney

(1)  A classroom demonstration of finding terrorists by mathematics

Here’s a powerful example of why propaganda works:  an appealing story gets widespread attention, while its retraction is buried.  “Geographers Had Predicted Osama’s Possible Whereabouts“, Science, 2 May 2011 — Excerpt:

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About the strategic significance of bin Laden’s execution, and the road not taken

Summary:  The capture and execution of bin Laden was a powerful act of grand strategy.  Did it advance or damage our national interests?  There was an alternative to his execution, another of the roads not taken by America since 9-11.  Bin Laden borrowed from the ending of Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor. We could have borrowed the ending from “The Sum of All Fears”.  This is a follow-up to A brief note about the death of bin Laden.


  1. Was bin Laden a high priority goal?
  2. Why does it matter?  Because strategy trumps tactics.
  3. The missed opportunity
  4. For more information

(1)  Was bin Laden a high priority goal?

Did we seek to capture/kill bin Laden?  Or was he more useful as an excuse for invading Afghanistan and Iraq?  There is evidence that regime change in the Middle East was the objective — and justice for bin Laden was secondary.  That was and should be primarily a decision about strategy not (as Machiavelli explained) a moral choice.  We can debate its effects another day.  Here’s some of the evidence.

(a)  Bush’s response to 9-11

As explained by the 9-11 Commission. From page 332, Chapter 10 — Wartime:

The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: produce Bin Ladin and his deputies and shut down al Qaeda camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. The State Department did not expect the Taliban to comply. Therefore, State and Defense would plan to build an international coalition to go into Afghanistan.

Both departments would consult with NATO and other allies and request intelligence, basing, and other support from countries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan detailed a public U.S. stance: America would use all its resources to eliminate terrorism as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice toward any people, religion, or culture. (State Department memo, “Gameplan for Polmil Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” 14 Sept 2001)

President Bush recalled that he quickly realized that the administration would have to invade Afghanistan with ground troops.

(b)  Bush’s response to the Taliban’s offers

From “Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender bin Laden“, The Independent, 15 October 2001 — Excerpt:

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A brief note about the death of bin Laden

Summary:  It’s not a big event.  It might not even be good news for the US, from a long-term perspective.  Also see the follow-up post About the strategic significance of bin Laden’s execution, and the road not taken.

“… and into the aerial weaponry the Americans used to pull off arguably the most important military operation of the decade.””
— delusional nonsense by David Axe and Noah Shachtman, writing at Wired, 2 May 2011

“I’ve never been so excited to see the photo of a corpse with a gunshot wound through the head.”
Twitter by Emily Miller, Senior Editor of The Washington Times


  1. It’s not a big event
  2. Killing bin Laden might make al Qaeda more potent
  3. The weirdness of President Obama’s speech about the news
  4. Updates
  5. For more information

(1)  It’s not a big event

We don’t know if bin Laden (sick, hiding in the mountains) still exercised any meaningful control over al Qaeda.  We do not even know if al Qaeda still exists in any substantial form, or just as a global brand name.  The actual victory might be the de facto destruction of AQ by the police and intelligence services of the US and our allies.  The militarization of not just our foreign policy but also our thinking prevents us from seeing this accomplishment — an unrecognized great victory.  For more information see

(2)  Killing bin Laden might make al Qaeda more potent

“An official also said bin Laden’s death puts al Qaeda on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.” (source: Reuters)

Not necessarily.  It depends on who replaces him.  Bin Laden as a martyr and AQ now competently run = bad news for us.

Update:  if our uninvited incursion into Pakistan to kill bin Laden angers the Pakistan people — one border crossing too many — than this will have been a strategic mistake.  We’re not the only people with national pride.

(3)  The weirdness of President Obama’s speech about the news

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Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America

Summary:  In Gordon Dickson’s book “The Tactics of Mistake” he describes how Bin Laden has manipulated America so that we drive the jihadist movement from an irrelevant sideshow to a major and vital aspect of modern Islam.

History contains a few eery examples of fiction predating fact.  Not just in technology, like Jules Verne’s Nautilus, but in events.   Famous examples are Morgan Robertson’s Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan (1998), fantastically similar to the actual sinking of the Titanic 14 years later.  And Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), in which survivors of a shipwreck ate seaman Richard Parker — just as they did in 1884 following the real-life sinking of the Mignonette.  Now we have another for the record.

The Tactics of Mistake

How the weak can make the powerful serve their ends, changing the destiny of the world.  From Gordon Dickson’s book The Tactics of Mistake (1981).

I need to get him involved with me so I can make use of him. Unless I can make him annoyed enough to thrust, I can’t parry.  And only by successfully continuing to parry every attempt he makes can I finally get his whole attention.

… The fencing tactic is to launch a series of attacks, each inviting ripostes, so that there’s a pattern of exchanges and disengages of your blade with your opponent’s.  your purpose isn’t to strike home with any of these preliminary attacks, but to carry your opponent’s bade a little more out of line with each disengage so gradually he doesn’t notice you’re doing it.  Then, when his blade has been drawn completely out of line, you thrust home against an essentially unguarded man.

… {My goal is} to trap deCastries into a personal fencing match with me, so that I can gradually lead him into larger and larger conflicts — until he commits himself completely in a final encounter where I can use his cumulative errors of judgement to destroy him.

In real life we usually stumble into success, doing what works.  Individual victories lead to a successful strategy.  Strategy follows success, not the other way around.  His 2004 speech suggests that bin Laden might have glimmerings that he’s hit upon a winning method.

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A major function of our intelligence agencies is to shape the narrative. They do it well, molding history like clay on a wheel.

Summary:  Another in a series about the effectiveness of our intelligence apparatus.  Today we examine one of its greatest accomplishment, the creation of the global jihad.  Just-in-time salvation for the 21st century military/intelligence apparatus, facing the prospect of post-communist obsolescence.  Previous chapters: 

(1)  How useful are our intelligence agencies? To what degree are they blinded by prejudice and institutional needs?
(2)  About our intelligence agences: the struggle to find an accurate AND institutionally useful narrative


One of the great works about modern warfare is David Kilcullen’s “Countering Global Insurgency“, Journal of Strategic Studies, August 2005  .  While not widely known to a general audience, much of the media and internet commentary about insurgencies can be traced back to this work — foundational in building awareness of the global jihad threatening the West.

Bin Laden’s declaration announced a global war against the US and the broader Western-dominated world order. It issued a fatwa calling for jihad, indicating that bin Laden claimed religious authority (necessary to issue a fatwa) and political authority as a Muslim ruler (needed to issue a call to jihad).4 Subsequent Al Qaeda statements refer to bin Laden as the Sheikh or Emir (Prince or Commander) of the World Islamic Front, staking a claim to authority over a broad united front of Islamist militant fighters worldwide.

… Al Qaeda has cells in at least 40 countries and, though disrupted by the loss of its Afghan base in 2001, is still functioning globally.

… In essence, then, this analysis indicates that there is a global movement, but it comprises a group of aligned independent movements, not a single unified organisation, and not all Islamist terrorism or insurgency is linked to it. Global players link and exploit local players through regional affiliates – they rarely interact directly with local players, but sponsor and support them through intermediaries. Each theatre has operational players who are able to tap into the global jihad, and these tend to be regional Al Qa’eda affiliates.

… The jihad is, therefore, a global insurgency. Al Qaeda and similar groups feed on local grievances, integrate them into broader ideologies, and link disparate conflicts through globalized communications, finances and technology. In this, Al Qaeda resembles the Communist Internationale of the twentieth century – a holding company and clearing-house for world revolution. But whereas the Comintern was a state-sponsored support organization for local revolutions and insurgencies, the global jihad is itself an insurgent movement. Moreover, whereas the Comintern was sponsored by the Soviet Union, the Islamist jihad seeks to form the basis for a new supra-national state.

Thus the distinguishing feature of the jihadists is not their use of terrorism, a tactic they share with dozens of movements worldwide. Rather, it is that they represent a global insurgency, which – like other insurgent movements – uses terrorism, subversion, propaganda and open warfare.

Establishing al Qaeda as first among jihadist organizations, the only with a truly global brand name, is bin Laden’s greatest accomplishment.  Of course this required assistance.  He couldn’t have done it without our help.  Kilcullen touches on this, without reflecting on its deeper significance.

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