To Sir, With Love
What Austin Bay scrawled on a JDAM scheduled to be dropped.
So what did I scrawl on the bomb?
“Greet the strong horse.”
Osama Bin Laden never expected the September 11 attacks to physically defeat America. During the Cold War some estimates were made about the number of nuclear weapons it would take to permanently cripple America. It is a surprisingly large number, but one which anyone who followed Japan's postwar recovery following a blockade, firebombing campaign and two nuclear strikes would readily accept. Physical defeat was beyond Osama's power to inflict. But he believed it was not necessary. America in his view was so rotten that the slightest push would knock it over. As Austin Bay puts it:
Recall Osama said that people will follow the “strong horse.” In his mind the United States was “the weak horse”, a nation of couch potatoes, spoiled brats, and libertine wastrels –cowards all.
But Osama has had a tough six years. Consider the consequences of 9/11. His Afghan bastion fell quickly. Yes, the Taliban still murder villagers and send suicide bombers toward Kabul, but the Taliban of today is a fanatic fragment of the organization which once ruled 90 percent of Afghanistan by terror. Osama also sought to transform an intra-Muslim war. 9/11 was his violent magic trick, the sensational abracadabra that would cover the Muslim world’s fissures and fractures with the facade of a pan-Islamic jihad. Osama, of course, would serve as the new caliph, thank you.
That bid’s gone belly-up, and Iraq is the battlefield that killed it. In Iraq the US brought the “exported war” back to the heart of the Arab Muslim Middle East. Who have suffered the most from homicidal Islamist extremists? Other Muslims. Perhaps the Washington Post doesn’t know it, but in Iraq Al Qaeda has lost the information war. The struggle for the terms of modernity continues, and will continue for decades, but Al Qaeda’s socio-paths have been exposed.
Just as 'no man is a hero to his own valet' no myth survives close inspection. When al-Qaeda brought terrorist warfare to Iraq it gave its own religious and political base a glimpse of what Jihad -- the reality not the myth -- was really like. It gave lie to the assertion that America required the slightest of shoves to be pushed into oblivion. Osama, greet the strong horse.
And if this seems obvious in retrospect things never seemed so simple at the time. In Steven Spielberg's adapation of Band of Brothers, a trooper yells at the defeated horse-drawn German Army from his truck. "What were you thinking? What were you thinking?" Things doubtful at the time are always clear in retrospect.
I think future historians will conclude that the "strong horse" came within an ace of throwing in the towel. Blunders by the administration, ruthlessly exploited by the forces of appeasement -- the very ones Osama had calculated would objectively come in on his side -- took American political will to a crisis in early 2007. The strong horse was on the verge of heading for the barn.
Nothing is inevitable. Horatio Nelson remarked "Something must be left to chance; nothing is sure in a sea fight above all." And he might have added the same was true in any sort of fight. But men make their own luck, and human effort counts for much. Osama was not doomed to fail, and for that the nation owes its men much, perhaps more than it can know.