In a recent column, Ted Koppel argued that the 9/11 attacks succeeded way more than Bin Laden could have imagined. The reason is that al Qaeda’s objective was not only to damage the U.S. by the 9/11 attack. They wanted to lure the U.S. into a war in the Middle East, “with one overreaction after another.”
Al Qaeda believed that a long, unbearable engagement with the guerilla and terrorist tactics of al Qaeda would deplete the U.S. of blood and treasure. Al Qaeda wanted the U.S. to go to Afghanistan. It got that and Iraq too. The result, they hoped, would resemble what happened to the Soviet Union in its 1980s war with Afghanistan. They expected devastation and collapse for the United States. On this 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, we are weakened but have not collapsed. Al Qaeda, however, did get more than they could have imagined. As Koppel says, the outcome of these wars is
more than $1 trillion spent on two wars, more than 5,000 of our troops killed, tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead. Our military so overstretched that one of the few growth industries in our battered economy is the firms that provide private contractors, for everything from interrogation to security to the gathering of intelligence.
This is the exact argument I and my fellow authors made in our book The Iraq Papers published earlier this year. On page 462, we argue that al Qaeda leaders “wanted to battle the United States in Iraq” because “a long, drawn-out war would be the best way of weakening the United States.” Clearly, it is not in our interest to continue to fight two wars that we cannot win in any clear military sense and that actually fuels the very terrorism we want to end.