This is part two of a two-part series from Juan Cole’s Informed Comment on the history of Usama Bin-Laden, the meaning of his death and its possible impact on Al-Qaeda. Part one was posted here Monday night. --fb
By Juan Cole
Usama Bin Laden wanted to see the (Middle Eastern) region’s dictatorship overthrown in favor of his renewed Islamic Caliphate. It was a crackpot, fringe, pipe dream, but he brought to the aspiration all the experiences and training he and his men had learned during the Reagan Jihad against the Soviets. Then he and his number two man, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, came to the conclusion that the reason they could not overthrow the governments of Egypt (Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship) and Saudi Arabia and so forth was that these were backed by the United States.
They decided it had been a mistake to hit the “near enemy” first. They decided to hit the “far enemy” on American soil. Bin Laden thought that if only he could entice the US into the Middle East, he could do to it what he thought he had done to the Soviet Union. Hence the horrific attacks on the US of September 11, 2001.
It was those attacks that created Informed Comment. I started it in spring of 2002 initially to cover al-Qaeda and to present analysis about how to defeat it. Like all Americans, I was personally devastated by September 11. I was depressed for a year. I felt it in distinctive ways because I had lived nearly 10 years in the Greater Middle East. Most of that time I was a student or, later on, academic researcher. But although I studied history, I was living in the present. I had been in Egypt in the late 1970s when Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad began becoming notorious. I lived in Pakistan off and on in the early 1980s and went up to Peshawar and talked with Mujahidin.
I supported the first phase of the Afghanistan War, which involved a light Western footprint in that country. There were 40 al-Qaeda training camps, which produced thousands of potential terrorists, and if they had not been destroyed they would have gone on manufacturing threats to the US. I discovered that there was a lot of good information on the Arabic internet about al-Qaeda, and I paraphrased the reports I thought significant.