Americans Agree with Osama bin Laden

by Benjamin Studebaker

My point today is a very controversial one–increasingly, Americans are beginning to agree with Osama bin Laden. This is not to say that Americans are beginning to agree with terrorism or the use of indiscriminate violence–with the exception of a few mass shooters, we’re still generally quite opposed to all of that. No, we’re still very much opposed to terrorism; what we’re beginning to agree with are bin Laden’s ends, not his means. I suspect many readers are resistant to that conclusion, so I must elaborate and defend it.

What were Osama bin Laden’s goals? What motivated him to become a violent terrorist? In other words, why do they hate us? Too often, we respond with the dismissive “they hate our freedoms” or the even more dismissive “they’re evil Islamofascists” or the still more off the mark “they’re just nihilists”. All of these answers are indicative of a misunderstanding of how the terrorists think.  The terrorists certainly are not nihilists–the versions of radical Islam to which they adhere are very specific about what is and what is not moral behavior. They’re not Islamofascists either–there is no connection between radical Islam and fascism other than the fact that both movements are violent and both movements oppose the United States. “Islamofascism” is a nonsense term. Nor do the terrorists hate us for “our freedoms”. No, the reason the terrorists hate us is our continued efforts to bring them our freedoms.

Radical Muslims hate our interventions in the Middle East. They hate the secular, capitalist governments we install and bankroll. Usually, we install and fund these governments with good intentions–secular, capitalist governments are likely not merely to be friendly to the United States and to trade oil with us, they’re also likely to westernize, to embrace our values, to become more like us. Historically, we have thought that trying to bring people our system of government and our culture is a good thing, because we think it is better for people to have the various liberties and freedoms we treasure than it is for them to live under theocratic, socialist, or otherwise un-American regimes.

The goal of Osama bin Laden and those who followed him (and now follow his ghost) was never to force the United States or the various European countries to become Islamic states or to give up their freedoms or liberal democratic values. Such a goal would be completely unrealistic. The terrorists’ aims are more modest than that–they want us to leave their countries alone. They want to be free to implement laws and policies in keeping with their radical religious beliefs, without the United States supporting any opposition, whether it be frustrated domestic liberal minorities or foreign states like Israel. What the terrorists really want is for the United States and its allies to get off their collective lawn.

Of course, their lawn doesn’t just belong to them, it belongs to large populations of moderate Muslims who do not agree with them. It also belongs to the people in Israel, who really don’t agree with them. And so far, we continue to attempt to come over to the sandy lawn that is the Middle East and break up the fights, pick the winners. Among the Middle Eastern countries that have governments allied (either formally or informally) with the United States are:

  • Israel
  • Turkey
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Qatar
  • UAE
  • Pakistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Morocco
  • Bahrain
  • Kuwait

Most of the rest of the countries in the Middle East at one point in time did have a government that was allied to the United States that has since been deposed, with Iran being the most prominent member of that group, having lost its US-backed shah in the 1979 revolution.

That said, Americans seem to be beginning to agree with Osama bin Laden and the terrorists that they ought not to keep playing robocop in the sand dunes, that perhaps they ought to leave Middle Eastern peoples to resolve their own conflicts. Polls increasingly show a lack of support for a US intervention in Syria:

We can see more of the shift in attitude by comparing some figures for 2013 questions about Syria to their 2003 Iraq equivalents. First, Syria:

Do you think the Barack Obama has or has not made a convincing case about the need for the U.S. to take
military action against Syria?
Yes, has ………………………… 33
No, has not ……………………. 54
Not sure ………………………. 13

And Iraq, from January of 2003:

Do you think the George W. Bush has–or has not–made a convincing case about the need for the U.S. to take military action against Iraq?
Yes, has ……………………………………………… 49
No, has not ………………………………………….. 48
No opinion …………………………………………… 3

That said, this split could be the function of different circumstances. Perhaps the American public is exclusively opposed to intervention in the Syrian case? Not so. Instead, we see a pattern of increasing opposition to intervention in general. The same survey also includes a comparison poll examining US attitudes toward promoting the American system abroad in both 2013 and 2005:

Please tell me which of the following statements comes closer to your point of view.

Statement A: America is doing too much in other countries around the world, and it is time to do less around the world and focus more on our own problems here at home.

Statement B: America must continue to push forward to promote democracy and freedom in other countries
around the world because these efforts will make our own country more secure

Statements % Agreeing September 2013 % Agreeing May 2005

Statement A

74 54
Statement B 22 33
Depends/some of both 3 11
Not sure 1


Indeed, the new-found prominence of opponents of foreign interventionism in the Republican Party (Ron and Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, et al.) was unthinkable five or ten years ago–though how much of that has to do with ingrained opposition to Barack Obama is hard to say.

All of which is indicative that, despite his grisly methods, Osama bin Laden is winning hearts and minds in the United States from beyond the grave. I find myself in oppostion to US intervention in the Middle East, which is precisely what Osama bin Laden wanted me to be. All of which raises a very uncomfortable question–does terrorism actually work? By goading the United States into more than a decade of seemingly fruitless war, the 9/11 attacks seem to be producing precisely the very outcome most desired by terrorist groups–war weariness, and, ultimately, disenchantment with intervention altogether.

That said, we remain quite involved in the Middle East, and, if Obama gets his way, we may yet get more involved. All the same, if current shifts in attitude continue, further intervention in the Middle East will well and truly become politically unfeasible. If that day should come, who can deny that the terrorists will have, in some sense, won? For they will have achieved their primary objective–convincing us that we are ourselves better off leaving them to do things their way. Might they be right about that? It looks as though a large number of us already think so.