FGF E-Package
January 23, 2009

How Bin Laden Bankrupted America: The Five Ways
by Jon Basil Utley

For a man who spent years living in caves, Bin Laden sure knows his Sun Tzu and the basics of Jujitsu. Sun Tzu’s famous dictum was “know yourself” and “know your enemy.” Jujitsu is based upon using your enemy’s strength against him.

Bin Laden understood that the way to beat America was to turn its power back upon itself. His early stated aim was to bankrupt America. He knew his own weaknesses, and he profoundly understood America, and how its pride, fear, and military machine could trigger irrational, self-destructive reactions.

The genius of Bin Laden’s pinprick attacks costing a few hundred thousand dollars has left America reeling with two unending multi-trillion dollar wars it does not know how to get out of. He knew that his own strength was mainly in his appeal to the minds of men. In particular, he used the trampled dignity of Muslims under the heel of their own dictators, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and America’s military. Getting rid of the “far” enemy was the way to take on the “near” ones.

Instigating America to destroy Iraq was a triumph of genius. He must have been well-informed about the neoconservative cabal in Washington that was itching to start wars and to destroy Iraq. In Bin Laden’s wildest dreams, he then imagined that he could get an enraged America to destroy his enemies while at the same time isolating itself from allies and becoming seriously weakened financially.

His prime Arab enemy, secular nationalist socialism, was embodied by the Baathist rulers in Iraq. Once this enemy was destroyed, Muslim resistance could be channeled to religious fundamentalism as the only remaining force honest and profound enough to successfully challenge Arab dictators and American soldiers. In that sense he was allied with Israel and the neoconservatives, which, for different reasons, feared Iraq as the most modern, secular nation among the Arabs far more than it feared Muslim fundamentalists. Indeed, in Palestine, Israel built up Islamist Hamas at first as a counterforce to the secular PLO. Successful terrorists come from the well educated, not from fundamentalist fanatics. Again, this was an intelligent Sun Tzu strategy of harnessing his enemies’ strength against other enemies.

Next was his hope that he might get America to destroy his Shiite enemy, Iran. He almost succeeded in this, too. His prime aim, though, was to get America bogged down in endless, resource-sapping wars on the Asian land mass and to disrupt oil flows which benefitted his enemies.

Bin Laden understood how America’s religious fundamentalists, who had inordinate power in Washington, could be encouraged to instigate religious wars. He “knew” them precisely because he understood his own Muslim fundamentalists, as indeed also the Israeli ones. All could work together in his scheming mind, to wreck the global economy that so benefited and funded American power. In 2002 at a party in my home, I said to Peru’s brilliant economist Hernando de Soto, that, of course, Bin Laden’s objective was to drive America out of the Middle East. He replied to me, “Not just that, out of the whole Third World!”

The financial crash in America came about, in the following ways, because of the wars.

First, financing the wars with debt was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. No one knew how much debt would break America, but doubling the national debt in 8 years from $5 trillion to over $10 trillion and commitments for trillions more finally did it. Government at war seeks national support and billions of new funding. The concomitant waste makes it far more difficult to deny billions for welfare, and that is why America is called a warfare-welfare state. Welfare began in Germany in the 19th century when Bismarck sought popular support for his military ventures. It was the tradeoff.

Second, the destruction of Iraq, and Bush’s constant threats to start bombing Iran that then could have closed down the Straits of Hormuz, brought about sky-high oil prices, which then busted world prosperity. Still, Bin Laden might not have imagined that hedge funds would feed the speculation and that Bush would not release oil from the petroleum reserve, which could have broken the price, because he wanted to keep it in reserve for war against Iran. The subsequent collapse of oil prices dried up a major source of foreign buyers for U.S. government bonds that financed America’s reckless debts.

Third, all of Washington’s attention was absorbed by the wars, leaving little time or energy for dull domestic issues, such as debating reforms to the financial markets. Anyone who questioned wars’ costs was dismissed as unpatriotic. Lies are part of waging war, and losing discredits and exposes the lies of the leaders. It was a short step from discredited American leaders to discredited American financial markets.

Fourth was the toxic alliance of neoconservatives and religious fundamentalists. The neocons were academic Washington policy wonks dreaming of ruling the world; the “fundies” provided electoral support, while viewing America as doing God’s work among the foreign heathen. Their extremists indeed wanted chaos in the Middle East to “hurry up” God’s plans for Armageddon. Instead, they served Bin Laden’s goals.

Fifth, war spending deficits were in effect a massive Keynesian pump-priming operation, bound in the end to leave an economic hangover. Wars make the economy boom with seeming prosperity, but in fact they cause an incredible waste of resources. $200-plus million for each new fighter plane; $1,000 a day for mercenaries, raising soldiers’ pay and benefits; massive corruption and incompetence in the military occupation — even Bin Laden could not have imagined how costly fighting wars has become for America.

All of this was indeed foreseen, as the war had many critics, but they could not break through in the major media against the Washington establishment and the powers and lies of the Bush administration.

Foreign Policy In Focus editor John Feffer forecast the war’s consequences precisely in 2002 —
“The successful realization of bin Laden's secret strategy will happen not with a bang but with a whimper. Having failed to use the unipolar moment for the world's advantage, the United States runs the risk of following the examples of Russia and England and Turkey, all faded empires whose ambitions overreached themselves. In the worst case scenario, the U.S. will become the sick man of North America, a victim of military hypertrophy, extremes of wealth and poverty, decay of civil infrastructure, and loss of competitive economic advantage.”

At least, though, Americans are told that Washington “succeeded” in preventing any more attacks on the homeland. Maybe, but the more likely reason was explained in a published letter to the editor of Foreign Policy magazine by researcher Laura Garces—

“Why no attacks in America? — no reason now to expose himself (Bin Laden) and expend resources when he already accomplished exactly what he wanted: billions of U.S. dollars spent launching wars, total neglect of American infrastructure…. Decay and bankruptcy are what he sought, and fear is what he wanted to instill. Can anyone doubt that he succeeded?”

Copyright by Jon Basil Utley, the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, and www.antiwar.com.

Jon Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was formerly a foreign correspondent in South America for Knight Ridder newspapers and has written for the Harvard Business Review. For 17 years, he was a commentator on third-world economic issues for the Voice of America.  He is a long time conservative and libertarian activist.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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