Bin Laden’s Successful Asymmetrical Warfare Game Plan

Asymmetrical warfare is a strategic means for a very weak enemy to inflict harm on a very powerful enemy. It uses unconventional means to achieve its objective, and of course these means can be deeply evil, as we have seen. In this context, I was thinking this afternoon that in his wildest dreams Osama Bin Laden, when he spent $600,000 on executing 9/11 and killing around 3000 people (about equal to the monthly gun deaths or road deaths in the US), he would provoke the US, the world’s sole remaining superpower in 2001, into

1) Starting an unrelated war with Iraq that cost it $2 trillion and accelerated the pace at which China would overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, as has just this month happened
2) Disrupted the Atlantic alliance as few of its members supported the Iraq War and many remain suspicious of the US as a result
3) Set the scene for an immensely disruptive Sunni-Shia civil war in the Middle East that has yet to run its course, and may bring stateless anarchy longer term to many areas, while considerably boosting Iran as a regional power and in Iraq
4) So panicked the CIA and Bush Administration that it authorized a totally disproportionate, ineffective, torture program that achieved minimal tactical intelligence at maximum strategic discrediting of the US brand world wide.
5) Set the scene for huge fiscal deficits that made responding to the Financial Crisis of 2008 with counter cyclical spending so much harder.

6) Created a vast security state apparatus in the US, which I am not clear achieves very much beyond intrusion and job creation/defense contracts.

The US was basically gamed by a deeply evil amateur fanatic, who read the way its ‘if it bleeds it leads’ media, government and national psyche would respond to his provocation, but even he grossly under-estimated just how effective he would be and how few grown ups there were to stop the panic.

I don’t post this for partisan reasons, but as a US military style After Action Review comment on the US response to what happened on 9/11 and afterwards, and also as context to the current debate in the US on what might be called ‘torture by any other enhanced interrogation name would still be torture’. It is also a contribution to the study of asymmetrical warfare. I suspect this action will form a case study of this form of warfare at West Point if it doesn’t already do so. And I mean no disrespect to the victims in raising this question about which of course I may be mistaken and am open to correction. I am also interested and will posted separately on what can be learned from this about what to do better in future.

I would summarize the chief lesson, using the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s slogan: “Don’t Panic!” on this dark subject.


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Processes, Middle East Conflict, Types of conflict, US Political Conflict, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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