Being on bin Laden’s bookshelf has become, in a way, the modern version of being on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. Bob Woodward gets a special award. He gained both distinctions, if that’s the right word.
Politico contacted some of the authors in question for comment. Warning: Greg Palast’s response is nausea-inducing.
What should we make of the bookshelf? Above all, it confirms that bin Laden was obsessed with the United States. Unlike ISIS, which strives to capture territory and create a caliphate, bin Laden focused on attacking America and American interests.
But attacking America wasn’t an end in itself. Bin Laden’s overriding goal was to drive the U.S. out of the Muslim world so that al Qaeda and its affiliates could topple hostile governments in these regions.
Once we understand this, we must see bin Laden as more of a success than a failure. And we must see President Obama as the vehicle through which bin Laden succeeded.
Under Obama, the U.S. is basically exiting the Muslim world. We pulled out of Iraq (and haven’t re-entered to any significant degree). We’re pulling out of Afghanistan. We never pulled into Syria, despite the advice of many in both parties that we should.
We didn’t stay in Libya. We’ve been driven out of Yemen. Our influence with Egypt and Saudi Arabia (two countries of special interest to bin Laden, surely) has waned considerably.
As for the toppling of governments, bin Laden’s dream is partially realized. The Afghanistan government hasn’t fallen, but it may well, once the U.S. leaves. And the government’s hold on large portions of the country is weak to non-existent.
The Iraqi government hasn’t fallen, but it has lost huge chunks of territory to Islamic terrorists, with even Baghdad now threatened. The government of Syria is in basically the same condition.
The pro-Western government of Yemen has fallen and, in the battle for control, an al Qaeda affiliate is in the mix. Control of Libya is also up for grabs and an al Qaeda’s affiliate is in the mix there too.
How well did bin Laden understand America? Probably not very. I’m sure he got a lot of stuff wrong.
But I’m also sure he knew there were strong elements in our politics that were weary of involvement in the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent, and that if these elements prevailed, the U.S. would pull out — to the great advantage of al Qaeda and other jidhadists.
Bin laden was right about this. And though he is gone, his broad vision for the Muslim world is alive and kicking.