The martial art known as Jiu Jitsu consists of "manipulating the opponent's force against themselves rather than confronting it with one's own force." Is it possible that Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001 were a Jiu Jitsu maneuver that succeeded more brilliantly than we have understood?
Al Qaeda, a private organization with no military forces and precarious finances, attacked the world's richest country, which had powerful military forces. A frontal attack against the Americans would have been way beyond the means available to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's leaders more than made up for their weakness by extremely imaginative exploitation of opportunities.
But was their attack really aimed at the United States?
Most analysts have assumed that we were indeed the target. This was not unreasonable since the attacks took place in the U.S., killed 3,000 Americans, and destroyed property worth billions of dollars. The damage also included several trillion dollars that we spent on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in response to the attacks and to our fears of further ones, plus thousands of American casualties. Al Qaeda ended up inflicting tremendous damage on the U.S., spending only a few million dollars and 19 lives immediately plus a few more lives some years later.
It is quite possible, though, that the ultimate objective of 9/11 was not to injure the United States, but to egg us into ousting Middle Eastern regimes that Al Qaeda wanted to replace but lacked the power to overthrow on its own.
As we have seen recently in Syria, Venezuela, and other countries, revolutionaries can't always manage to overthrow even very terrible regimes. Competent dictators who retain the loyalty of the country's military forces and who don't mind killing lots of countrymen can often stay in power indefinitely. But if a superpower can be conned into overthrowing such governments, well-organized revolutionaries can take advantage of the resulting power vacuum to grab power themselves.
Yuval Harari uses a nice analogy to describe this scenario:
“In a way, a terrorist is like a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so small and weak. It cannot move even a single teacup. So how does a fly destroy a china shop? The fly finds a bull, gets into the ear of the bull and starts buzzing. The bull becomes so enraged that it loses its temper and destroys the china shop. ... Al-Qaeda . . . got into the ear of the United States and the United States went wild and destroyed the middle eastern china shop for Al-Qaeda.”
Whether we were intentionally manipulated by Al Qaeda or not, perhaps we should draw a lesson from our experience since 9/11. In a world with limited resources, it is not always possible or desirable to seek justice. If we have to choose, and sometimes we do, it is more important to do things that benefit the people of the United States than to injure our enemies even when they richly deserve to be destroyed.
Rather than letting our enemies con us into unwise policies that benefit them, we should think things out before acting, then do what is in our own interest. After 9/11 there were some inexpensive measures that were no-brainers. My father, a retired engineer, commented immediately that airlines needed to fix the cockpit doors so that passengers, including possible hijackers, could not get in. This helpful measure cost very little. The TSA screening system to prevent weapons from being brought aboard airliners was also a great idea, although inconvenient for passengers and expensive.
Securing important national infrastructure (electrical, communication, and gas distribution networks, water supplies, dams) was also very important, though it is not clear how adequately this has been done. Probably we have not done enough about cybersecurity, perhaps because we are not quite sure how to do it, perhaps due to lack of money.
Doing all of these things adequately would have cost far less money and American lives than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our meddling in countries like Libya and Syria has opened up additional opportunities for organizations like Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State.
In a dangerous world, it is good to have strong military forces. But it is possible to overdo on the resources devoted to them and we should not assume that using them is always the best or most cost-effective way to enhance our national security.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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