Bin Laden not determined to attack the US after 9/11?

Bin Laden may have had no intention to attack the United States again after 9/11.

Bin Laden may have had no intention to attack the US again after 9/11. This sheds further doubt on the Bush administration’s claim to have “kept us safe” since.

I’ve just noticed an article called The Unraveling by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in the New Republic from late Spring 2008. The article discusses several Islamic militants who have come to preach against Al Qaeda. This has been reported elsewhere, but perhaps not so succinctly.

The new thing to me in the article was an account of a summer 2000 meeting in Kandahar — a global jihadist strategy session hosted by Bin Laden. One attendee, the Libyan Noman Benotman, complained that Bin Laden’s war against the U.S. — the “far enemy”– would impede his efforts against secular Arab governments — the “near enemy.” They quote Benotman as follows:

“We made a clear-cut request for him to stop his campaign against the United States because it was going to lead to nowhere,” Benotman recalls, “but they laughed when I told them that America would attack the whole region if they launched another attack against it.”

Benotman says that bin Laden tried to placate him with a promise: “I have one more operation, and after that I will quit”–an apparent reference to September 11. “I can’t call this one back because that would demoralize the whole organization,” Benotman remembers bin Laden saying.

This is the first evidence I have heard that Al Qaeda may have formed an explicit intention against further attacks on the United States.

Obviously this statement of Bin Laden’s is not dispositive–it may well have been uttered with deceptive intent, or Al Qaeda could have started planning for a follow-on attack after this meeting. We know that Bin Laden expected 9/11 to mobilize immense support for Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and was surprised that this did not occur. It may be that his plan was to use this mobilization to shift the balance of effort to the “near enemies.”

Certainly the 9/11 attack justified the operation in Afghanistan (though not in Iraq).

But how ironic it would be if the impetus to “long war” directly between the US and Al Qaeda was all from our side after 9/11?

I do not know of evidence of planned follow-on attacks to 9/11. Many “experts” have suggested that the lack of further attempted attacks on the United States by Al Qaeda may have been due to Al Qaeda’s desire that each attack be more “spectacular” than the previous one, limiting what Al Qaeda could do especially in the context of the disruption of its bases and increased US vigilance.

Of course, whatever Bin Laden said in 2000 does not much affect the current strategic intent of Al Qaeda and other jihadists today.

But we are faced with key decisions about what level of pacification to require in Afghanistan, and our policies may be driven too far by the assumption that any ungoverned space on Earth is an immediate threat to the United States. It’s just possible that operations aimed at ensuring our security will engender enough hostility and recruit enough terrorists to make us less secure.