Al Qaeda's Goal: Bankrupt the U.S.

How successful was bin Laden, anyway? Ezra Klein takes up the question in a column today, and finds that while the al Qaeda leader didn't win his battle with the U.S., he sure came close. According to al Qaeda expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, bin Laden's goal all along was to bankrupt the United States, just as he bankrupted the Soviet Union by waging a resistance war in Afghanistan. The Afghan campaign taught bin Laden that “superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield,” writes Klein. “For another, superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand.” That's the strategy he set out to use against the United States, and it almost worked. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates the price of the Iraq War alone at over $3 trillion. Afghanistan will likely add another trillion or two. Then there's another trillion for the homeland security spending. “It’s a smart play against a superpower,” writes Klein. “We didn’t need to respond to 9/11 by trying to reshape the entire Middle East, but we’re a superpower, and we think on that scale.” Bin Laden “may not have won,” writes Klein, “but he did succeed, at least partially.”