In a gassy op-ed for Sunday's Washington Post,
former ABC Nightline anchor Ted Koppel announced that the "canny tactician" Osama bin Laden has won
the War on Terror by pressing America over the last decade into an ongoing series of wild
overreactions. He began:
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, succeeded far beyond
anything Osama bin Laden could possibly have envisioned. This is not
just because they resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, nor only because
they struck at the heart of American financial and military power.
Those outcomes were only the bait; it would remain for the United
States to spring the trap.
The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another.
Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish
and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny
tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue
to do, to ourselves. Bin Laden does not deserve that we, even
inadvertently, fulfill so many of his unimagined dreams.
It's important to remember that Koppel was not a measured critic of
Bush foreign policy. Before the Iraq War, as Brent Bozell noted, he devoted a show to conspiratorial anti-Bush cranks who compared neoconservatives to Nazis and alleged that America was bent on global domination:
began with a Scottish newspaper, the Glasgow Sunday Herald,
breathlessly announcing a "secret blueprint for U.S. global domination"
that included Iraq. But then, he added, "a similar, if slightly more
hysterical version" from the Moscow Times claimed "Not since Mein Kampf
has a geopolitical punch been so blatantly telegraphed, years ahead of
the blow." Koppel added: "Take away the somewhat hyperbolic references
to conspiracy, however, and you're left with a story that has the
additional advantage of being true."
Bozell also reported Koppel also was quick to lie about how the
Reagan administration was behind Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
Koppel set the tone for the meeting by undermining America's moral
authority: "There's a sardonic two-liner making the rounds in
Washington these days: ''How do we know that Saddam Hussein has
biological and chemical weapons? We have the receipts.' Nasty, but
there's an element of truth to it." He added "there wasn't a great deal
of outrage from the Reagan-Bush White House" when Saddam gassed his own
people in 1988. That's misleading.
President Reagan condemned it, Secretary of State George Shultz condemned it. What we forget is that the media barely covered it at that time, making our lack of memory easy to exploit. They didn't have "a great deal of outrage," either.
Koppel is still slashing conservative foreign policy for leading to
an "existential nightmare" based on "unsubstantiated assumptions."
(That's funny: Koppel's whole embarrassing attempt to push the
conspiracy theory that the 1980 Reagan campaign delayed the release of
U.S. hostages was a series of "unsubstantiated assumptions," but he put
them on the air anyway.) Koppel even
attacked himself, suggesting liberals and media stars offered only "flaccid
opposition" to the war:
But the insidious thing about terrorism is that there is
no such thing as absolute security. Each incident provokes the
contemplation of something worse to come. The Bush administration
convinced itself that the minds that conspired to turn passenger jets
into ballistic missiles might discover the means to arm such "missiles"
with chemical, biological or nuclear payloads. This became the
existential nightmare that led, in short order, to a progression of
unsubstantiated assumptions: that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons
of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons; that there was a
connection between the Iraqi leader and al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden had nothing to do with fostering these
misconceptions. None of this had any real connection to 9/11. There was
no group known as "al-Qaeda in Iraq" at that time. But the political
climate of the moment overcame whatever flaccid opposition there was to invading Iraq,
and the United States marched into a second theater of war, one that
would prove far more intractable and painful and draining than its
supporters had envisioned.
Koppel implied that perhaps Osama bin Laden had more foresight than
our disastrous American architects of war, and even today, we are "so
absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy's intentions"
that we still haven't absorbed the wisdom of Ted Koppel's indictment of Team Bush:
Perhaps bin Laden foresaw some of these outcomes when he
launched his 9/11 operation from Taliban-secured bases in Afghanistan.
Since nations targeted by terrorist groups routinely abandon some of
their cherished principles, he may also have foreseen something along
the lines of Abu Ghraib, "black sites,"
extraordinary rendition and even the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But in
these and many other developments, bin Laden needed our unwitting
collaboration, and we have provided it - more than $1 trillion
spent on two wars, more than 5,000 of our troops killed, tens of
thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead. Our military so overstretched
that one of the few growth industries in our battered economy is the firms that provide private contractors, for everything from interrogation to security to the gathering of intelligence.
We have raced to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to Yemen and Somalia; we have created a swollen national security apparatus;
and we are so absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy's
intentions that we inflate the building of an Islamic center in Lower
Manhattan into a national debate and watch, helpless, while a minister
in Florida outrages even our friends in the Islamic world by
threatening to burn copies of the Koran.
If bin Laden did not foresee all this, then he quickly came to
understand it. In a 2004 video message, he boasted about leading
America on the path to self-destruction. "All we have to do is send two
mujaheddin . . . to raise a small piece of cloth on which is written
'al-Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America
to suffer human, economic and political losses."
Through the initial spending of a few hundred thousand dollars,
training and then sacrificing 19 of his foot soldiers, bin Laden has
watched his relatively tiny and all but anonymous organization of a few
hundred zealots turn into the most recognized international franchise
since McDonald's. Could any enemy of the United States have achieved
more with less?
Could bin Laden, in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke
greater chaos? It is past time to reflect on what our enemy sought, and
still seeks, to accomplish - and how we have accommodated him.
Next up: Koppel is taking this acidulous commentary to BBC America.
-Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.