Americans are rightly rejoicing over the killing of Osama bin Laden. The al Qaeda mastermind perpetrated the deadliest atrocity on U.S. soil. The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks murdered nearly 3,000 of our own and represented the culmination of bin Laden’s war on America. For almost a decade, jihadists struck key targets - the 1993 assault on the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2000 strike on the USS Cole in Yemen. Bin Laden deserved to die for his crimes.
Yet, now that he is rotting in hell, the media and much of the public are avoiding this central question: Who really won - America or bin Laden? The answer is as obvious as it is painful: He did.
Bin Laden’s goal was to trigger a clash of civilizations. He sought to pit radical Islam against the West, becoming a galvanizing force for Muslim militants everywhere. He gave new life to the Islamist project of imposing a global caliphate based on Shariah law. Revolutionary Islamism has tens of millions of followers, spreading like locusts across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Europe. Bin Laden may be dead, but his macabre ghost lives on.
The former Saudi millionaire (and playboy) cut his Islamist teeth in Afghanistan during the 1980s. He was deeply impressed by the Afghan Mujahedeen - Muslim holy warriors who eventually defeated the mighty Soviet army. Having humiliated one superpower, he set his sights on the more powerful one: America.
Bin Laden’s strategic ambition was to suck the United States into prolonged guerrilla wars. Being a man of the East, he understood that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. Britain, czarist Russia, the Soviet Union - their armies were broken by Afghanistan’s harsh terrain and fierce tribes. His aim was to bankrupt America, slowly bleeding us as we fought one counterinsurgency operation after another. In short, he set a trap - and we rushed headlong into it.
Following Sept. 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration had no choice but to topple the Taliban and smash al Qaeda. But Mr. Bush made the greatest mistake of his presidency - one that will haunt America for years to come. After the fall of the Taliban, he embarked upon nation-building. The Muslim world was to be made safe for democracy. America was pushing a “freedom agenda” for Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon.
The results have been disastrous. In Iraq, about 4,400 U.S. troops are dead, 30,000 have been maimed or wounded, and more than $1 trillion has been spent. Instead of being a pro-Western pluralistic democracy, the Iraqi government is championing Shariah and drifting into Tehran’s orbit. Iran has benefited at America’s expense.
In Afghanistan, President Obama’s troop surge has failed. It has become America’s longest war - nearly a decade and counting. Our troops are hamstrung by strict rules of engagement that make any kind of victory impossible. In fact, U.S. forces have been transformed into a muscular Peace Corps. Their job is not so much to kill terrorists as to build roads, schools and hospitals.
Hence, the United States has been in Afghanistan longer than it took to fight World War II and the Civil War combined. And there is no end in sight. The Taliban are resurgent. Al Qaeda remains firmly entrenched along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Our drone strikes are inciting mass anti-Americanism among both Afghans and Pakistanis. Our supposed ally in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, is a corrupt thug who is openly contemptuous of U.S. military involvement. He is constantly fanning public opinion against America. Rather than winning, we are losing the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans. Nearly 1,000 U.S. soldiers have died since Mr. Obama took office. Billions in U.S. aid has been stolen by corrupt local officials. American blood and treasure are being squandered in a futile - and reckless - effort at nation-building.
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. establishment has embraced a globalist ideology: democratic universalism. Both neoconservatives and liberal interventionists believe America must spread democratic values, even through the barrel of a gun. Democracy means rule by the people. Yet free elections across the Muslim world often do not lead to secular, pro-American governments; rather, they tend to empower brutal Islamic theocrats. Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Muqtada al-Sadr and his fire-eating Shiites in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Mr. Karzai’s venal regime in Afghanistan (which sanctions the stoning of female adulterers and Muslims who convert to Christianity). In Libya, the U.S. is backing anti-Gadhafi rebels - the so-called “democratic opposition” - whose ranks are full of jihadists. Instead of realizing the dark forces they have unleashed, our foreign-policy elect - blinded by their ideology, corrupted by their hubris and influenced by vested interests - madly march on, oblivious to the destruction in their wake.
America has become the new Roman Empire. And like all multinational empires, we are overextended, our military is stretched too thin, and our treasury is depleted. For nearly 10 years, U.S. troops have been fighting on foreign ground - the terrain chosen by bin Laden and his fellow holy warriors.
Bin Laden is dead, and there is indeed justice in his demise. Yet this is a small victory compared to all we have lost.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.