As Americans try to understand how twenty years of blood and treasure went wrong in Afghanistan, it is worth remembering how we got there. There is talk now of bad strategy and bad tactics, but at the bottom of the U.S. move into Afghanistan was strong emotion.
There was fear in the U.S. after 9/11. More attacks were anticipated. Americans didn’t want to fly. But fear was not what sent the U.S. to Afghanistan. Greater than fear was anger.
A study by Back, Kufner and Egloff examined millions of words of pager texts sent by Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Anger-related words increased throughout the day, their incidence ending six times higher than fear-related words.
But what to do? Bin Laden was in hiding, and the Taliban would not hand him over. If we couldn’t reach him, we would attack the Taliban.
This was the result al Qaeda was hoping for.
Ayman al-Zawahiri frankly explained the strategy of the 9/11 attacks in Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, published in December, 2001. Attack the U.S. at home, he predicted, and the U.S. response will be to send troops into Muslim countries, mobilizing Muslims around the world for jihad against the U.S.
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The jihad al-Zawahiri predicted continues today.
Anger is thus the foundation of jujitsu politics — using the enemy’s strength against him. An outrageous attack provokes an over-reaction that forwards the terrorist cause.
Bruce Riedel, Special Assistant to President George W. Bush when the 9/11 attack occurred, recently revealed that on Sept. 14, just three days after the 9/11 attack, President Bush told a stunned British PM Tony Blair: "We are also going to attack Iraq" The speed of this decision indicates, not strategic thinking, but the impulsive power of emotion.
The lesson of Afghanistan is the lesson of jujitsu politics. When next Americans are victims of outrageous attack, we need to recognize our anger but not let it dictate policy. Political leadership and public opinion must agree that doing something smart is more important than doing something fast. Or we can move on to the next Afghanistan, the next Iraq.
CLARK McCAULEY, Lander