Noted author, journalist Bergen addresses 'longest war'
August 5, 2011
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 4, 2011) -- Award-winning print and television journalist Peter L. Bergen shared his thoughts on his latest book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda," during a Pentagon leader forum, Aug. 3.
Bergen said al-Qaeda's goals behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon amounted to strategic errors by the terrorist organization, and that they failed on two levels.
"Their goals were really pretty simple," he said. "By inflicting such damage, (they hoped) the U.S. would then pull out of the Middle East and the authoritarian regimes, like the Saudis and Egyptians would fall."
According to Bergen, that was the strategy as articulated by bin Laden in an interview with CNN in 1997. Bergen said bin Laden had essentially said he was declaring war on the U.S., because of its Middle Eastern policies, and that the U.S. was a "paper tiger" that would withdraw just as it did from Beirut in 1983 after the barracks attack, from Vietnam in 1973, and from Somalia in 1993.
"He viewed the intellectual construct of the U.S. (to be) as weak as the former Soviet Union, and said one or two blows and the whole thing would fall and we'd pull out of the Middle East," Bergen said. "Of course, none of that happened. We didn't pull out of the Middle East. Instead, we invaded and occupied Afghanistan, went through the Taliban in three weeks, then invaded and occupied Iraq, drew closer to the authoritarian regimes -- so the strategic goal was not achieved."
Not only were the strategic goals of bin Laden unachieved by the 9/11 attacks, Bergen said it decimated, almost obliterated, bin Laden's organization. There had been some very smart people within al-Qaeda who advised before 9/11 that attacking the U.S. was probably not going to be a very smart idea, but that idea was ignored, Bergen said.
Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed testified specifically that, "even if 98 percent of the al-Qaeda council, headed by Abu Musab al-Suri, differed in opinion from bin Laden, at the end of the day, it was bin Laden's way or the highway. He ran al-Qaeda like a dictatorship," Bergen said.
Bergen said while 9/11 changed U.S. national security policy and put the fight against terrorism at the forefront, he finds it "enormously skeptical" that al-Qaeda could pull off another such attack.
Bergen's two previous non-fiction books include "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the World of Osama bin Laden," which has been translated into 18 languages and "The Osama bin Laden I know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda's Leader."
Both books were named among the best non-fiction books of the year by the Washington Post and documentaries based on the books were nominated for Emmys in 2002 and 2007.