Cover Story

May Day Mayday

"May Day Mayday" Continued...

Issue: "After Osama," May 21, 2011

In Dallas well-wishers decorated the gate to Bush's neighborhood with flags, bunting and balloons. One sign read, "President Obama forgot to say . . . THANK YOU PRESIDENT BUSH!"

Successfully removing Osama bin Laden, though, does not remove past losses. The 3,000 families of 9/11 victims like the Mladeniks have been joined in mourning by more than 7,000 families of U.S. and coalition forces killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Add to their number thousands of victims of al-Qaeda terror before and after 9/11 in Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Nor does bin Laden's death remove worries of future attacks-but it does create a pivotal moment to reflect on U.S. counterterrorism strategy.

Sebastian Gorka likes to cite the number of CIA intelligence officers on Sept. 11, 2001, who spoke Pashto, one of two dominant languages of Afghanistan: "Two, and one of them was on contract."

Gorka was born in Great Britain to parents who escaped the Hungarian Revolution of 1956-a street uprising leading to a Soviet invasion that killed more than 3,000. A fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, Gorka has lectured at West Point, the National Counter­terrorism Center, and the School of Advanced Military Studies. Currently his expertise on al-Qaeda has meant no let-up in conducting seminars for Pentagon, CIA, and other officials (now with dozens fluent in Pashto).

Recently he took five intelligence analysts through a course on al-Qaeda in Yemen and told me, "It was unbelievable. The idea that 10 years into this war we are starting from zero, and an eight-hour seminar will make you understand an enemy." The scholar, an imposing presenter, believes that for too long U.S. national security operatives have focused on the "kinetic" or violent aspects of jihad-ignoring its theological and sociological roots: "We still refuse to understand the fact that this is a religiously motivated enemy."

In large part, Gorka blames that on Americans' revision of history and what's meant by separation of church and state. "The Founding Fathers intended it to mean that no one religion could enjoy preference from the state, and no one religion could be disadvantaged by the state. No preference and no persecution. But it has been willfully distorted into meaning that religion can have nothing to do with government or national security." That feeds mistakes about the Muslim world and its threats ("and leads to ridiculous things like officers having to switch off surveillance when a suspect goes into a mosque").

So U.S. officials too often sanitize what Gorka calls the "martial" nature of the Quran and Muhammad's life. The Muslim prophet was both a religious leader and a successful warrior who conquered and converted the entire Arabian Peninsula in 22 years. Without grasping both those aspects, Washington misses the seriousness with which bin Laden and his followers have declared war on the "Jews and Crusaders" of America.

Gorka points out that al-Qaeda "has trained and written seriously about how to make fighters deadly. They take seriously building the capacity to do large amounts of damage to Americans."

Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1957. His father Muhammad had more than 50 children, but Osama was the only son of Muhammad's 10th wife. The 1970s oil boom lifted the bin Laden family fortune, made Muhammad the building contractor to the king, and allowed him to erect one of the largest companies in the Middle East. He sent his children to the best schools in Saudi Arabia, where Osama earned an advanced degree in engineering, traveled frequently to Beirut for the nightlife, and became a drinker and womanizer often caught in bar fights.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was his turning point. Bin Laden said the plight of Muslims "in a medieval society besieged by a 20th-century superpower" inspired him that there is "a special place in the hereafter" for Muslims who participate in violent jihad. He organized and fought alongside the Afghan mujahideen and throughout his life carried a Kalashnikov he claimed to have snared from a dead Russian general.

Gorka says bin Laden "was immensely charismatic, and earned sympathy because of his life story. Despite being born into a family of great wealth, he takes up the simple life of a holy warrior, and fights the Soviet Union. He led by example."

Bin Laden set up camps to train fighters from all over the Arab world where tens of thousands of foreign volunteers eventually arrived to receive military training but also indoctrination forbidden as subversive elsewhere in the Arab world. According to Yossef Bodansky, former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and bin Laden's first biographer, bin Laden developed "branches and recruitment centers in 50 countries," including the United States and Europe by the end of the 1980s-a network that by 2001 allowed him to execute massive jihad against the United States.

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