From the standpoint of other people across the world, the American Empire has three main arms. It has a military arm (symbolized by the Pentagon), a political arm (symbolized by the Capitol Mall), and an economic and cultural center (symbolized by the Manhattan).
The people that would fight the Empire are like fleas fighting an elephant. The United States cannot be militarily attacked or invaded. Any convoy of ships or aircraft will be annihilated long before it arrives on our shores. The only way America can be attacked is through a crippling strike...like a clandestine nuclear submarine attack...or some kind of guerilla attack which serves as a symbol or contains some kind of propagandistic value. Only the Soviet Union had the capability for a nuclear attack by submarine. Everyone else has to look to some other kind of battle tactic. That means guerilla warfare which when brought to an Empire's domestic shore will be labeled as terrorism.
The Al Qaeda hijackers unleashed a symbolic guerilla attack. It was like the 1968 Tet Offensive...it really didn't accomplish much but by stinging the elephant in the eye it got its attention, and more importantly the public's attention. As Communism was a vehicle for Vietnamese nationalism and anti-colonialism, an outlet for anger and frustration....Islamic Terrorism largely recruits from an angry disenfranchised underclass coming from societies which are dysfunctional, societies often crushed under the indirect weight of the American Empire. Are the Americans putting their boots in their faces? Often not directly, but through political and corporate proxies...yes. And the people in these places realize it.
Since then there have been many others who have joined the movement and don't fit the profile. But it must be remembered that the majority of people picked up in recent years by the FBI are not genuine homegrown terrorists but stupid people that have been entrapped. Most of them would have never actually done anything but when goaded on by undercover agents they press a button to a dummy bomb, are shackled and paraded on the evening news. The Law enforcement community gets a feather in its cap, the military-industrial complex justifies its existence and the political powers gain more capital because the public is once again scared. And our so-called 'liberal' media accepts and promotes this misleading Establishment narrative.
After 11 September, Americans were frustrated and angry with the lack of outrage in the Islamic world. Many who would not sympathize with the Salafism of Al Qaeda seemed unwilling to absolutely condemn Bin Laden. Why? Because it's not really about Salafism...it's anti-Western Imperialism. Though many Muslims wouldn't want to live next door to Bin Laden they couldn't help but admire the fact that he alone stood up to the giant, stung the elephant in the eye and humiliated it.
It's logical for these people to think...ah, maybe now the average American who is part of the system will question the whole model, the Empire? Maybe they'll realize that their Imperial Machine is killing people and destroying cultures all around the world? Maybe they'll stop and reassess what they've been doing and start to back off?
It would be logical but it shows that Bin Laden and his entire ilk grossly misunderstand the American psyche. Non-self examination and a robust self-righteousness are built into our social DNA. We're right and we're good, full stop. Even when our public schools are willing at times to paint the American past in a dubious light, they’re still promoting patriotism, the military, and the same Establishment narrative.
11 September 2001 provided a platform, a vehicle for the visionaries of the American Empire. They had their raison d'être. They had their Pearl Harbor for a new generation, the cataclysmic event they wrote about in the 1990's which would enable and empower them to initiate this agenda. The American Empire did not back off in response to the terrorist attacks. In fact it aggressively expanded and has used this paradigm-shift to expand into other realms. It's trying to ride this wave into the Asian and Africa spheres as well.
Don't be fooled by the recent calls for military cuts. They're only looking at cutting back to levels maintained before the Iraq War escalation. Even the 'trigger' cuts which would come about if the budget debacle isn't solved would only take levels back to pre-2001. What Obama is proposing are 'cuts' only in a technical sense. Cuts which only undo the massive increase under Bush. The military machine continues to grow, and not fast enough for American Conservatives. The American military establishment is far and away the largest employer in the entire world.
I'm not sure how brilliant Bin Laden was. If he hoped America would back down he was wrong. If he hoped America would escalate and the escalation would push the Middle East beyond the breaking point...he was right. However, he may have also inadvertently self-destructed.
The Arab Spring has been fueled by democratic grass roots people-power and at present many are lamenting the ascendancy of various Islamic parties across the Middle East. This is problematic. America can't preach the intrinsic value of democracy but then continue to tell other people they're voting wrong and are thus giving America a right to corrupt their democracy. This will only lead to more extremism and instability.
But secondly Americans really stumble over the word, "Islamic". Islamic doesn't mean Al Qaeda. These are people reacting against forced secularization and Westernism being both imposed and culturally overrunning their country. American Corporations and pop-culture are ubiquitous across the globe. We see the ‘values’ angle when it comes to movies and music but we don't tend to see it when it comes to McDonalds and Starbucks. It's there too. It's about a lifestyle, attitudes about money and possessions, and it's also about temptation...
To many America is an attractive whore that beckons to people. People all across the world wrestle with both desire and revulsion. It's like looking at Lady Gaga. She's repulsive as she writhes about on the floor, but there's a part of you in your flesh that wants to look and watch, even if it's just a sort of repugnant fascination. That's America. Oh, and when we tie America in with Christianity as our Presidents often do...to the rest of the world Lady Gaga becomes a symbol of Christian culture. Wonderful witness. The problem isn't to eliminate Lady Gaga. She'll go away soon enough on her own. The problem is that we shouldn't be identifying our Imperial culture with Christianity.
Many of the Islamic parties if morphed into American Christian terms would be akin to Focus on the Family. They're trying to emphasize things like family and societal values. They're Islamic but they're not Salafis. They are Sacralists but they're not like the Crusaders and the Inquisition.
The Christian Right is Sacralistic and Dominionist but there's a difference between James Dobson and Rousas Rushdoony. Dobson doesn't want to eliminate religious minorities, he just wants them to be second tier. He wants laws that favour Christianity. Theonomists would close down mosques, deport dissidents, execute heretics and outlaw dissent. That doesn't market well and they frequently lie to others and perhaps themselves when it comes to these issues. But if you read their writings and think about what they're saying, it's pretty clear. They laugh at the suggestion their view would necessitate a type of Inquisition to hunt down and expose heretics, but I take it as axiomatic... power will resort to extremism to maintain itself. When their pseudo-theocracy began to collapse, inquisitorial powers would become mandatory.
Both camps operate on the wrong side of the Sacralist line, and certainly Dobson's type can be hijacked by the other camp...that's a legitimate concern...but they're not the same.
The Islamic parties in Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey are more like Dobson. They are trying to steer their countries against Western cultural influences nor do they want rulers who act as Western proxies. This does not mean they want to crash jet airplanes into buildings in American cities.
This is the irony in all this. If Bin Laden hoped to galvanize the Islamic world, he did, but they're largely rejecting his vision. If Bush hoped to promote Wilsonian democracy at the point of a sword, he failed...but he so destabilized the region a grass roots impulse has indeed developed....largely built on rejecting the Pax Americana Bush hoped to expand. Rather than expand the American archipelago of allies and proxies, he empowered them and en masse they're rejecting the American Imperium.
Here's the danger. Will the American Empire leave these countries alone and let them find stability on their own terms? Will they allow the Islamic parties to fail and be voted out, or to reach social and political compromise and take a more moderate tact? Or, will the Americans intervene both overtly and clandestinely and further agitate the situation? Will they turn to brutal proxies and bombs to enforce American policy? If so, then a new generation of young angry men will find an outlet in the narrative and nihilism of Al Qaeda or whatever group is on the stage by then.
Bin Laden and Bush have both failed...and for the moment that's a cause for celebration.