Afghan, Money exchange market, Peshawar Bazaar, 1995

The last days of Osama bin Laden 2: 9/11

In Books, The rest, USA by tonyLeave a Comment

Featured photo: Tony 1995, Afghan, money exchange market, Peshawar Bazaar

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  9 August 2015

   I want to begin by stating I have no expertise on these matters and am relying on the accounts and expertise of others. However, I do have an interest in the events and hopefully many others in the world do too. One of my main skills is analysis. I worked as an R&D analyst and also ran a strategic marketing research firm. I believe I am good at pulling together diverse facts, judging the value of evidence and making sound conclusions from limited material. I like doing this. Below is my attempt at making sense of these complex events.

The other two posts are The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 1: Abbotabad and The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 3: The Killing. The first sets the stage and tries to answer the question posed by newspapers at the time and recently: Whether Osama bin Laden was ‘hidden in plain sight’ or whether elements of the Pakistan military knew he was there? The last examines the killing itself, inconsistencies in the official US version and alternative versions of what might have taken place.

In 2021, I did an Update on the Killing of Osama bin Laden, which explored the political events in the world in the five years since 2015 when I wrote the articles. Five years is a long time in current world history!

Following this I wrote a companion article on the non-political events in the world over the same period called The Last Five Years Global Threats 2021.

The Looming Tower

Denise and I read The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, 2006, a year or so after it came out. We found it engrossing and an easy read. It answered all the questions about where Al Qaeda had come from, who the players were, what they had done, why 11 September 2001 had come about and why it hadn’t been stopped. Things we didn’t know before. But, The Looming Tower did so in such an entertaining way that we were enthralled.

The book begins with Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian religious scholar who visited the United States in the late 1940s and returned home disgusted to become an anti-West Islamist. The Egyptian story is a long one of developing dissidence interspersed with periods of jail and repression.

There is a portrait of Ayman al-Zawahiri, from his childhood in Egypt to his participation in and later leadership of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and his merging of his organisation with Al Qaeda. He became second in command to Osama bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden is the person described the most, from his childhood in Saudi Arabia in a rich family, his participation against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, his role as a financier of terrorist groups, his stay in Sudan, his return to Afghanistan and his interactions with the Taliban. The 1998 United States embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya are described, as is the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 (Wikipedia). All references and additional material are contained in Further information at the bottom.

Michiko Kakutanin The New York Times August, 2006 says: ‘Yet as Mr Wright tells it, the continuing presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia (after the first gulf war) continued to gnaw at Mr bin Laden, and the movement of American troops into Somalia in 1992 (on a humanitarian relief mission) made Al Qaeda feel increasingly encircled. In meetings held at the end of 1992, the group “turned from being the anti-communist Islamic army that bin Laden originally envisioned into a terrorist organization bent on attacking the United States.”’

Furthermore bin Laden was never a heroic figure, Dexter Filkins in The New York Times August, 2006 says ironically: ‘Who knew, for instance, that bin Laden, far from being a warrior-stoic fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, was actually a pathetic stick-in-the-mud who would fall ill before battle? That the combat-hardened Afghans, so tired of bin Laden’s behavior, declared him and his Arab associates “useless”? Or that he was a permissive father and indulgent husband? Or that he is only six feet tall?’

The description by Wright of Bin Laden’s sole gun battle with Russian troops in Afghanistan is one of disorganisation and chaos, which would have ended in tragedy had the Russians pursued the attack.

Far from being a terrorist demigod bin Laden at a number of times in his career is somewhat pathetic, as revealed by Lawrence Wright.

There are many good reviews and articles about the book. Links to some are given at the end.

Dexter Filkins captures the mood of The Looming Tower best: ‘What a story it is… [that] Lawrence Wright fashions in this marvelous book. [It] is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve, and carried along by villains and heroes that only a crime novelist could dream up. It’s an education, too … a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today.’   …

‘The portrait of John O’Neill, the driven, demon-ridden FBI agent who worked so frantically to stop Osama bin Laden, only to perish in the attack on the World Trade Center, is worth the price of the book alone. The Looming Tower is a thriller. And it’s a tragedy, too.’

From my point of view the last portrait is a weakness in the book. Although John O’Neill’s story is a riveting one, it perhaps focuses too much on the individual and not the complexity involved, nevertheless Wright compensates for this elsewhere.

Tariq Ali in The Guardian, September 2006 says that Wright has employed a ‘vacuum-cleaner approach, collecting all the published material, sifting through it and conducting dozens of interviews and doing a great deal of cross-checking.’

He continues that Wright is not unaware that in adopting the interview approach with jihadis and intelligence operatives, crooks and known liars, he has to be extremely careful and treat almost everything he is told as suspect.

Michiko Kakutanin says: ‘The failures of the CIA, FBI and NSA to share information — and their failure to stop the 9/11 hijackers — have been voluminously documented before, but Mr Wright’s narrative is so lucid and unnerving that it drives home the stupidity, hubris and dereliction of duty that occurred within the United States government with unusual power and resonance,’

There is no evidence in the intervening years that this has changed. However, one gets the impression from the book that the series of circumstances that concluded with the horrible denouement of 9/11 could never be repeated, that is, that the terrorists actually achieved their goals was such a precarious chain of circumstance that it is unlikely ever to be repeated anywhere.

A final comment from Dexter Filkins, shows the saddest aspect of the sorry tale: ‘In one of the most remarkable scenes in the book, Ali Soufan, an FBI agent assigned to Al Qaeda [as liaison to the CIA], was taken aside on [12 September] and finally shown the names and photos of the men the CIA had known for more than a year and a half were in America. The planes had already struck. Soufan ran to the bathroom and retched.’

The Looming Tower ends with 9/11 and is an education on what happened. The aim here is to encourage you to read what is an excellent book and also to give a coherent summary of some of its contents.

Jessica who wrote a long-winded review on The Looming Tower in Goodreads (which should have ended with this quote), says she only read the book because it had been assigned for school and: ‘I guess the main reason I avoid reading about the 9/11 attacks is that I feel profoundly embarrassed by my nation’s reaction to them.’

To me an Australian, I am quite encouraged by this. As an outsider I could never really comprehend what a blow to the psyche 9/11 was to the average American. Osama bin Laden’s aim to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ was not achieved by 9/11, but the US government’s reaction to 9/11 was beyond his wildest dreams and went a long way, in his mind at least, to achieving his aims. And, he moved from being a rather pathetic creature with limited achievements to a demonic monster in the West.

As Tariq Ali says in his book review: ‘On March 19, 2003, President George W Bush ordered the start of the war against Iraq; more than three years and more than 2,500 American deaths later, the United States is still there, fighting just the sort of asymmetrical war Mr bin Laden so fervently desired.’

I am also encouraged by David Kilcullen below that the views I have developed on the US reaction to 9/11 and its consequences are not those of a flaky outsider, but are now shared by many within the US Administration; unfortunately, without any improvement in US foreign policy.

One thing has always concerned me about 9/11. No-one claimed responsibility. Yet, the haste which with the Bush Administration settled on Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden did not seem right. Sure, I had no idea at the time that the CIA knew all about the hijackers of the planes. Nevertheless, I have always wondered at the strength of the links. How much contact and money exchange was there between Mahomed Atta and the ‘Hamburg contingent’, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden?

The US Government’s 9/11 Commission Report of 2004 gives the official version in Chapter 5. I think the official version is probably accurate, but questions still remain. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s testimony was obtained under torture and with dire threats to his family and his confessions must remain questionable. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda claimed responsibility much later. I don’t think we’ll ever know the detail and I don’t believe in conspiracy theories without basis. Therefore the official version stands.


I grew up thinking that Pakistan was a civilised country the equivalent of India, except with regular military dictatorships.

I also believed the media, influenced by America, that said that Mrs Bhutto was a good and strong leader. The USA had never trusted India. When Mrs Gandhi tended to lean towards Moscow as a balance to the US, the USA trusted her even less and supported Pakistan more strongly.

It was only when I first went to Pakistan in 1995 that these beliefs were swept away almost at once. I found out that the Bhuttos were Sindi landlords, which were worse if anything than Punjabi landlords. I found that the elite in Pakistan were a rapacious lot who squabbled amongst themselves for the spoils. In simple terms, the elites were the Sindi and Punjabi landlords, the bureaucracy in the Punjab, the military and the politicians.

Basically, Pakistan has been virtually a failed-State since independence. Mohamed Ali Jinnah the ‘so called’ Quaid-i-Azam or ‘great leader’ did not prepare for partition nor for running a new country. Things never got better.

Tariq Ali in The Duel: Pakistan on the flight path of American Power 2008, written for Pakistan’s 60th birthday, sums this up in a few paragraphs:

‘The most important aspect of the duel is … the divide between the majority of the people and their corrupt uncaring rulers. …

‘The deep hostility to the United States has little to do with religion, but is based on the knowledge that Washington has backed every military dictator who has squatted on top of the country. …

‘None of this, of course, explains the urge to keep writing about a country. The reason is simple. However much I despise the callousness, corruption, and narcissism of a degenerate ruling elite, I have never allowed that to define my attitude toward the country. I have always harboured a deep respect and affection for the common people, whose instincts and intelligence, despite high levels of illiteracy, consistently display a much sounder appreciation of what the country requires than those who have lorded it over them since 1947. Any independent Pakistani journalist or writer will confirm this view. …

‘Corruption envelops Pakistan like a sheet of water. The late Benazir Bhutto and her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, had, after two terms in office, accumulated assets of $1.5 billion. The twice prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother with their intimate knowledge of the business cycle, probably netted double that amount. Given the inspiration from above, lesser politicians, bureaucrats on every level, and their counterparts in the armed services have little trouble in building their own piles. The poor bear the burden, but the middle classes are also affected.’

These few paragraphs cannot encompass the richness or complexity of Pakistan and its peoples. For the sake of this analysis you only require a limited understanding of these basics to understand that relations between the Pakistan elite and the USA are long-standing, self-serving, incestuous and deeply unhealthy. Introduce Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 into the mix, together with the USA’s preparedness to inject almost unlimited money and up-to-date military technology as part of a ‘cold war’ strategy, and the situation became even more unstable and intricate.

Movie poster, Peshawar, 1995

Movie poster, Peshawar, 1995

David Kilcullen, Blood year: Terror and the Islamic State


Tariq Ali in The Guardian book review of The Looming Tower cited above says: ‘The story, with its roots in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is well established. During the cold war, the United States welcomed Islamists of every hue as allies against secular nationalism and [Russia].’

He talks about the high regard the State Department had for the Jamaat-i-Islami and similar organisations in the Muslim world from the 1950s. ‘The 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan accelerated the process. The Saudi and Egyptian regimes encouraged local jihadis to go and fight in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan welcomed an assortment of bearded leaders in the White House…’

This is important because it was Saudi Arabia and the Americans in particular who encouraged dissidents to flock to Afghanistan and to meet one another. Let’s call this process aggregation, the reason will become apparent shortly.

There is a monograph series in Australia called the Quarterly Essay, which is usually of high standard. The remainder of this section deals with the most recent Quarterly Essay: Blood Year — Terror and the Islamic State by David Kilcullen, 2015.

In 2004 David Kilcullen was an Australian soldier with a professional background in guerilla warfare and a PhD that included fieldwork with insurgents. He was seconded to a strategic review in Australia after the Bali bombings, which brought him to the attention of Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence in the US. Wolfowitz then asked for him to join a team writing the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review for the USA, from late 2004. This made him an insider and took him to the State Department, the CIA, Department of Homeland Security, Special Operations Command, the RAND Corporation and the new National Counterterrorism Center.

Kilcullen was one of the authors of the disaggregation strategy that was designed to unpick the threads by which Al Qaeda kept in touch and coordinated efforts at international revolution. Following that the jargon broke Al Qaeda into regions, such as AQI (Iraq), AQ (bin Laden’s group), AQY (Yemen). Part of the drive to this strategy was rejection of the alternative: ‘It’s hard to remember now, more than a decade later, how intense was the official discouragement of counterinsurgency,’ says Kilcullen. (He uses one example of Donald Rumsfeld sidelining the Chief of Staff of the Army for the temerity of bringing up criticisms of the party line.)

Kilcullen visited Baghdad in 2005 and regularly thereafter, as he did Afghanistan. Throughout 2006 he worked with General David Petraeus and was seconded to his staff in Baghdad in 2007 as Senior Counterinsurgency advisor. Hence he was intimately involved in the surge strategy in Iraq.

Neither disaggregation nor the surge worked, though the latter did to some extent initially but was not sustained, and was overwhelmed by outside events as Kilcullen explains.

David Kilcullen’s Quarterly Essay was called a brilliant, sober essay by Peter Craven The Sydney Morning Herald 27 June 2015. Kilcullen is also the author of three books The Accidental GuerrillaCounterinsurgency, and Out of the Mountains, which were all well received in the US.

I have gone out of my way here to show that Kilcullen is a Washington, Baghdad and Afghanistan insider, because his views are credible and serious.

Iraq — Bush 1, 2 and Obama

I remember reading elsewhere quite some time ago that the neocons had been planning their policies for twenty years, when 9/11 suddenly gave them the opportunity to implement them. The Taliban folded before the attacks in Afghanistan, and then they attacked Iraq and were supremely successful, but had no strategy to deal with success, and no exit strategy. It seemed that they achieved all that they had wanted that George HW Bush had pulled back from previously, but that they had not thought through what success would mean.

David Kilcullen divides the period after 9/11 into three periods. George W Bush 1 and 2, and Barack Obama.

Bush 1

He is hypercritical of George W Bush 1, especially the invasion of Iraq. He likens the abandonment of Afghanistan before the job was done as dreadful, but then goes on to say that the invasion of Iraq was as strategically disastrous as Hitler’s invasion of Russia and emphasises this several times.

Kilcullen criticises Cheney, but holds his venom for Rumsfeld whose arrogance, obstinacy and refusal to acknowledge that things were going badly, made things much worse. He says after the fall of Saddam, Rumsfeld insisted on leaving the absolute minimum force in Iraq. Then, Rumsfeld oversaw the disastrous de-Baathification policy implemented by Ambassador L Paul Bremer involving ‘the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, which put 400,000 fighting men … on the street with no future, homicidally intense grievances and all their weapons.’

Kilcullen goes on to say that periodically their leaders in the early days would approach coalition commanders to offer their services. Some were lucky and were rebuffed, others were arrested and even killed.

He says: ‘When these men joined the armed resistance and the war went critical, Rumsfeld denied reality…’

Bush 2

Kilcullen moves on to George W Bush 2, but wryly observes that it took him three years to sack Rumsfeld, Cheney and the others and to move on. The next part surprised me both because of my low opinion of George W Bush (not unusual outside of the USA) and I had no knowledge that Bush had tried very hard to remedy the mistakes of the first period.

Kilcullen says that he was no fan of President Bush because of the incredible mis-handling of post 9/11, including the invasion of Iraq. However, at the beginning of the second period, he observed that Bush behind closed doors (he changed out of the public-eye) showed a comprehensive grasp of both tactical-level detail and the big picture regarding Iraq. He was focused in his engagement, shown by constant phone calls and video conferences with General Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Croker and Iraqi leaders. He particularly made it clear to Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite Iraqi prime minister, that he was paying close attention and that while Maliki had his support, he insisted on fair distribution of power among Sunnis.

Despite all the negatives, Kilcullen says the surge, the major policy of the Bush 2 period, worked (and this was evident by September 2007) because of the partnership finally achieved with the Iraqis and the measures taken to make ordinary civilian lives safe.

Things were not worked out, but by 2009 Iraq was relatively stable.


Then, Obama campaigned against staying in Iraq and said that the focus should be on Afghanistan. Kilcullen didn’t disagree with this in general terms. When the Obama administration came in, Kilcullen felt that the new regime confused talk with action and didn’t pay enough attention to Iraq. President Obama was far less engaged with Iraq — the phone calls to Maliki and video conferences with the force commander and ambassador ceased. The lack of engagement cut prime minister Maliki adrift, freeing him to pursue his personal and his party’s political sectarian agenda against the Sunnis. Things began to fall apart once more.

The rise of Zarqawi and the decline of Osama bin Laden

Kilcullen says: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi came out of the woodwork in the chaos following the fall of Saddam Hussein. He was a Jordanian street criminal and drug dealer. He was at various times allied with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda but operated independently. In the post-invasion security vacuum, Zarqawi and his cells set out to foster conflict. Zarqawi’s group AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) specialised in exploiting sectarian violence through kidnap, torture and murder. They targeted Sunnis and Shiites alike. Their goal was to provoke a sectarian conflict that would force Sunnis to close ranks. By October 2006, they were calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). They were like gangsters running a protection racket. They themselves created the violence that they offered to protect people against. (They tortured children and dumped the bodies and mutilated parts back on the streets in the communities they came from — the details are even more shocking and stomach-churning.)

While this was going on the AQ leaders around bin Laden and Zawahiri (the Egyptian) looking on from the safety of Pakistan were appalled. This was not cutting off the head of the snake. ‘Unlike Zawahiri and bin Laden, Zarqawi’s group saw (and ISIS still sees) the Shi’a as the main enemy… This disagreement may have proved fatal for Zarqawi. … He was killed on 7 June 2006 in a US airstrike on a safe house…after an intelligence tip off and amid persistent rumours that AQ [bin Laden’s group] had sold him out.’ (Kilcullen)

Nevertheless, ISI continued without him, says Kilcullen, and they were more interested in creating a State, a Sunni Caliphate, than in perpetrating terrorism on the West, whereas AQ (bin Laden’s group) with no influence on Iraq was also becoming marginalised by other events.

The ‘so called’ Arab Spring beginning in Tunisia in late October 2010, with the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and destabilisation elsewhere, including Syria, continued in its first phase for about three years. The Arab Spring was an anathema to AQ under Osama bin Laden, according to Kilcullen. For twenty years they had been telling people they could never change regimes through peaceful action, the only solution was global terrorism against the superpower. ‘In all that time, AQ had only managed to kill a few thousand Americans (and vastly more Muslims) and bring about even stronger US engagements in the region.’ (Kilcullen)

The final straw for AQ’s relevance was the ‘hit on bin Laden’, as Kilcullen terms it, in May 2011, which catapulted AQ into a succession crisis. Choosing a new leader, Zawahiri, took six weeks; but as an Egyptian and as someone who comes across as pedantic and uninspiring, with none of bin Laden’s charisma, it took most of a year for his authority to be accepted. By which time AQ was out of the game, Kilcullen says.

‘When it began the Syrian crisis looked like the uprisings in Egypt: a broad-based secular, largely non-violent reform movement against a repressive regime. … Like [AQ], ISI was hugely affected by bin Laden’s death and the failure of the Arab Spring — but for ISI the effect was positive.’ (Kilcullen)

Initially, this was in Iraq and then in Syria. The ISI attacks drew little attention from US forces who were in the final stages of pulling out of Iraq. The US and its allies were slow to wake up to the threat of ISI.

We come now to some confusing jargon ISI (Islamic State Iraq) moved into Syria and became the current ISIS (Islamic State Iraq & Syria). We’ll use ISIS from now on. [Just for clarity, you may remember ISI in article 1 stood for the notorious Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence Service. Go figure.]

ISIS and the present

Killcullen says, President Obama weakened the US’s position in 2013 by initially going hard-line on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, saying it was a ‘game changer’, and then retracting within weeks. This sent a mixed message. Initially, it was a change from ‘Assad must go’ to ‘Assad may stay if he doesn’t use chemical weapons’. When Assad ignored this message and continued with chemical weapons, prompting calls for action, the President demurred. The Whitehouse was caught. The humiliation would have been complete but for a mistake by the Russians who jumped on a gaffe by Kerry who said facetiously that Assad could avoid military action from the US by handing over his entire arsenal of chemical weapons this week, but it would never happen. The Russians, for reasons only known to themselves, intervened and brokered a deal. Suddenly everyone was happy, face was saved. The Assad regime kept on quietly using nerve gas, but no-one would follow it up.

Assad’s main supporter is Iran, another Shiite State, whilst the rebels and ISIS are Sunni. How the 14 July 2015 nuclear deal between the P5 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) plus Germany and Iran will play out in these circumstances is unknown. Assad’s regime in July 2015 is still killing civilians in large numbers in opposition held cities with both barrel bombs and chemical weapons, with complete impunity.

ISIS is building its Islamic State across Iraq and Syria. It has been fighting against other rebel factions in Syria, as much as it has against Assad. Western countries are calling ISIS a terrorist organisation and making strong anti-terrorism laws to prevent incidents in their own backyards; whereas ISIS’s promotion of terrorism by others is not its main game. Its main game is state-building.

David Kilcullen covers this in much detail. There are many issues and contradictions involved, much of which may make it difficult for ISIS to achieve stability. One major contradiction is that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the spiritual leader of the Islamic State, owes his ascendency to his Baathist prison mates in camp Bucca. (Camp Bucca was a prison camp run by the US. It was closed in March 2009 with the release of hundreds of inmates.) The ISIS military owes its success to the prowess of former Baathist regime officers dotted throughout its ranks. The Baathist generals and the jihadists have different agendas and, as Kilcullen says, there are persistent rumours of a split; which may be the undoing of ISIS in the long-run.

How these events will play out no-one knows. Kilcullen attempts to develop a strategy for the future for the West, but I think this is the weakest part of his essay, perhaps not surprisingly. A mess is still a mess! And, one suspects that the US and its allies have lost the political will and the interest to continue.

Photo: Tony 1995, Butcher, Peshawar Bazaar

Photo: Tony 1995, Butcher, Peshawar Bazaar

What all this means

The Middle East was in part variously redefined by the British (and the French) from the late nineteenth to almost the mid-twentieth century. Israel was formed in 1948. Most Arab states only gained independence during or after World War II. Saudi Arabia was unified by the House of Saud between 1902 and 1932. From the mid-twentieth century to the present, the USA has attempted to define Middle East politics partly in response to its strategic need for oil.

This in part explains long-standing tensions, conflict and complex relations between the West and the Middle East. But, more recent events have created an instability that appears insoluble and maybe has precipitated an all out war between Shia and Sunni Islam.

From the late 1990s, according to Kilcullen, ‘the US and British practice of “extraordinary rendition” [torture to the literal minded] … undermined US and British credibility. [The practice] involved seizing suspects in neutral or friendly territory, then covertly deporting them to face interrogation by regimes with sketchy human rights records, including Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt.’

The loss of credibility should have climaxed with the publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA Torture Report in December 2014, some of which has been made public. But, it probably didn’t, sensory overload perhaps.

Even the spying by the CIA on the Senate Intelligence Committee was extraordinary. Perhaps historical outrage will eventually catch-up.

Time Magazine summarised the lengthy unclassified part of the report pithily as illegal and ineffective practices.

The post-9/11 response and the invasion of Afghanistan did not in itself help US credibility elsewhere. The invasion of Iraq by the ‘coalition of the willing’, which included Australia and the UK, was much worse. Saddam Hussein was deposed but they did not find the WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), which were supposedly the purpose of the invasion. The USA having achieved most of its goals in two nations had no plan for what to do next. Many nations now believe rightly or wrongly that the invasion of Iraq was merely settling old scores.

Abu Ghraib, Guantamano Bay, drone attacks, further incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq and many other post 9/11 issues have emerged seemingly endlessly and have seriously weakened US credibility in the rest of the world. Probably the GFC hasn’t helped. This is very serious for global democracy.

In my lifetime the USA has been guilty of many awful things in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and elsewhere. Even with the tragic loss-of-face in Vietnam, the USA somehow still retained its credibility to some extent. It portrayed itself as the policeman of the world and as the bastion of democracy against communism. Despite the warts and the criticism, the role was grudgingly accepted, and the USA viewed as a relatively benign superpower. The last few years of the twentieth century and the aftermath of 9/11 washed that all away.

China will replace the USA as the major superpower in the next twenty to thirty years or maybe sooner. Certainly, China’s economy will exceed that of the US even more quickly.

Because of its massive loss of credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world since the millenium, the USA is no longer able to attain the moral high ground over China or really influence China much at all morally in coming years. Ethically the USA has brought democracy into disrepute (the UK and Australia have shared in this by the way).

As a superpower and in the current world order, the USA will find itself in an increasingly difficult situation as the power of China both politically and economically overtakes it. Another Quarterly Essay by Hugh White Power shift: Australia’s future between Washington and Beijing 2010 examines this.

Hugh White is a professor of strategic studies at The Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute. His conclusion was that the USA will not handle the transition of power to number two status well and is more likely to be a generator of conflict than China in these circumstances.

This loss of credibility by the US is exacerbated in another area, which I have also been following closely. This is the Internet, the cyber world, or ‘cyberspace’.

If anything, the US has less credibility here than in geopolitics. China meanwhile is systematically plundering the US and the rest of the world of its intellectual property, industrial and state secrets, and everything else it can get its hands on, in the developing era of electronic, state-based espionage and cyber warfare.

 This is a topic for a later date, which I hope to return to.

Part 3 the last article in this series will deal with the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad and the reactions of the Obama Administration in the immediate aftermath.

 Key Words: Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Al Qaeda, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright, Zawahiri, Quarterly Essay, David Kilcullen, Blood Year, Tariq AliThe Duel, Iraq, Afghanistan, George W Bush, Barack Obama, Zarqawi, Maliki, al-Baghdadi, ISIS, Camp Bucca, USA, China.


Further information

The Looming Tower

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright Allen Lane, 2006

The information in the first few paragraphs paraphrases Wikipedia’s account of The Looming Tower.

Wikipedia also provides a biography of Lawrence Wright.

By the way, Filkins again: ‘Wright takes the title of his book from the fourth sura of the Koran, which bin Laden repeated three times in a speech videotaped just as the hijackers were preparing to fly. The video was found later, on a computer in Hamburg.’ 

Michiko Kakutani Book Review, The New York Times 1 August 2006, The Evolution of Al Qaeda and the Intertwining Paths Leading to 9/11

Dexter Filkins Book Review, The New York Times 6 August 2006, The plot against America

Tariq Ali Book Review, The Guardian 9 September 2006, The spectacle

Jessica’s Book Review from Goodreads

The 9/11 Commission Report

The 9/11 Commission Report of 2004 is the US Government’s official report on the 9/11 Terrorist attack on the twin towers in 2001. The commission was set-up by the government under pressure from survivors and victims’ families. The Commission was independent of Government but its findings have been heavily criticised by many as a ‘whitewash’. Almost inevitable in the circumstances.

Chapter 5 of The 9/11 Commission Report: Al Qaeda aims at the American Homeland. This details the cast involved in the 9/11 attack and their linkages.

Download The 9/11 Commission Report of 2004

Web references are given including a brief biography of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but further analysis is beyond the scope of the present article. Wikipedia has published several relevant and controversial articles on the topic:

1 Overview

2 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

3 Outline and responsibility for the 9/11 attacks

4 A portal for information

5 The Jersey Girls

The Jersey Girls were four women who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks. They and other survivors and family members of the victims helped to lobby the US Government for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks. Henry Kissinger was the initial chair of the commission but hastily resigned for which the Jersey Girls could take some credit for lobbying against his huge conflicts of interest. He was replaced by Thomas Keen.

6 The planning of the 9/11 attacks

7 The patriot Act

Many countries around the world, including the ‘coalition of the willing’: the USA, the UK and Australia have instituted more or less draconian laws to attempt to prevent terrorism following 9/11 and other Islamist terrorist attacks around the world. The efficacy of such laws is questionable and the consensus outside of government is that they don’t work and merely erode civil liberties. However, debate continues.


We read a popular paperback recent history of Pakistan during our visit. There are a whole series of more recent paperback alternatives, which are readily available.

Tariq Ali The Duel: Pakistan on the flight path of American Power Simon & Schuster, 2008. The Quotations are from The Preface pp. X, XI and p 5.

Wikipedia offers a brief biography of Tariq Ali. Tariq Ali, born in Lahore and forced into exile in London when he was a young man, is well-known as a leftist and an activist, but his criticisms of Pakistan come from the heart and are not easy to dismiss.

David Kilcullen Blood Year

Quarterly Essay # 58: Blood Year — Terror and the Islamic State by David Kilcullen, Black Inc. 2015.

A list of the Quarterly Essays

Wikipedia biography of David Kilcullen

Peter Craven Book Review, The Sydney Morning Herald 27 June 2015, ISIS: the Stalinism of Islamic extremism

Wikipedia on the Arab Spring

Wikipedia on the death of Osama bin Laden

This is offered as a view of the death of bin Laden offered by Wikipedia relevant to Kilcullen’s account. However, I will be looking at this is a detailed way in the final article of this series, Part 3.

Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA torture


Time Magazine

The report online and download

Attempted analyses of torture report

Human Rights Watch

The Conversation

World Socialist Website

Coincidentally, Ali Soufan the FBI agent who was liaison to the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attack was also involved in an interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. This interrogation resulted in actionable intelligence which was then followed by CIA waterboarding torture and the flow of intelligence ceased. Ali Soufan testified about this to the Senate Intelligence Committee and in a small way contributed to the report in the ineffectiveness of torture (see Wikipedia).

Various newspaper accounts criticising Obama’s response

Huffington Post 12 December 2014

The Guardian 10 December 2014


Huffington Post 9 December 2014

 the FBICamp Bucca

The US prison camp that closed in March 2009 with the release of hundreds of prisoners.

Terrence McCoy The Washington Post 4 November 2014 How the Islamic State evolved in an American prison camp

Abu Ghraib

Wikipedia Abu Ghraib

Guantamano Bay

Wikipedia Guantanamo Bay detention camp

Drone Attacks

Drone Strikes Pakistan

Washington Post 24 April 2015 US silence on drone strikes comes under pressure after hostage deaths

The Guardian 24 November 2014 US drone strikes kill 1147

The Atlantic Magazine September 2013

The bureau of investigative journalism

Democracy Now

Interactive on drone casualties in Pakistan

China and the USA

Quarterly Essay #39 Power shift: Australia’s future between Washington and Beijing by Hugh White, Black Inc. August 2010.


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