Can Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida be surprised at the U.S. reaction to the terrorist attacks? That seems unlikely, even if the full scope of the response hasn’t been made public. The bombings themselves were so meticulously well-planned that they’re arguably the best clue as to the organization’s future intent, and it therefore seems misleading to portray Bin Laden as a traditional terrorist (in keeping with the infamous professor in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent) when he and his organization may be something entirely new.
Suppose that the bombing of the WTC and the Pentagon served three purposes for al-Qaida: 1) to provoke the United States; 2) to prove to militant anti-Americans in Pakistan and elsewhere that America is vulnerable and can be defeated; and 3) ( Murray Sayle’s genius observation) to essentially “hijack television” in order to assure No. 1 and to maximize No. 2. You can safely assume they knew the Americans and British would come looking for their leaders (in the Hindu Kush or in a corner of Afghanistan not occupied by the Northern Alliance) as soon as they conceived their plan to attack the United States. You don’t kill over 6,000 people in America and expect no hunt. Suppose now that the terrorists have other ambitious plans; that they’re ready to use the West’s best efforts to their own advantage and, who knows, lead the United States and its allies into a trap just as well-planned and meticulous as the Sept. 11 attacks. What do the terrorists care if the Taliban are overthrown, since the regime becomes a martyr to the cause whether it wins or loses the battle against U.S. and allied forces. The al-Qaida camps, where thousands of fighters have allegedly been trained, have surely already served their purpose, since everyone on the planet knows the U.S. military will make lunar surfaces out of them. We can therefore assume the terrorist fighters are, in the opinion of their commanders, combat ready. All they need is an enemy to confront.
We already have the makings of a possible trap, and all that’s now necessary is for the West to follow. But what next? Part 2 of al-Qaida’s war aims will appear tomorrow.