TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen’s Atta Follow Up


(Peter Bergen is a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation).
Sure, but history is mostly about what happened, not what might have happened, and when Atta showed up in Afghanistan in 1999 bin Laden and his then-military commander, Mohamed Atef, tapped him to lead the 9/11 operation because of his familiarity with the West and other abilities that made him all too well-suited to implement it.
— Peter Bergen
This week long terrorism salon will continue to be hosted by The Washington Note and UN Dispatch.


One comment on “TERRORISM SALON: Peter Bergen’s Atta Follow Up

  1. rich says:

    Yosri Foudi is correct to say “it was actually Atta who selected bin Laden. It is to the Attas that most of our attention should go first and foremost.”
    Atta had to know which trends/events/forces he wanted to counteract; he had to actively seek bin Laden out, or someone like him. Atta had to be willing.
    Atta looked for a likeminded group to join or a figure to follow; he’s a conscious human with a will of his own.
    Bergen’s ‘riposte’ that “history is mostly about what happened” isn’t just a tautology that goes nowhere, it entirely misses the point.
    Without a political cause, a culture and set of interests to defend, and popular support, neither George Washington nor Osama bin Laden suddenly pick up a gun or form a militia or embark on some quixotic and unlikely military quest on a whim—or for no reason.
    You can add Castro and Ho Chi Minh and Mandela and the French Resistance: unless there’s a just cause and overwhelming political support, they’re not gonna do it. Too much to lose.
    And since Atta’s 9/11 operation was a 19-member strong suicide bombing, you might wonder “Why’d they do it?”
    Glad you asked. As it happens, Lindsey O’Rourke’s Op-Ed in today’s NYTs finds female suicide bombers to be as rational as any human: they made decisions about means and ends. Same as male fighters, survival and “territorial sovereignty of their ethnic group” is the primary motivation.
    “For one, 95 percent of female suicide attacks occurred within the context of a military campaign against foreign occupying forces, suggesting that, at a macro level, the main strategic logic is to create or maintain territorial sovereignty for their ethnic group. Correspondingly, the primary individual motivation for both male and female suicide bombers is a deep loyalty to their communities combined with a variety of personal grievances against enemy forces.”
    But of course it’s incomprehensible really, that strong-arm tactics extorting sovereign nations to auction off national assets at firesale prices can provoke such anger and resentment, it’s just, just uncivil. Worse is the surprise and outright shock to discover that standard operation procedures and default policies that are by definition acts of war, unaffirmed by our own legal mechanisms nor by any political decision, could ever provoke actual countermeasures, whether it be arms production or serious defensive postures, or actual direct attacks from suppposedly unknown quarters.
    I ‘suggest’ it’s worth recognizing there are concrete and understandable reasons for this blowback. Failure to examine them will have costs. Moreover, it’s long past time to retract the practice of issuing orders and demanding that allies and foes alike “should just shut up and follow orders.” (John Bolton)
    George Washington fought against what we do at home and abroad. If our ‘best and brightest’ cannot really look this situation (this word, this American citizenry) right in the eye, then they won’t be able to tackle the issue head-on. And it’ll fall to the next generation. Here’s hoping they paid attention in sophoore history class.


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