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A Hypothetical Memo from Osama bin Laden

A Hypothetical Memo from Osama bin Laden

By Ivan Eland*
April 20, 2004

What if al Qaeda were a bureaucracy—you know, like the U.S. government? What would its inter-cave memoranda say about the state of the U.S. war on terrorism from a jihadist perspective? Here is a guess at what such a hypothetical memo by Osama bin Laden to his followers might say:

To: Fellow Jihadists
From: “Osama bin Laden”
Subject: Payback for Years of U.S. Superpower Meddling in the Mideast

The U.S. “war on terrorism” is a smashing success—for us! Not only did luck allow us to inflict maximum “collateral damage” (U.S. government terminology here) on American soft targets on September 11, but the neo-conservative cowboy administration of George W. Bush has fallen into our trap.

As you well know, guerrilla groups since the beginning of time have launched hit-and-run attacks on their stronger opponent in order to get them to overreact. An angry, aggressive response by Goliath usually allows David to attract money and warriors to his cause. But having opponents such as the militants in the neo-con U.S. administration has allowed us to exceed our wildest dreams for worldwide organizational growth!

Although it is true that some of our leadership team have died or been captured in the line of duty, the unprovoked U.S. invasion of a second sovereign nation of Islamic peoples—Iraq—was an unexpected, but wonderful, surprise that had three benefits for us. First, the invasion served our primary goal of removing corrupt American Mideast allies or former allies from power. Second, the unrelated violation of another Islamic nation’s sovereignty filled our coffers with cash and our caves around the world with new, zealous jihadists. Finally, the U.S.’s Iraq excursion gave us an organizational “pause that refreshes.” Fighting an enraged superpower is not easy, so any post-September 11 diversion of its attention, energy and resources would have been welcome. But an unnecessary diversion of the superpower’s own making was stunningly helpful to us at a critical time. During al Qaeda’s respite from withering fire, our management team was able to implement management reforms that should allow the organization to morph into a more decentralized, harder to detect and more deadly operation. The number of attacks after September 11 now exceeds the number before that date.

And there is even better news! Not only has the Bush administration adopted Israel’s aggressive—but in the long-term, ineffectual tactics—against the jihad, it has also endorsed Sharon’s unilateral actions on the Palestinian question. Like the British before them, the United States is negotiating with Israel to take Arab lands. But leaving the Palestinians out of the negotiations will only fuel the jihad. Although the Palestinian issue was never as high a priority for our organization as toppling corrupt, U.S.-sponsored Arab puppet governments, such one-sided U.S. actions help us get funds and volunteers anyway. In addition, in the broadly-construed U.S. war on terror, which would make Don Quixote proud, the Bush administration is conducting covert operations against Hamas and Hezbollah—organizations which respectively never focused their attacks on U.S. targets or don’t anymore, respectively. Such stirring of the hornet’s nest also takes the heat off us and fuels the flames of fervent Islamism worldwide.

Finally, the United States—for decades—has installed, supported or deposed corrupt rulers that have adversely affected Arab societies. Although many Westerners have erroneously imputed the motives for our attacks on U.S. targets to our hatred of U.S. culture, technology or economic and political freedoms, they have done so for their own purposes. Had they examined my writings or those of others in our group, they would have realized that stopping U.S. interventions in corrupt Arab societies is the goal of our retaliatory attacks against the United States (and now its allies in the war on terrorism). And only because the United States regularly meddles in Islamic societies, have I stated that I want to change U.S. society in retaliation. By occasionally attacking a target on U.S. soil and faking many more, we have instilled enough fear to prompt the U.S. government to clamp down on the much-cherished freedoms of its people—for example, note the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, which increased the power of the U.S. security services to spy on people in America. In fact, the “tough on terrorism” Bush administration is helping us further reach our goal by proposing additional draconian restrictions on American civil liberties.

In short, the flaying about of the Bush administration against us has left our senior leadership intact, caused an organizational decentralization that will make us harder to take down and more deadly, spurred organizational growth, and helped us fulfill our objectives. If the question is asked: Are al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations better off than they were before 9/11, I can honestly render a resounding “yes!”

—Osama bin Laden

Unfortunately for the U.S. government, al Qaeda does not have a sluggish bureaucracy—like the nation-states the United States is used to sparring with—but instead has an agile, mobile and deadly organization that doesn’t mind slaughtering civilians as retribution for U.S. misadventures overseas. We must streamline and shrink our own dysfunctional government (especially the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies) to effectively counter the nimble al Qaeda and quietly make more humble the interventionist U.S. foreign policy that motivates groups like it to attack the United States.


*Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism and

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