The question that lingers after the raid on Abbottabad is what, if anything, did Osama bin Laden accomplish? The honest answer is: more than anyone would care to admit.
Counterterrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross argues that bin Laden’s fundamental goal was to bankrupt the United States by means of asymmetrical warfare.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, notes how specific bin Laden was about his strategy:
[Bin] Laden (spoke) of how he used “guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujaheddin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt.” He has compared the United States to the Soviet Union on numerous occasions — and these comparisons have been explicitly economic. For example, in October 2004 bin Laden said that just as the Arab fighters and Afghan mujaheddin had destroyed Russia economically, al Qaeda was now doing the same to the United States, “continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.” Similarly, in a September 2007 video message, bin Laden claimed that “thinkers who study events and happenings” were now predicting the American empire’s collapse. He gloated, “The mistakes of Brezhnev are being repeated by Bush.”
In the U.S. case, Bin Laden never quite achieved his goal. But he came very close. As Ezra Klein points out, the 9/11 attacks led to two long and very expensive wars, a costly homeland security buildup and a decade of loose monetary policy. Which in turn caused collateral economic damage (higher oil prices, subprime lending, etc).
The truth is: bin Laden wrote the playbook for doing battle with superpowers. The next generation of terrorist leaders will follow it closely. And, unlike bin Laden, they will likely have biological weapons in their arsenal.