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Playing into Bin Laden's Hands

Upset that President Obama wants to curtail America's costly and open-ended commitment to nation building and counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marc Thiessen invokes a letter from bin Laden outlining his strategy for bleeding America in a long insurgency, to argue in favor of.... staying and bleeding:

The talk of withdrawal was damaging, but this pivot to domestic priorities was the most dangerous part of Obama's speech -- because what our enemies heard was that their strategy to defeat America is working. In a letter to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, uncovered by coalition forces in 2002, Osama bin Laden explained that the way to get the United States to quit Afghanistan is to convince Americans "that their government [will] bring them more losses, in finances and casualties." As this message takes hold, bin Laden told Mullah Omar, it will create "pressure from the American people on the American government to stop their campaign against Afghanistan." Bin Laden calls this his "bleed until bankruptcy" strategy, and he has expressed confidence it will work, because the Taliban and al-Qaeda possess something that President Obama clearly lacks -- strategic patience. As bin Laden explained a 2004 video, time is on his side: "We . . . bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. . . . So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah." What bin Laden heard last Tuesday was that the "bleed until bankruptcy" approach is having its intended effect. America, bin Laden heard, has tired of the costs of war and is beginning to pull back -- first from Iraq and eventually from Afghanistan -- so we can focus on rescuing our teetering economy.

I am assuming Thiessen is citing this account of al-Qaeda files discovered in Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban fell. From that, it's clear that the U.S. played rather directly into bin Laden's hand (particularly in Iraq) - getting itself stuck in large, conventional ground wars with insurgent forces that dragged on for years. We played to their strengths, and not ours. And, as bin Laden predicted, it has been costly. Even if you don't accept the $3 trillion-plus figure floated by Joseph Stiglitz over the weekend, the costs in blood and treasure have been steep.

Look, I'm no Sun Tzu, but usually when your enemies express a desire for you to do X, shouldn't you avoid doing X?