Austin Bay

Branch Rickey, the great baseball general manager, once mused, "Luck is the residue of design."

Baseball isn't warfare, but Rickey's aphorism speaks to the issue of planning and organizing to achieve a goal. In war, it takes a lot of Churchillian blood, sweat, toil, tears, perseverance, suffering, iron will and designing vision to create an opportunity for luck.

On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida's terrorist hijackers implemented a well-designed plan. Al-Qaida's planners and hijackers also counted on a little luck. The 9-11 commission demonstrated the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies had traces and hints of the plan, but failed to see the larger patterns. Still, an insightful, imaginative analyst might have made the intuitive leap and guessed al-Qaida intended to turn commercial aircraft into suicide ICBMs. Al-Qaida took the chance its evil design was simply too outrageous for imaginations pinned by bureaucratic regimens.

Al-Qaida also relied on American lassitude. Al-Qaida had declared war on America, but America ignored it. Americans simply didn't want to be distracted from their pursuit of happiness. Al-Qaida's 9-11 hijackers would leverage American complacency and exploit America's freedom of movement to board aircraft.

Al-Qaida also relied, to a degree, on cowardice. Al-Qaida's own agit-prop interpretation of the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia in 1993 gave it confidence in American cowardice.

Al-Qaida's May 24, 1994, "Third Letter to Africa Corps" said: "The Somali experience confirmed the spurious nature of American power and that it has not recovered from the Vietnam complex. It fears getting bogged down in a real war that would reveal its psychological collapse at the level of personnel and leader."

But 9-11 revealed a heroic America, with the pinnacle of heroism the self-sacrifice of Flight 93. The passengers on Flight 93 confronted the hijackers. Passengers learned their jetliner had become a terrorist ICBM, and they counterattacked. Flight 93 crashed, but it did not strike its ground target.

Flight 93's counterattack is the moment al-Qaida's luck began to sour. That's the moment America went on the offensive, against al-Qaida and the dysfunctional political systems that helped create it.

Al-Qaida's "Afghanistan trap" failed. Afghanistan was designed to be the battle that launched Osama bin Laden's "globalized war of Islam against America." A U.S. military defeat in the Himalayas would signal "Divine Sanction" for al-Qaida's project, and make al-Qaida a global power within Islam. American victories on Afghan battlefields muted the notion God was on al-Qaida's side.

And America has continued to have success.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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