Bin Laden would take the war to the U.S., the distant enemy. Sept. 11 and subsequent attacks would expose America's cowardice, brittleness, colossal ineptitude and -- here's the crucial propaganda point -- its weakness of will and spirit. America would quail. As America took casualties, it would flee, like it did in Somalia. The West would retreat from Muslim nations. Al-Qaida would take control of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
It didn't happen. America didn't quit. U.S. Navy SEALs found Osama in a bedroom then shot him, man-to-man. Crack American combat troops had the weapons and the will.
In September 2008, I wrote a column arguing that bin Laden's reputation had already suffered a long, slow rot that in a curious way worked to America's advantage. Al-Qaida's insistent murder of Muslim civilians had damaged its standing in the Arab world. Bin Laden retained a "gangsta" appeal, but mere survival was not his goal -- he had big plans based on the calculated marriage of apocalyptic violence and theological conviction.
Bin Laden's legacy of failure establishes a counter-narrative to militant extremists who claim an armed theocracy is the Arab Muslim future. Now is the time to emphasize his great historical flops.
Over the past week, the U.S. government has selectively released videos seized in the SEAL raid. If bin Laden's reputation is fractured statuary, some of the imagery is a sledgehammer for smashing it to dirty powder. Bin Laden in his Pakistan pad isn't an Allah-inspired warrior bearing an assault rifle. One video outs him as a narcissist with a TV remote control, seated on pillows and watching himself on Al-Jazeera. But where's the suicide bomb belt, Osama? Oh, right, he's not wearing one. Those are for the expendable faithful.
Osama bin Laden, violent visionary? No -- he's a pathetic, self-absorbed, gray-headed old man squinting beneath a bad light.
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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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