Victor Davis Hanson

Osama bin Laden is dead. The Middle East is in chaos. And radical Islam is floundering.

For a time after 9/11, bin Laden was riding high. Destroying 16 acres in Manhattan and hitting the Pentagon won al-Qaeda even more admiration from the Arab Street, hidden cash donations from sympathetic petrol-sheiks, and bribe and hush money from triangulating Middle East dictatorships.

But now bin Laden and most of his henchmen of a decade ago are dead, like the bloodthirsty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed by American forces in Iraq. Or they were captured, like the 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. Or they are in hiding, like Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the increasingly irrelevant blowhard al-Qaeda information minister.

What caused al-Qaeda's steady decline? There are a lot of reasons.

Right after 9/11, the United States crafted a set of antiterrorism protocols as sweeping as they were controversial: the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, renditions, tribunals, preventative detention, intercepts, wiretaps and enhanced interrogations. New security measures filtered down to every facet of American life, from radically intrusive and unpopular airport protocols that X-rayed baggage and passengers to beefed-up security on trains and at ports.

Civil libertarians mocked such vigilance, but the message went out that it was now much harder to come to America from the Middle East and in anonymity plan another 9/11. Subsequent terrorist attempts, aimed at targets such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square, either failed or were thwarted before they began.

In wars abroad, thousands of radical Islamic jihadists heeded bin Laden's call to arms and flocked to the Hindu Kush and Anbar Province. The United States military and its allies were waiting, and then killed or wounded many thousands of terrorists and insurgents. That indisputable fact is as little remarked upon as it was critical to weakening and discrediting the martial prowess of radical Islam.

We also forget that the removal of Saddam Hussein, followed by his trial and execution by a democratically elected Iraq government, set off initial ripples of change in the Middle East between 2004 and 2006. The Syrian army was pushed out of Lebanon by popular protests. Muammar Gadhafi surrendered his nuclear weapons and publicly worried about his own future. Pakistan abruptly arrested for a time A.Q. Khan, who had franchised his nuclear weapons expertise.

These events did not lead directly to the current popular protests throughout the Middle East, but they may well have been precursors of a sort, once Iraq's elected government survived and the violence there abated.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.

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