When Bin Laden attacked on 9/11, a lot of people said we should have seen it coming.
He had declared war on the United States in 1996. He had bombed American embassies in Africa. He had the will to attack.
But Bin Laden still appeared a distant threat.
Because it takes more than will to attack. It also takes the capability to attack.
Threats come from someone with both the capability and the will to attack.
It looks like this:
Before 9/11, few understood Bin Laden’s capability.
Before 9/11, most people thought Bin Laden was in a different part of that diagram. Most thought Bin Laden had the will to attack the United States, but not the capability. At least, not the capability to do what he did on 9/11.
Most thought Bin Laden was here:
On 9/11, we found out Bin Laden wasn’t there.
On 9/11, we found out Bin Laden had both will and capability.
On 9/11, we found out Bin Laden was here:
Bin Laden was an immediate threat before 9/11.
After 9/11, everyone knew it.
Which meant the focus shifted to Bin Laden’s capability. Bin Laden’s capability surprised us. Bin Laden’s capability was what we would remove.
Billions of dollars and millions of hours and hundreds of lives went into one thing: Making sure Bin Laden never had the capability to attack the United States again.
Less important was the second part of the threat: Bin Laden’s will to attack.
Did Bin Laden have the will to attack us again?
A ridiculous question, some would say. An offensive question. For those who died fighting Bin Laden’s forces, a deeply disrespectful question.
Of course, Bin Laden wanted to attack us again.
And anyway, he said he would. He made threats against the United States after 9/11.
But if you’re building a strategy, you don’t assume the enemy will do what they say. And you don’t assume they’ll do what they did last time. You assume they’ll surprise you, if they can.
Most of all, you assume the enemy will do what advances their strategy.
As you’ll see in A Spy’s Guide To Strategy, the tragedy of 9/11 advanced Bin Laden’s strategy in eight significant ways.
But 9/11 had another effect on Bin Laden’s strategy.
Because 9/11 did so much for Bin Laden’s strategy, Bin Laden’s will to attack the United States changed. There was less to gain from another attack on the United States after 9/11 than there was before.
Which meant Bin Laden’s will to attack changed.
Not only was Bin Laden’s capability to attack degraded after 9/11 by the hard work of thousands of people.
Bin Laden’s will to attack the United States was degraded, too.
Which you’ll see when you see Bin Laden’s Endgame.
Which you’ll see when you see Bin Laden’s strategy in A Spy’s Guide To Strategy.