Ted Koppel, the respected newsman who hosted Nightline for 25 years, today called Osama bin Laden's 9/11 attacks a wild success.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Koppel argues that al Qaeda succeeded in goading the U.S. into a disproportionate response to 9/11 and that, in the Iraq war, the abuses of Abu Ghraib, the prison at Guantanamo, and the CIA's "black sites," bin Laden has gotten exactly what he wanted out of his attacks--throwing the U.S. off balance, sowing chaos, and making the U.S. government far more hated around the world.
The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another. Bin Laden deserves to be the object of our hostility, national anguish and contempt, and he deserves to be taken seriously as a canny tactician. But much of what he has achieved we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves. Bin Laden does not deserve that we, even inadvertently, fulfill so many of his unimagined dreams.It did not have to be this way. The Bush administration's initial response was just about right. The calibrated combination of CIA operatives, special forces and air power broke the Taliban in Afghanistan and sent bin Laden and the remnants of al-Qaeda scurrying across the border into Pakistan. The American reaction was quick, powerful and effective -- a clear warning to any organization contemplating another terrorist attack against the United States. This is the point at which President George W. Bush should have declared "mission accomplished," with the caveat that unspecified U.S. agencies and branches of the military would continue the hunt for al-Qaeda's leader. The world would have understood, and most Americans would probably have been satisfied.
Lots of famous people write op-eds in widely circulated papers. Their opinions don't always matter more than anyone else opinions do, and the op-eds don't always influence debate. Koppel's, however, is unique in one regard: it has been difficult for Americans to analyze 9/11 dispassionately--the very reason, one could say, that America's response to the attacks were so marred as Koppel describes it--and Koppel is known as a dispassionate voice, respected as a deliverer of unbiased, straight news during his career.
In the years since 9/11, academics have been able to separate themselves from the passion of the moment, and game theorists have published some dispassionate cost/benefit analyses of terrorism and how the U.S. should respond.
But Koppel's voice lends dispassionate weight to the discussion of 9/11 because he is, for the most part, disconnected from the emotions of 9/11. It's taboo in many circles to attempt to analyze 9/11 dispassionately. Saying things like Koppel said are considered, by some, to be blasphemous. The fact that he said them probably won't change the debate over 9/11, but if it does, it will move the center of gravity of this debate a millimeter away from the emotion of anger and the prime goal in pursuing al Qaeda--stated by Presidents Bush and Obama alike--of revenge.
Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.