Peter Bergen's new Vanity Fair article on the gradual fall of Osama bin Laden since September 11, 2001, has many implications: for the nature of terrorism and how the U.S. reacts to it, for the faltering popularity of al-Qaeda's twisted ideology, and for bin Laden's disastrously unsuccessful agenda of expelling the U.S. from the Middle East and toppling the region's governments.
But there is another, less often discussed subject the article also addresses: the emotional state of bin Laden. Given that Bergen is not only an expert on al-Qaeda but has personally met bin Laden, he is perhaps uniquely qualified to evaluate bin Laden's happiness level. And while he doesn't come right out and say it, the implication of Bergen's article (which is titled, "Bin Laden's Lonely Crusade") is that the world's most famous terrorist is sad, sad, sad.
It is not the West that faces an existential threat, but al-Qaeda.
... Members of al-Qaeda were right to be dispirited: Before 9/11, the group had acted freely in Afghanistan. ... Almost all of this infrastructure was smashed after 9/11.
... One of bin Laden’s key goals is to bring about regime change in the Middle East and to replace the House of Saud and the Mubarak family of Egypt with Taliban-style rule. ... The attacks on Washington and New York resulted in the direct opposite of his hopes.
... In Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda lost a great deal of support after a campaign of attacks in 2003 that killed mostly Saudis. Saudi society, which had once been a cheerleader for bin Laden, turned against him.
... A decade after 9/11, by [al-Qaeda number two Ayman] Zawahiri’s own standard, al-Qaeda has achieved "nothing."
... In Pakistan, where bin Laden is presumably hiding out, his popularity is down to 18 percent, compared with 52 percent five years ago. Key Muslim clerics have formally withdrawn their endorsements.
... Rather than cut deals with new friends, bin Laden has kept adding to his list of enemies.
So we can conclude that Osama bin Laden is friendless, unwelcome in either his natural or adoptive home, a failure in his work, a disappointment to his team, and hated by the global Muslim community whose support he had sought. That certainly doesn't sound like a recipe for happiness.