Osama bin Laden must be a happy man today. The United States is playing right into his hands. Since September 11, 2001, we have freely given him every item on his wish list. Consider what Osama wants:
1) To make America tremble. Encouraged by politicians of both parties, Americans have reacted to the events of September 11th with the kind of paranoia one expects of children. The run on Cipro, smallpox vaccine, potassium iodide, portable radios, batteries, preserved food, bottled water, and gas masks is the response of a people who have no sense of proportion. Compared to threats like drunk driving, guns, cigarettes, drugs, overeating, and AIDS -- each of which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year -- the terrorists are trivial. Yet a simple videotape from Osama, and we issue a Code Orange and rush for the duct tape.
2) To undermine American democracy. Osama knows that American democratic principles are the envy of the world. But the Bush administration, using terrorism as a pretext to create a superempowered presidency, has suspended our system of checks and balances, sidestepping judicial and congressional oversight of its actions whenever possible. It has declared war without congressional approval, jailed citizens without explanation, denied the accused the right to an attorney, held trials in secret, detained unnamed suspects indefinitely in hidden locations and without charge, applied "psychological pressure" (read: torture) to suspects we never see, and encouraged the Pentagon, the FBI, and the CIA to spy on U.S. citizens in ways Big Brother never dreamed of.
3) To shake the American economy. Wall Street acts even more frightened than the rest of us and hides its money under the mattress. Travel and trade are slowed as we create more and more obstacles at our airports, harbors, and border crossings. (This is the equivalent of putting one's head in a plastic bag for fear of poison gas.) Meanwhile, the cost of military buildups, giant Pentagon computers, and tax cuts designed to comfort the trembling rich sucks the rest of the air out of the economy.
4) To create more terrorists. If the U.S. kills thousands of Iraqi citizens, it will certainly accomplish this goal for Osama. Beyond that, September 11th gave the Bush administration a perfect excuse to ignore the difficult task of working toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As a result, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict burns on, creating more suicidal "martyrs" and generating sympathy for the Palestinian cause daily -- sympathy that Osama and the mullahs turn to hatred.
5) To divide the United States from its allies and isolate it from the rest of the world. The Bush administration's willingness to insult France, Germany, and Belgium, to denigrate Russia and China, and condescendingly to dismiss the temperate suggestions of the majority of the world's nations plays right into Osama's hands.
6) To damage the United States' reputation. The rest of the world already suspected that the United States had a simplistic, go-it-alone, shoot-'em-up attitude toward foreign affairs. The Bush administration has confirmed that suspicion. We are now officially the town bully. Everyone else (including, horribly, Osama) is now the bullied.
7) To get rid of Saddam Hussein. Osama has always hated Saddam Hussein. Saddam is a socialist Sunni oppressing a religious Shi'ite majority. Saddam is an "infidel" (in Osama's terms) who runs a secular state without sufficient reverence for Islam. Nothing would make Osama happier than for the United States to kill Saddam for him, along the way generating more anti-American feeling in the region and creating a new generation of orphaned potential-terrorists.
8) To be the great martyr of modern Islam. Okay, so this hasn't happened yet. But someday Osama will be killed, probably by Americans. At that point, George Bush will have handed Osama bin Laden the final item on Osama's wish list.
Ed Weathers is a former editor of Memphis magazine.