Al Qaeda's Failed War on the U.S. Economy

Like Hitler and Stalin, bin Laden has underestimated America's 'sokojikara'.

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In the seven years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have shown themselves quite capable of releasing amateurish videotapes, slaughtering innocent Iraqi civilians, and getting al Qaeda members killed in mass numbers by America's valiant and lethal warriors.

But what about the goal of bringing down the U.S. economy? Remember what bin Laden himself said about his goals back in December 2001: "If their economy is destroyed, they will be busy with their own affairs rather than enslaving the weak peoples. It is very important to concentrate on hitting the U.S. economy through all possible means." This was echoed by al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in September 2002: "We will also aim to continue, by the permission of Allah, the destruction of the American economy."

Hasn't happened. Since 9/11, the American economy has grown by $1.86 trillion, or 19 percent, adjusted for inflation. (By the way, that amount is double the total annual output of the combined economies of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt. Or, to put it another way, it is like adding a pair of South Koreas.) And despite a credit crisis, the bursting of the housing bubble, and high energy prices, the economy grew 3.3 percent in the second quarter (and probably closer to 4.0 percent with revisions) and has suffered only one negative quarter during the recent rough patch, the final one of 2007. And worker productivity, the single best measure of the inner strength of an economy, is up a robust 3.4 percent versus last year.

In one way, al Qaeda is no different than America's past enemies, such as Hitler and Nazi Germany or Stalin and Soviet Russia. It badly underestimates America's warrior class, its economy, and its sokojikara, a Japanese word that means "reserve power" or "deep strength." I first ran across the word and concept in the 1990 book The Third Century, by Joel Kotkin. In it, Kotkin quotes a Japanese commentator talking about America's sokojikara:

America has the spiritual and material requirements to be a world leader for many years. Vietnam may have been a major setback, but for any other country it would have been fatal. It shows the sokojikar a . . .of America.

Substitute "9/11" for "Vietnam," and the analysis is just as meaningful today. America cannot be defeated on the military or economic battlefield. Ultimately, we can only defeat ourselves. As far as the economy goes, this would mean ignoring the reality of globalization and the necessity to stay competitive with the rest of the world in terms of taxes, regulation, education, innovation, and fiscal soundness. Let's roll.