The account emerging from the Pentagon regarding Osama Bin Laden’s life in that million-dollar compound reads like the last days of Howard Hughes. The guy had been reduced to puttering around with his plots on his computer and dying his beard in anticipation of his great comeback video. He is videotaped watching himself on an old TV in a cluttered, unkempt room. Any experienced eldercare social worker would recognize the scene and immediately start prodding his caregivers about his needing to have a real life with real people. But Osama, looking far older than his 54 years, had none of that. He was down to just a sad little entourage, and his comms were reduced to thumb drives smuggled in now and then. He is isolated, almost imprisoned, and he looks like a man sapped of all vitality. Elvis at the end is another image that comes to mind – a man simultaneously entombed by his own celebrity and overtaken by trends. Osama Desmond: “I am big! It’s the jihads that got small.”
This is right out of American strategist John Boyd’s playbook: you beat your enemy by isolating him, denying him allies, keeping him in the dark and – bit by bit – wearing down his energy: “Interaction permits vitality and growth, while isolation leads to decay and disintegration.” Whether it was a mansion or a cave makes little difference, because the debilitating effect was the same. Bin Laden’s fight was always with the social change that globalization brings. He used the resulting connectivity as his battlespace (transportation nets, computers, Internet, etc.), but he nonetheless had to remain off-grid in the most extreme way to stay alive, and that’s what kills him as a player in the end. When the SEALs bust in, he’s just an old man waiting for his death.
This is how we do it.