March 20, 2012

David Ignatius’s March 18 Sunday Opinion column cited documents found in Osama bin Laden’s compound that purportedly reveal a “plot” to kill President Obama or Gen. David H. Petraeus by downing an aircraft. Mr. Ignatius called that a “chilling reminder” of bin Laden’s deadly ambitions, but it reveals not a plot but a pathetic hope.

The sum of the scheme was apparently a “rambling” 48-page letter from bin Laden to an associate (also since killed). It was full of suggestions that seemingly came to naught. Mr. Ignatius acknowledged that al-Qaeda probably lacks the weapons to shoot down aircraft. Instead of the “terrorist CEO” that Mr. Ignatius imagined, bin Laden appeared to have had little power and few subordinates.

The media cling to the image of al-Qaeda as a global adversary that plots and schemes, dispatching bombs and subordinates hither and yon. Events repeatedly reveal something less: scattered and barely connected malfeasants, dodging drone strikes and desperately trying to live up to their inflated reputation.

Mr. Ignatius’s column was not a chilling reminder but a happy one: Our most celebrated enemy remains a wreck. It is hardly an organization, let alone a compelling justification for war and executive power grabs.

Benjamin Friedman, Washington

The writer is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.