TORONTO, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- In his notorious dinner conversation videotaped in November, Osama bin Laden proudly recounted that "in Holland, at one of the (Islamic) centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last 11 years."
He had a good idea why. "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse," he remarked, implying that people flocked to the Dutch mosques because the terrorist action of Sept. 11 demonstrated the weakness of the West compared to the superior strength of militant Islam.
It's interesting that people with the greatest faith in force often have the poorest ability to measure it. The late Adolf Hitler and bin Laden are both cases in point, though they were preceded by Napoleon. The Corsican adventurer also proclaimed that "God is on the side of the big battalions," before proceeding to take on battalions that, in combination, were significantly bigger than the Grand Army of the French.
Hitler's world-view was predicated on the idea that Providence favors the strong. He felt that "might is right," not merely as a practical but as a moral proposition, expressing nature's preference for the survival of the fittest. But then he proceeded to miscalculate the relative strength of Germany and its Axis partners in relation to the strength of the Atlantic Alliance in rather incongruous ways.
To believe that God is on the side of the big battalions is one thing, but to believe it, and then conclude, as Hitler did, that Germany, Italy, and Japan could triumph over the combined resources, wealth, and manpower of the world led by Britain, the British Commonwealth, the Soviet Union and the United States is quite another. That's not how the numbers add up in the racing form which bin Laden also has trouble reading.
Bin Laden resembles Hitler not only in his quest for dominance, or in his hatred of Jews, but in the almost comic divergence between his mathematical theories and his ability to add up numbers.
He may not be wrong about people naturally preferring a strong horse to a weak horse; he just doesn't seem to know much about horses. To believe that between militant Islam and an aroused America the race would go to militant Islam, is betting on the wrong horse.
There's little doubt that America has been aroused. Here, for instance, is the text of a U.S. military radio broadcast to the Taliban forces. I can't resist quoting it in its entirety:
"Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death. The armed forces of the United States are here to seek justice for our dead. Highly trained soldiers are coming to shut down once and for all Osama bin Laden's ring of terrorism, and the Taliban that supports them and their actions.
"Our forces are armed with state of the art military equipment. What are you using, obsolete and ineffective weaponry? Our helicopters will rain fire down upon your camps before you detect them on your radar. Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows. Our infantry is trained for any climate and terrain on earth. United States soldiers fire with superior marksmanship and are armed with superior weapons.
"You have only one choice ... Surrender now and we will give you a second chance. We will let you live. If you surrender no harm will come to you. When you decide to surrender, approach United States forces with your hands in the air. Sling your weapon across your back muzzle towards the ground. Remove your magazine and expel any rounds. Doing this is your only chance of survival."
Before Sept. 11 such a broadcast would have been unthinkable in fact, the very language would have sounded un-American. Actually, the language sounds rather Asiatic, which may be appropriate, considering to whom it's being addressed.
It appears that if bin Laden has succeeded in one thing, it has been to push America into an era of post-liberalism. The United States has begun to talk the talk of a hyper-power, and has also been walking the walk in the last three months. The walk is fine, but the talk is vaguely disconcerting.
I hope it won't become a habit. There's no question that America has the big battalions; what's less certain, in spite of Napoleon's view, is that God is invariably on their side.
Modesty becomes a big power. In the days of Pax Britannica, English newspapers thundered sometimes, but soldiers and officials at the Court of St. James tended to shun jingoistic talk because they regarded it in bad taste.
American tradition was more given to boastfulness, but it also had a contrary strain. Theodore Roosevelt summarized its virtues in his famous remark about talking softly and carrying a big stick.
(George Jonas is a writer and columnist who lives in Toronto.)