The year: 1986. I went to the grandly titled "Afghan Information Centre", a drab little office in Peshawar, Pakistan filled with pamphlets and dusty books.
The director was a short, thin man in a torn sweater named Abdullah Azzam. We spoke at length of the anti-Soviet jihad (struggle) in Afghanistan being waged by Afghan and Arab mujahedin.
Then Sheik Azzam told me, "When we have driven the Communist imperialists from Afghanistan, we will go on and drive the American imperialists from Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world."
I was floored. I had never heard anyone, save Communists, call my beloved America an imperialist power. In those days, the U.S. appeared the acme of good -- in large part because its rival, the Soviet Union, looked so wicked.
But after the U.S.S.R. collapsed, absolute power absolutely corrupted Washington's ruling circles and drove them to seek "full spectrum domination" of the globe and its energy resources.
Sheik Abdullah Azzam was the teacher and spiritual mentor of a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden.
Azzam was murdered in 1989, likely by a western intelligence service. His pupil, bin Laden, launched a seemingly Quixotic mission to overthrow the western-backed dictatorships and monarchies that misruled the Muslim world, and drive western power from the region.
Bin Laden proclaimed his grand strategy in the 1990s. He would oust the modern "crusaders" by luring the U.S. and its allies into a series of small, debilitating, hugely expensive wars to bleed and slowly bankrupt the U.S. economy, which he called America's Achilles' heel.
Bloody attacks would enrage the U.S. and lure it into one quagmire after another.
Presidents Bush and Obama fell right into bin Laden's trap.
Bin Laden's words haunt us as we witness hysteria engulf America's air travel system and hear calls to invade Yemen.
U.S. security officials will be even more panicked when they learn a jihadist recently tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Prince Nayef, by detonating a bomb secreted in his rectum. Will we soon bend and spread for security -- just like in prisons?
The American colossus continues to stumble ever deeper into the Muslim world's violent, tangled affairs at a time when Washington is bankrupt and only runs on Chinese loans. In 2009, the U.S. deficit was $1.4 trillion US.
American soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. special forces, air units and CIA mercenaries are involved in combat operations in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, West Africa, North Africa and the Philippines. A new U.S. base at Djibouti is launching raids into Yemen, Somalia and northern Kenya. U.S. forces aided the failed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. New U.S. bases are planned in oil-producing West Africa.
The Red Sea littoral is America's next major headache. Somalia's anti-western Shebab movement controls much of that nation's south and centre. Yemen is a hotbed of jihadist activity that increasingly threatens neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a vital American ally. Somali pirates could turn from plundering to striking at western interests.
Washington is quietly engineering the breakup of troubled Sudan, Africa's largest nation, in order to dominate south Sudan's important oil resources and undermine the regime in Khartoum which Washington has marked for termination.
Even Egypt is growing shaky. The U.S.-backed Mubarak military dictatorship that has ruled the Arab world's most populous nation since 1981 faces a succession struggle once the 82-year old pharaoh is gone.
Al-Qaida is no longer the tiny organization founded by Osama bin Laden. It has morphed into a worldwide movement of like-minded but independent, revolutionary, anti-American groups that share bin Laden's militant philosophy. This is precisely the kind of "asymmetrical warfare" the Pentagon has so long feared.
Ominously, a 2006 World Public Opinion poll showed large majorities in four leading Muslim nations that are key U.S. allies -- Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Indonesia (a third of the Muslim world's population) -- believe the U.S. is determined to destroy or undermine Islam. They support attacks on American targets.
Advantage, Osama bin Laden.