Bin Laden’s transition from scion of a wealthy family to terrorist mastermind came in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union was trying to conquer Afghanistan. Bin Laden was part of the resistance, and the resistance was successful — not only in repelling the Soviet invasion, but in contributing to the communist super-state’s collapse a few years later. “We, alongside the mujaheddin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt,” he later explained.
The campaign taught bin Laden a lot. For one thing, superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield. For another, superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand. This was bin Laden’s plan for the United States, too.