There's this mass belief among the Daniel Pipes-segment of the right that, whatever al-Qaeda says, their actual goal is to stand atop the carcass of the West while exercising total hegemony over the East. Maybe. But then there are all these moments where al-Qaeda says they'd really just like us off their holy lands and to stop invading Arab countries. And then there's my favored explanation: that bin-Laden wants power but needs support, and thinks pitting us against fairly banal demands for cultural autonomy will make America the sort of enemy he can gain power by attacking.
This may end up revealing more about me than about Bin Laden, but I stand a lot closer to the Pipes view. (I can't believe that Osama is so dumb as to think that 9/11 would prevent America from doing more invasions of Arab countries. And I'm guessing that the kind of guy who organizes dramatic acts of violent terrorism is a guy who lusts for the final battle. BTW, drunk post warning.) The problem I have with Ezra's view is that I can't even understand the allure of that kind of power.
Why does my utilitarian ass want power? So that I can bring about pleasure for everybody and reduce their pain. I can't really understand power as an end. Fame, I can understand, since it's fun to be admired. But there seems to be only a trivial amount of fun in being able to get what you want, if you set aside the fun of actually getting and enjoying the cool things you want. And so it seems deeply implausible to me that Osama is doing all this just because it's his path to power. That he does what he does for some deeper goal -- to bring the immoral West to its knees, or to set up a glorious society based on Islamic law, or because it would've impressed the hot chick he wanted in high school (okay, probably not that) makes sense to me. Power for power's sake doesn't.