It is hard to imagine that Liz Sidota, writing for the Associated Press, is completely correct when she claims that “Armed with intelligence showing bin Laden living in a secure compound outside of Islamabad, Obama authorized U.S. military action without Pakistan’s consent and bin Laden died in the ensuing firefight.” As Juan Cole notes,
Ironically, Obama had to admit that Pakistani intelligence helped the US develop the lead that allowed the US to close in on Bin Laden. . . . The US story that the Pakistanis were not given prior notice of the operation is contradicted by the Pakistani news channel Geo, which says that Pakistani troops and plainsclothesmen helped cordon off the compound in Abbotabad. CNN is pointing out that US helicopters could not have flown so far into Pakistan from Afghanistan without tripping Pakistani radar. My guess is that the US agreed to shield the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asaf Ali Zardari from al-Qaeda reprisals by putting out the story that the operation against Bin Laden was solely a US one. And it may be that suspect elements of the Pakistani elite, such as the Inter-Services Intelligence, were kept out the the loop because it was feared they might have ties to Bin Laden and might tip him off.
The parts Sidota gets right, however, are troubling.
U.S.-led wars since the 9/11 attacks have cost its taxpayers no less than $1.3 trillion. War today is inherently criminal, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been no exceptions. “Excess” civilian deaths in Iraq alone since the U.S. invasion in 2003 have been estimated well in excess of one million. These costs, which Obama referred to as “blood and treasure,” and the support that bin Laden was able to attract, must be attributed both to U.S. dependence on oil and to the country’s unwavering support of Israel even as it brutalizes and occasionally massacres Palestinians in an illegal occupation.
As David Sirota observes, any killing should be a somber occasion, even when it’s Osama bin Laden. Instead we celebrate, and I have to agree with Sirota that we now celebrate not just a death, but death in general. Sirota sees this as a change, but given our warmongering legacy, I think that history offers a different view. And as Glenn Greenwald observes,
The killing of Osama bin Laden is one of those events which, especially in the immediate aftermath, is not susceptible to reasoned discussion. It’s already a Litmus Test event: all Decent People — by definition — express unadulterated ecstacy at his death, and all Good Americans chant “USA! USA!” in a celebration of this proof of our national greatness and Goodness (and that of our President). Nothing that deviates from that emotional script will be heard, other than by those on the lookout for heretics to hold up and punish. Prematurely interrupting a national emotional consensus with unwanted rational truths accomplishes nothing but harming the heretic (ask Bill Maher about how that works). . . .
But beyond the emotional fulfillment that comes from vengeance and retributive justice, there are two points worth considering. The first is the question of what, if anything, is going to change as a result of the two bullets in Osama bin Laden’s head? Are we going to fight fewer wars or end the ones we’ve started? Are we going to see a restoration of some of the civil liberties which have been eroded at the altar of this scary Villain Mastermind? Is the War on Terror over? Are we Safer now?
Greenwald believes that this killing will reaffirm U.S. faith in its military:
Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. One can already detect the stench of that in how Pakistan is being talked about: did they harbor bin Laden as it seems and, if so, what price should they pay? We’re feeling good and strong about ourselves again — and righteous — and that’s often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.
It appears that this is the one campaign promise Obama has unequivocally kept. Sidota writes,
Now, in the early days of his re-election campaign, Obama is in a clear position of political strength as Americans finally are able to savor the death of the man responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Republicans who have long and successfully painted Democrats as weak on national security face a far tougher task in making that case against a triumphant Democratic incumbent.
“The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden,” Obama said Monday in a statement certain to become a staple of his speeches in the presidential race.
Yet, the war in Afghanistan still rages, and troops continue to die on Obama’s watch. He’s under pressure to find an exit strategy from a conflict that he dramatically grew by boosting the number of U.S. forces. And the threat to U.S. security didn’t disappear with the killing bin Laden.
“Bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida is not,” CIA Director Leon Panetta reminded agency employees.
In political terms, Obama is certain to reap political benefits from the killing of bin Laden after a decade-long, frustrating manhunt. The success inoculates Obama from GOP-led criticism that he’s not tough enough to take on terrorists, not experienced enough to be commander in chief, and not decisive enough to lead a country still vulnerable to attacks.
Al Qaeda may not be dead, but it had already lost much of its relevance. “Yet,” Obama says, “his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.” Greenwald’s rhetorical questions indeed.
Despite bin Laden’s death and Al Qaeda‘s decreasing relevance, there will be no end to the propaganda that passes for security, the messages of endemic surveillance, electronic strip searches, nonsensical prohibitions on liquids, and the incessant din to be aware of our surroundings that serve principally to keep us afraid, to ensure our acquiescence to a fascist police state. Though bin Laden was killed a short distance outside Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the practice of torture will now likely somehow seem justified. Those policies seem certain to be reaffirmed and extended.
The death of bin Laden may well cost the U.S. and the world more than if he had remained at large.
- Liz Sidota, “Delivering on vow to kill bin Laden boosts Obama,” Associated Press, May 2, 2011, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_BIN_LADEN_POLITICS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT↩
- Juan Cole, “Obama and the End of Al-Qaeda,” Informed Comment, May 2, 2011, http://www.juancole.com/2011/05/obama-and-the-end-of-al-qaeda.html↩
- Justin Elliott, “The financial cost of bin Laden: (At least) $1.3 trillion,” Salon, May 2, 2011, http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/05/02/cost_of_bin_laden_wars/index.html↩
- Nick Davies, Jonathan Steele and David Leigh, “Iraq war logs: secret files show how US ignored torture,” Guardian, October 22, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/22/iraq-war-logs-military-leaks; Jeremy Scahill, “WikiLeaks and War Crimes,” Nation, August 12, 2010, http://www.thenation.com/article/154000/wikileaks-and-war-crimes; Mark Townsend, “Call for ‘Gaza style’ inquiry on Afghan deaths,” Guardian, September 26, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2010/sep/26/afghanistan-demand-war-crimes-probe↩
- Just Foreign Policy, “Iraq Deaths,” 2009, http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/iraq↩
- Barack Obama, “Press Conference by the President at the Nuclear Security Summit,” White House, October 11, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-conference-president-nuclear-security-summit↩
- Osama bin Laden, interview by Tayseer Alouni, “Transcript of Bin Laden’s October interview,” CNN, February 5, 2002, http://articles.cnn.com/2002-02-05/world/binladen.transcript_1_incitement-fatwas-al-qaeda-organization?_s=PM:asiapcf↩
- David Sirota, “‘USA! USA!’ is the wrong response,” Salon, May 2, 2011, http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/05/02/osama_and_chants_of_usa/index.html↩
- David Benfell, “A peace loving nation,” DisUnitedStates.org, October 18, 2009, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=738↩
- Glenn Greenwald, “Killing of bin Laden: What are the consequences?” Salon, May 2, 2011, http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/02/bin_laden/index.html↩
- Greenwald, “Killing of bin Laden.”↩
- Sidota, “Delivering on vow to kill bin Laden boosts Obama.”↩
- Marc Lynch, “Bin Laden’s Quiet End,” Foreign Policy, May 2, 2011, http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/05/02/islamist_politics_after_bin_laden↩
- Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on Osama Bin Laden,” White House, May 2, 2011, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/02/remarks-president-osama-bin-laden↩
- Sidota, “Delivering on vow to kill bin Laden boosts Obama.”↩