Monday, May 2, 2011

A Few More Thoughts on bin Laden's Death

Obviously, this is major news. But like most major news stories, the killing of Osama bin Laden will have ramifications and repercussions that will take time to play out. Still, I have some thoughts that I want to express.

First, a little personal background: I first took interest in bin Laden in the late 1990's after the African Embassy and U.S.S. Cole bombings. I'd been interested in Middle East politics and history for many years, and began trying to learn Arabic in 1995. As I read more of bin Laden's fatwas and began to understand more about Al Qaeda's brand of Wahhabi extremism, I became convinced that his threats were quite real. Osama was a quite complex man, an extremely wealthy, western educated Saudi elite who embraced a primitive fanaticism for an Islamic caliphate coupled with extreme anti-Americanism. In his many fatwas, he was strikingly clear about his plans for jihad against the U.S. and the types of tactics he intended to utilize. When 9/11 occurred, my immediate reaction was "damn, bin Laden pulled it off" (ask Sweaterman, who was stuck listening to my rants hours before the media made the Al Qaeda connection) as it was the type of attack I had been expecting. Really, he told us what he intended to do long before he actually did it, in accordance with Islamic laws of war, but it certainly seemed that the shrub administration ignored his words as the 'ravings of a madman'. Which was a frustrating issue; it was easy to dismiss bin Laden's threats because they sounded 'crazy' to our world view, but I never doubted that he was honest about his intentions nor doubt his capabilities.

Obligatory reading: the much more knowledgeable Juan Cole at Informed Comment has posted his thoughts titled Obama and the End of Al-Qaeda, which has both a very complete history of bin Laden and a thoughtful look at the implications of his death. A small sample:

Then he and his number two man, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, came to the conclusion that the reason they could not overthrow the governments of Egypt (Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship) and Saudi Arabia and so forth was that these were backed by the United States. They decided it had been a mistake to hit the “near enemy” first. They decided to hit the “far enemy” on American soil. Bin Laden thought that if only he could entice the US into the Middle East, he could do to it what he thought he had done to the Soviet Union.

One salient fact that most Americans don't understand, and would vehemently deny: Osama bin Laden is winning his war. He made quite clear that his strategy was to destroy the American economy, and thereby empire, by dragging us into a prolonged occupation and warfare in the Islamic Middle East. Shrub did exactly what Osama desired by invading Iraq, and the subsequent draining of the American economy has been exactly what he intended to achieve. His death does nothing to change that reality.

After 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden ceded all operational control of Al Qaeda. He became a figurehead who hoped to inspire the offspring of multiple regional splinter groups, and again he has been successful. Killing him may seem like a symbolic victory for America, but his martyrdom is also the symbolism he intended. The only way this will benefit America will be if it hastens our withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and if we change our counter terrorism strategy away from military intervention towards greater intelligence gathering and very carefully targeted operations.

Killing Osama was necessary for the American psyche, but we're still in the same mess today as we were yesterday.


Fearguth said...

Wise words.

Phil said...

You are absolutely correct, he won this war, exactly how he said he would.