After OBL

The death of Osama bin Laden has inevitably produced a gigantic volume of instant reactions, to which I’m going to add. Doubtless I’m repeating what others have said somewhere, but it seems to me that most of the commentary has understated the likely impact, particularly as regard US politics. That impact is by no means all favorable – while the Republicans are the big losers, Obama will also be strengthened as against his critics on the left, among whom I’d include myself (admittedly as a citizen of a client state rather than the US proper).

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Looking first at the impact on the Islamic world, I don’t differ much from what I see as the conventional wisdom – Al Qaeda was already struggling for relevance in the light of the democratic upsurge in North Africa and the Middle East, and the death of bin Laden will weaken them further, even if they manage some terror attacks in reprisal[1].

As regards the political impact in the US, comparisons to GHWB and Gulf War I are beside the point. Hardly anyone in the US cared about Saddam or Kuwait before his invasion, and most of them promptly forgot about them once the cheering died down after Desert Storm. Even in GW2, it was clear that Saddam was just another nasty dictator of whom the Bush Administration had decided to make an example. By contrast, bin Laden was unsurprisingly, the object of more national fear and hatred than any figure since Hitler or Stalin.

Equally importantly, bin Laden and 9/11 were central to a Republican narrative about foreign policy as a crusade against Islamofascism and its liberal dupes/fellow-travellers/ineffectual resisters that has now collapsed almost completely. The story had been unravelling ever since the Iraq/WMD fiasco, but the contingent fact[2] that Obama has succeeded where Bush  failed has left the Republicans with almost nothing to say on an issue they expect to own.

That won’t wipe out the impact of bad economic conditions, but I suspect that the lack of Republican credibility on foreign policy (and for that matter, the birther issue) will encourage critical analysis of their fraudulent claims on economics as well.

Coming to the bad news, the success of the US intelligence machine in locating bin Laden is obviously going to strengthen Obama’s position in claiming that he has special knowledge that justifies suspending civil liberties. Reading the accounts in, for example, the New York Times, it’s clear that their sources are trying to make claims for intelligence extracted under torture  even though (on my reading) they didn’t actually get anything useful from these sources (the NYT quotes an intelligence source as saying that the value was in what was not said, which could justify just about anything).

There’s an outside chance that, having secured his standing on the issue, Obama will return to the policies he campaigned on. Failing that, as the fear of terrorism fades, there may be a gradual return to the rule of law, although the precedents set in the last ten years are likely to remain.

Finally, like most people in the world, I’m glad bin Laden is dead. I would have preferred to see him face trial for his crimes, but he was (assuming the official account to be correct) given the chance to surrender, and didn’t take it.

<strong>Update 4 May</strong> The parenthetical qualification in the last sentence turned out to be a sensible precaution, reflecting past experience of these announcements. As <a href=”http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/”>almost always seems to happen</a>, the revised account from the government is very different from the original one. Whereas the original story suggested a gunfight with bin Laden using a woman as a human shield, the new version has an unarmed bin Laden shot when his wife (also unarmed) ran at the assault team and was herself shot, though not fatally. That doesn’t preclude a call to surrender, but it certainly seems that he wasn’t given any time to think it over.

fn1. BTW, has there been any statement from AQ confirming or denying OBLs death?

fn2. It’s interesting to ask how history would have changed if the military had done as good a job with the Iran hostage rescue ordered by Carter as they did in the present case.

37 thoughts on “After OBL

  1. @Freelander
    ROFL, I see more warlocks than I see witches alive today (hey how come they dindnt burn warlocks at the stake?) Ripped off and now they are still alive, male and healthy!”

  2. In my opinion, water boarding did not get the information needed to find and kill bin Laden. If you really think about, these are heartless terrorist who are literally “brainwashed” to take part of heinous terrorist acts to advance their so called “causes.” If they are willing (because of the brainwashing) to fly a plane into a building knowing it would kill them in a terrible, painful way, and they did not stop and say “hey” I value my life! Not to mention the lives of the children, women and elderly people I’m sure they saw on those planes before they busted into the cockpit, then how do you think a simulated sensation of drowning by putting a rag in their mouth is going make them give up secret information? I don’t think so. Thus, enhanced interrogation techniques may work for someone who still has a heart and who values his/her life, but it isn’t going work with the devil.

  3. Chris – I think you are wrong to assume that terrorists are immune to the frailties of other humans. They may have different beliefs but they bleed the same.

  4. I’d still like proof the body was that of OBL. There is still a ring of untruthiness to the whole story; lack of observations by locals, the fact the bride was a third of OBL’s age, the absence of dialysis equipment at the house and no taunting video messages provably made since 2006. When a US State Dept spokesman says we can be assured OBL will not walk the Earth again perhaps he means OBL must have died years ago since they got someone else.

    Perhaps they could show the death pictures to a council of wise people who could form an opinion. DNA samples could be given to an independent expert. Until this is done I’ll be inclined to think OBL died in the period 2004-2007 of kidney failure, typhoid or bomb injuries or perhaps a combination. The guy they killed was a reclusive nobody so they are covering it up.

  5. The sad legacy of OBL is that he is still winning. A relatively small investment and a small group of crazies, and he has precipitated the US and the West to do enormous and costly damage to themselves. The West still bleeds from self-inflicted wounds.

    Some have made money out of it on the way. I suppose that’s all that really matters.

  6. OBL’s height of 6’4″ or 193cm could be the proof the doubters (like myself ) need. Surely some military personnel involving in handling the corpse could vouch that it was of a tall person. Apparently the walled compound was surveilled and showed a tall person pacing around. Release high resolution images that can be contrasted with the height of doors, windows etc.

    Remember the previous US president said Saddam had WMD. That turned out not to be the case.

  7. @Hermit

    One outcome of OBL’s murder, could be that tall people in Afghanistan and Pakistan can breath a sigh of relief because at least now they will not be targeted by drones on the basis of their height. Not complete relief because they are still targets; that’s the price of living in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    A further outcome could be recognition that Assange is living on borrowed time. He committed that ultimate crime that politicians must consider deserves that ultimate sanction. He embarrassed them, or at least facilitated their self-embarrassment through the material he released.

    As Obama has been doing the victory lap, as he attempts to convert credit for the ‘daring’ murder into a second term, he made the obligatory visit to ‘Ground Zero’. I imagine that I am not the only one continually struck by the irony of ‘Ground Zero’.

    Ground Zero, after all, is the term used to identify the point on the ground closest to the detonation of a nuclear explosion. There have been two Ground Zero’s that involved instantaneous loss of life, indeed, loss of cities. Both were ordered by another American administration. In at least one case, part of the reason for creating a Ground Zero was to grab Japan before the Soviet Union, which had just ramped up its effort in the East.

    Given that the term “Ground Zero” has been appropriated as part of the 9/11 lexicon, why stop there. Surely, ‘9/11’ is somewhat pedestrian and ought to be replaced, with typical American hyperbole, by ‘Holocaust’?

  8. @Freelander
    If they kill Assange it will be like the killing of Martin Luther King, or the shooting of John Lennon, or of President Kennedy, or the death of Marilyn Monroe or of Joe Hill for that matter.
    Everyone will know it is wrong. It will live forever in history as a great injustice.

  9. @Alice

    Yes. They would have to avoid being so blatant. But they have avoided being blatant in the past. A number of Americans still think that the US government had a role in at least two of the three murders you mention. If that’s true we will probably never know.

    Maybe Assange will have an accident? They have strong reasons to make an example of him so his demise will probably be more obvious.

    What surprises me is how few people seem to understand that expecting a bin Laden to be provided with the protections of due process and to be subject to rule of law rather than be murdered on the whim of an Obama is about protecting us from the same arbitrary treatment. Looks like we have no rights. Anything done to any of us, little people, can be conveniently swept under the carpet as collateral damage. And if we are the subject of interest then we can be victim of an unrecorded executive order.

    In Australia many want to get rid of a constitutional monarchy. In America they should consider getting rid of their elected monarchy. Looks like Nixon was right “If the President does it. Its not illegal.”

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