walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Feed
Features
Reviews
Podcast
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles this month. A quality publication is not cheap to produce.
Subscribe today and support The American Interest—only $2.99/month!
Already a subscriber? Log in to make this banner go away.
Published on: May 2, 2011
Bad Man Down

President Obama has been able to announce the news that Americans have longed to hear for the last ten years:  Osama bin Laden is dead, his corpse flung into the sea. Better, he is dead at America’s hands. Better yet, he died a beaten man.  His bid for the leadership of global Islam had failed, […]

President Obama has been able to announce the news that Americans have longed to hear for the last ten years:  Osama bin Laden is dead, his corpse flung into the sea.

Better, he is dead at America’s hands.

Better yet, he died a beaten man.  His bid for the leadership of global Islam had failed, and Osama lived long enough to see other movements and other ideas shoulder his perverted synthesis aside.  Osama was yesterday’s man, and he knew it.

Osama Bin Laden (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Above all, this is good for the United States.  Presidents Bush and Obama have not gotten everything right since 9/11, but on this matter they both did pretty well.  The United States was relentless and determined in hunting him down, pursuing tens of thousands of leads all over the world.  We left no doubt in anyone’s mind that getting Osama Bin Laden was a priority, but we did a pretty reasonable job (except when demagogic politicians were out on the stumps) of keeping our eyes open and our mouths shut.

My own approach has been to say very little on the hunt for OBL.  Back in December 9, 2009, when the subject got attention because of General McChrystal’s testimony in Congress,  I cited the advice of Leon Gambetta to the French following the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans after the Franco-Prussian war in 1871: “Think of it ever, speak of it never.”  Good advice then, and good advice for the United States during the ten year manhunt.  The more we talked about him and the more we shared our frustration at not finding him, the more we magnified the murdering thug and helped make him a larger figure on the world stage as a hero.  Talking about our desire to capture or kill him while he eluded us made him the Pink Panther to our Inspector Clouseau, the Bugs Bunny to our Elmer Fudd.

There was no telling how long it would take us to get him.  Killing or capturing an individual leader whose followers are willing to hide him is one of the toughest things a country can do.  Finding him in a country like Pakistan, where the United States is widely hated and where much of the leadership actively works with our enemies is harder yet.

But now the deed is done and there is no need to downplay its importance.  The death of Bin Laden will discourage and depress terrorists and their potential recruits the world over.  The world’s most ‘successful’ terrorist had nothing to show for his efforts — no forced withdrawal of the US from the Middle East, no proclamation of a caliphate, no destruction of Israel, no theocracy in Iraq.

Bid Laden’s death is not, as Peter Beinart suggests in the Daily Beast, the end of the war on terror.  Unfortunately a shadowy underworld of “Islamic” terror groups continue to pose an unprecedented threat around the world.  Unlike anarchist and communist terror groups in the past, they can kill hundreds and even thousands of people at a time, and they have the ability to disrupt commerce and the free flow of people around the world.  The threat that these groups could acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction is still very much alive; we live in an era in which non-state actors can wield levels of violence on a scale once restricted to states.

This underground, with links to organized crime, is opportunistic and evolving.  New leaders will emerge, new tactics will develop, and new attacks will come.  This remains a strategic threat, and whether we admit it or not, the state of war continues. We are winning that war by degrading the capacity and depressing the elan of these groups.  They are losing their popular support in most places; a decade of growing international cooperation has made the world’s counter terror measures significantly more effective.

So to amend Beinart, we are winning this war, but it isn’t over yet.

Nevertheless, the death of this failed, misguided man — with the blood of his thousands of victims staining his hands, choking his soul, and rising up to testify against him on the dreadful day of judgment changes the world, and it changes the world for the better.

In the first place, it greatly simplifies America’s task in Afghanistan.  The death of this man was a strategic objective in that war; it has now been achieved.  It is easier now for the United States to take a more flexible and political approach toward ending the conflict.  There are a lot of things we would like to see in a peace deal in Afghanistan; there are only two things we must have.  One is that Afghanistan never again becomes  a friendly sanctuary for terrorists planning attacks against us and our allies; the other is that the end of the Afghan War cannot be perceived as an American defeat.

The death of Bin Laden makes it much more difficult to paint a compromise political settlement in Afghanistan as an American defeat.  This should hasten the day when NATO forces come home.

It also begins to untie the unhealthy knot that has bound the US and Pakistan together since 9/11.  Pakistani nationalists by and large hate and fear the United States, especially since the US-India rapprochement puts us firmly in favor of India’s emergence as a global power.  Americans are frustrated by what we can only see as Pakistan’s slow but inexorable national suicide.  As these long term forces drove us apart, we were tightly bound together by the war in Afghanistan and the US drive against Al-Qaeda.  That unnaturally tight bond between two countries fundamentally uneasy with each other has intensified the friction in our relations and increased the hostility between us.

We have now moved significantly closer to the end of the unnatural relationship that is doing so much damage.  Ultimately American interests in Central Asia are secondary ones; we will not be abandoning this region as completely as we did after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we will not indefinitely hover over Pakistan the way we have since 9/11.  This will allow some underlying parallels between US and Pakistani interests to emerge and should lead to a smoother working relationship.

Pakistanis often blame Washington’s war in Afghanistan for their own country’s grim slide into chronic instability and for their frustrations in Afghanistan.  They are likely soon to discover that the only thing worse than a Washington breathing down their necks is a Washington relegating the region to a lower priority level.  The Russians, the Chinese, the Indians and the Iranians all agree that the conversion of Afghanistan into a sanctuary for radical, Sunni-linked religious terror movements is a very bad thing. Pakistan’s isolation on this issue is not America’s fault; as the US steps back, Pakistanis will have to grow up.  For too long Pakistan has had a security culture that nurtures fantasies and illusions; when those illusions don’t pan out, Pakistani nationalists blame the United States.  They will soon have the opportunity to find out that we have nothing to do with the steady deterioration of Pakistan’s position.

Osama certainly didn’t intend to do Israel any favors, but it is another sign of the curse under which he lived that his death has given the Jewish state a badly needed diplomatic victory.  In a statement that was one of the most serious of the many self-inflicted wounds to the Palestinian national cause, the ‘administrative head’ of the Hamas authority in Gaza condemned the attack and called OBL a “holy warrior”.  Suddenly, it is much, much easier for Israel to resist negotiating with the ‘unified’ Palestinian movement and much, much harder to pressure the Jewish state to embrace a coalition that includes Hamas.  In death as in life, OBL ruined whatever he touched — but did more damage to those he claimed as friends than to those he claimed to hate.

To be loved by Osama was if anything worse than to be hated by him.  No one has ever slimed the causes he claimed to support like he did.  OBL claimed to defend Islam; he and his henchmen murdered Muslims by the cartload and brought the name of Islam into disrepute all over the world.  He claimed to support Afghanistan, and brought a ruinous war to that country.  Those who offered him shelter were forced into exile themselves.  Those who sought to use him had their fingers scorched.  He lived as he died: a man of violence and blood.

May God have mercy on us all.

show comments
  • Luke Lea

    Nicely said. I hope you are right, and that we will ease ourselves out of that corner of the world. Even if Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal — and I personally have my doubts — that is no reason for staying.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    “Bid Laden’s death is not, as Peter Beinart suggests in the Daily Beast, the end of the war on terror. Unfortunately a shadowy underworld of ‘Islamic’ terror groups continue to pose an unprecedented threat around the world. Unlike anarchist and communist terror groups in the past, they can kill hundreds and even thousands of people at a time, and they have the ability to disrupt commerce and the free flow of people around the world. The threat that these groups could acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction is still very much alive; we live in an era in which non-state actors can wield levels of violence on a scale once restricted to states.”

    Beautifully put (and on the whole a superb article). But for me the supreme wonder and irony of it all is that these unprecedentedly noxious ideologies should have come to thrive in, of all eras, the past two decades – our very own globally enlightened post-Cold War period! Surely you’d have thought we were much more modern than all that?

    As for jihadism wanting to bring back (as some argue) the Middle Ages or some other past Golden Era, perhaps there are serious gaps in my knowledge of history. But frankly my guess is you could search the Record of Mankind from front to back, and for sheer indiscriminate murderousness – for pure “god is hate” rage and contempt of humankind simply for being human – you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to compare with the madness of al-Qaeda & Sons. Indeed I often ask myself if they aren’t one of the many seamy undersides – or unforeseen side-effects? – of today’s global “hypermodernity.”

    I can even imagine Osama having the last and best laugh – especially were his legacy ever able to convince us to DENATURE ourselves politically. God forbid we Westerners should finally exchange what’s left of our representative democratic institutions for some highly corporatized, informationally insatiable mass surveillance state. I may be grossly over-reacting, but stranger things have happened . . .

  • Luke Lea

    Maybe you can comment on the notion that there is a “deep state” in Pakistan — defined by Wikipedia as “influential anti-democratic coalitions within the political system composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services (domestic and foreign), military, judiciary,”etc — which really runs the country? It was striking that Musharraf, the military dictator until 2007, publicly objected to Osama’s killing as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

  • Anthony

    Well stated @ 2, J.R. Yankovic!!!

  • teapartydoc

    There’s always a new Mahdi.

  • Surellin

    “May God have mercy on us all” indeed. It occurs to me that the debate of proper burial for OBL vs. boiled-in-lard is irrelevant. God will do with this mutt as He will, three clean sheets or no.

    For some reason this reminds me of an old story. The date is 1953, and Stalin has just died. A man asks his priest who he was praying for at such length, and the priest says, “Stalin”. The man explodes, “Stalin? He wasn’t even religious!”. The priest replied, “He is now!”.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    “Maybe you can comment on the notion that there is a ‘deep state’ in Pakistan — defined by Wikipedia as ‘influential anti-democratic coalitions within the political system composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services (domestic and foreign), military, judiciary,’ etc — which really runs the country? It was striking that Musharraf, the military dictator until 2007, publicly objected to Osama’s killing as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.”

    Ditto for me regarding Professor Mead’s comments on the subject. Meanwhile a few of my own for what they’re worth: I think “deep state” is definitely the operative word here – at least as Wikipedia defines it. As for Musharraf, I suppose we’re learning the final worth of certain “allies.” And as for our alliance with Pakistan itself:

    “[Bin Laden’s death] also begins to untie the unhealthy knot that has bound the US and Pakistan together since 9/11. Pakistani nationalists by and large hate and fear the United States, especially since the US-India rapprochement puts us firmly in favor of India’s emergence as a global power. Americans are frustrated by what we can only see as Pakistan’s slow but inexorable national suicide . . . Pakistanis often blame Washington’s war in Afghanistan for their own country’s grim slide into chronic instability and for their frustrations in Afghanistan. They are likely soon to discover that the only thing worse than a Washington breathing down their necks is a Washington relegating the region to a lower priority level. The Russians, the Chinese, the Indians and the Iranians all agree that the conversion of Afghanistan into a sanctuary for radical, Sunni-linked religious terror movements is a very bad thing. Pakistan’s isolation on this issue is not America’s fault; as the US steps back, Pakistanis will have to grow up. For too long Pakistan has had a security culture that nurtures fantasies and illusions; when those illusions don’t pan out, Pakistani nationalists blame the United States.”

    AMEN. And while we’re at it, may the soft(-headed)ness towards the Pakistani military that prevails in certain US circles – which I believe dates back at least 3 or 4 decades – be once and for all consigned to the hell from which it came.

    PS – By all means let’s hope Osama’s death redounds in some major way to the benefit of Israel.

  • http://www.errortheory.blogspot.com Alec Rawls

    Obama’s idiots sure aren’t keeping their mouths shut anymore. Witness “Osama bin Laden raid yields trove of computer data.”

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0511/54151.html#ixzz1LJPrUY8J

    Morons. They should have released that Osama’s computers were all booby trapped and they couldn’t retrieve anything. I don’t have to explain why to you, but apparently someone needs to explain it to Panetta.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Regardless of the actual state of the files, one might want others to believe that something valuable may have been found.

  • http://www.errortheory.blogspot.com Alec Rawls

    If they actually got nothing it would make sense to pretend they got a treasure trove, but they would have to have gotten literally nothing, or next to nothing, since they are speaking out before having much chance to assess anything they did get.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Not really. Keep them guessing and keep them nervous.

  • Fred

    I’m certainly glad Bin Laden is dead. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Still, I can’t help but wish it had happened in 2008 or 2013. OBL hadn’t been a threat to the US since Tora Bora in December of 2001. Obama’s policies and lack of leadership, however, are a clear and present danger to the republic. Frankly, I’d rather see OBL alive and Obama defeated in 12 than the reverse. Now, Obama’s reelection has become, if not certain, much more likely. I shudder to think what the Obami will do to this country over the next 6 years.

  • Anthony

    Lest not run away with ourselves: Prior to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, aid had been given all over the world (Europe, Africa, Latin America, Middle East, Asia) by U.S. to further both our international relationships and interests. This framewok helped to engender now questioned activities and arrangements of supported interests like Pakistan’s deep state and Sunni linked religious terror movements. Moreover, mankind’s record for indiscriminate murder is indeed mankind’s; not restricted to any particular group madness.

  • http://monex.to/wiki/Michael_Carabini Michael Carabini

    Obama is turning out to be the nightmare that many of us have been warning about. This time he wants to impose his socialistic views on the United States by subjecting our citizens to the International Criminal Court ICC ..He recently dispatched a delegation to The Hague to explore issues involving United States involvement in the ICC an organization that USJF believes could be used to prosecute American soldiers and political leaders on trumped up criminal charges brought by left wing or terrorist supporting governments like Iran..Barack Obama believes that the United States should be subject to global laws instead of the United States Constitution. Constitutions provisions protecting defendants in criminal trials such as the right to trial by jury and protections against double-jeopardy which are the cornerstones of the Bill of Rights..A main tenet of the ICC is that its jurisdiction extends only to those nations that ratify the ICC treaty.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2014 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service