Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama Bin Laden Killed

So we finally killed Osama Bin Laden. That's almost certainly gotta be a good thing.
Still, I'm not really making this post because I feel some tremendous sense of justice (the guy managed to live and hide for a really long time after killing thousands of people) or because I think the world is going to be different from this point forward (it won't- Al Qaeda seems like it's been waning in power for years, and to the extent that it still remains a threat, it now seem to have a decentralized structure, with individual cells and divisions mostly acting independently. By most accounts, Bin Laden hasn't actively been controlling the thing for a long time. The threats that we face now aren't really likely to be from the 2001 Al Qaeda organization which sponsored the 9/11 attacks).
Anyway, I'm mostly just making this entry to sort of put my own personal bookend on a long and sad segment in American history.
Like most people, I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing on September 11th. I had court that day, but it was cut short. No one wanted to be in a multi-story government building on a day when we weren't sure of the extent of the terrorist attack. I remember being very worried about my uncle who was working in and around the Pentagon at the time. Mostly I just remember the imagery of watching those towers fall and feeling really horrified and incredibly sad and angry. I also remember thinking, even on September 11th, that Osama Bin Laden was probably behind the event, and that he was probably just trying to draw the U.S. into some sort of violent, visceral reaction that would draw us into conflict in the Middle East so that our reaction would further inflame anti-American, anti-Western sentiment in that part of the world.
I didn't just leap to these conclusions after watching the towers fall. The first 1993 Al Qaeda bombing at the World Trade Center and the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa had already created some media buzz. I'm not sure if Bin Laden was directly tied to the 1993 WTC attack, but I knew that he had been directly involved in the 1998 embassy bombings and had made statements indicating future plans to carry out attacks against the U.S..

Anyway, as things stand today, I'm glad Bin Laden is dead. I doubt that his death changes much, but I do feel like it provides some measure of justice (he definitely doesn't deserve to be free and running around), and at least it helps to preclude the possibility that he might eventually muster the resources and power to launch another awful attack at some point in the future (before September 11th he had been known to spend a number of years planning and carrying out individual operations, so even though we hadn't heard from him in a long time, surely the man was never completely out of the minds of the U.S. intelligence community).

On the other hand, Bin Laden's death feels like a bit of a hollow victory. Unfortunately, he accomplished a great deal of what he set out to do.
He drew us into a conflict in the Middle East which inflamed anti-American sentiment and inspired a new generation of jihadists in that part of the world (I'm thinking even more of Iraq here than I am Afghanistan, since the war in Iraq had a more tenuous link to the actual events of 9/11). Even more troubling, he accomplished the primary goal of all terrorists- spreading fear, tension, and unease amongst his enemy.
Bin Laden employed 19 men armed with box cutters, and he turned America's perception of its enemy, the world, and itself on its head.
Prior to September 11th we mostly saw Al Qaeda and similar organizations as small but dangerous criminal enterprises which might best be controlled through international policing and some moderate counterintelligence work. After 9/11 America grew to see itself as a nation under siege. Foreign terrorists were seen as mysterious, ubiquitous, and capable of striking with devastating ferocity at any place, at any time. Various countries in the Middle East were seen as breeding grounds for radical muslims who were chomping at the bit to infiltrate American borders and destroy us. America's intelligence and military budgets ballooned exponentially. We found ourselves entrenched in a ridiculously expensive war in Iraq that put an incredible drain on our resources and morale while essentially gaining us little or nothing in return.
Even we engage in the security theater that comes with standing in lines at airports with our shoes and our belts in our hands, and I can't help but feel that the terrorists, at least on a psychological level, have wracked up some significant victories.
The truth of the matter is that we were probably too lax in our feeling of invincibility before 9/11, and too paranoid and frightened for years afterward. Maybe we're beginning to strike a better balance. Maybe Bin Laden's death will help in that continuing process.
I just hate the thought that the 9/11 attacks and Osama Bin Laden were the event that shifted our lives so dramtically.

Anyway, Bin Laden is dead. I'm glad he's dead. He had no room in his religious orthodoxy, ideology, or worldview for anyone's way of life but his own, and the world is better off without his sort of deadly intolerance.
Hopefully his death brings a little closure and healing.
Not sure what else to say. I hope the next young radical Muslim who becomes furious with the west takes his anger out by voicing his anger on the floor of the U.N.'s general assembly or by launching some sort of media campaign against us.
I'm not naive. I don't think that we're ever going to get everyone to like us.
But if we can get our enemies to talk and launch political and P.R. campaigns and make arguments instead of resorting to violence.... well, that's my pipe dream.

Blah, blah, blah.
Thanks for putting up with that...


The League said...

Last night was very odd. Apparently a muted sense of melancholy was not how many of us wanted to respond to the news.

J.S. said...

I didn't hear about it until this morning. We were watching Winter's Bone. Good movie, but talk about a sense of muted melancholy...