It is no surprise that the assassination of Osama bin Laden has brought a wave of celebration in the United States. I, however, found my sentiments best expressed by a 9/11 survivor, Harry Waizer:
“If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that,” said Mr. Waizer, who was in an elevator riding to work in the north tower when the plane struck the building. He made it down the stairs, but suffered third-degree burns.
“But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”
The crowds I have seen in New York and Washington have been chanting and waving flags in scenes that could easily have been taken from a global sporting event. I don’t mean to minimize the real feelings of anger that were justifiably raised by the barbarity of the 9/11 attacks. But if people are going to treat this as a contest of some kind, it’s worth looking at the score.
Bin Laden, obviously a fanatic, lost his life. But the cost to the world was so much greater.A terrorist begins with the understanding that he is leading a much less powerful force than his foes. Part of the goal of terrorism is precisely to increase the brutality of the targeted state, increasing the fear, the terror, of the populace so that it will support greater violence.
At this, Bin Laden succeeded spectacularly. Since September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, where it has predictably become mired (as have so many invaders before it); its government created an elaborate (albeit ridiculous) lie in order to whip up sympathy to invade Iraq, where it also became entangled; its support for the Israeli occupation became even more fanatical and mindless; and, despite the obviously shallow mantra about “not being at war with Islam,” the US intensified its image in the Arab and Muslim worlds as the imperialist enemy, a condition which is about to bring serious consequences as the Arab Spring makes popular opinion a much more important factor in the region.
Add to that some 6,000 more Americans killed after 9/11, not to mention the people killed in the various foreign countries, numbering easily into six figures at minimum, trillions of dollars spent on the war effort and the damage that has done to the American ability to recover from the massive theft of money by Wall Street, the geometric increase of Iranian influence in the Middle East due to the American invasion of Iraq, and the concomitant decrease in American influence in the region, helped along by the fact that it took nearly a decade for the US to locate and kill bin Laden, and we see just how much the terrorist gained by taking an act that would get him killed at the not-terribly-young age of 54.
I have no doubt that if this deal had been offered to bin Laden before 9/11, he would have not only accepted but would have been giggling at the one-sided nature of the deal.
And we can rest assured that the US is not close to fully paying the price bin Laden extracted for his life. The Middle East, as we can see modeled in Turkey and Egypt, is quickly moving farther away from cooperation with the US. We remain trapped in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and even our puppets, like Hamid Karzai, are defying American policy priorities. And, lest we forget, in the end, bin Laden was an important figurehead of al-Qaeda, but there are many similar groups in the world and even al-Qaeda itself was far from dependent on bin Laden to do its dastardly work. Al-Qaeda and similar groups have been losing popularity for a long time, especially now as Egypt, Tunisia and other countries have shown there are popular and better ways to gain their rights. But the terrorist groups will still survive, and bin Laden’s death isn’t going to make a terribly big difference, beyond hopefully dispiriting some of the militants with the death of their charismatic leader.
We didn’t win here. If a crowd is going to cheer about this like it’s a baseball game, what they’re really cheering is the ending of a long inning where our team just kept getting hammered, giving up run after run. When the game finally ends, we will have taken too many losses to have any realistic chance of winning.
That’s what we need to recognize now that we have, after far too long and at far too high a cost, killed Osama bin Laden. Hillary Clinton has already said we are not going to realistically assess the score here, but are going to continue down the same forlorn path. But perhaps, after emotions have died down, we can convince more Americans that it is time to turn away from this path of destruction and try to finally bring at least some hint of what most Americans incorrectly believe to be our high ideals into foreign policy for a change.