Now That Osama bin Laden Is Dead, What Does It All Mean?

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05/02/2011 1:04 PM |


It’s the nature of the current media climate that extraordinary events, such as the death of Osama bin Laden, unfold faster than the speed of reporting. And while Twitter one-liners and amusing jpegs have their place, it’s also incredibly frustrating, for people like you and me who’ve becomes acclimated to instantaneous information, to see the same anchors and “analysts” vamp with the same facile nut-graf speculations and historical-import talking points, while we wait for some actual information to emerge. So now, if you’re hoarse from chanting U-S-A!, we’ve assembled some of the more in-depth, forward-looking pieces to have emerged so far, considering the cathartic death of an increasingly marginalized geopolitical figure?

So, what does Osama bin Laden’s death mean for…

Osama bin Laden had been hiding out in a million-dollar mansion in a cozy suburb of Islamabad favored by the Pakistani military elite, which makes things, well, awkward. Steve Coll, who unless I’m missing something is America’s leading expert on Pakistan’s simultaneous reliance on US military aid, centrality to the stability of Afghanistan and covert support for jihadi groups (see this, from exactly a year ago), has this to say:

The initial circumstantial evidence suggests… that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.

The whole piece is essential reading.

The “War on Terror,” the national-security state, and our continued military presence in Afghanistan?
Hamid Karzai and our boys in Afghanistan agree: this means we can go home now, right?

Well, not so fast: al Qaeda—and Islamist terror in general—is a global, decentralized organization (though the importance of symbolism shouldn’t be downplayed). As for war, both Anne Applebaum, from the right, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, from the left, see this very surgical mission as a rebuke to our strategy of endless war waged against a vague noun.

In the shorter term, stuff like this means the answer to questions like this is a pretty definite “no.”

The wave of protests now going on across the Arab world?
“In the long term, it is the historical transformations in the Arab and Muslim world that will eventually close the book on al-Qaeda,” says a commentator for Al Jazeera English; elsewhere on AJE, two policy scholars note that Pakistan’s obvious complicity in hiding bin Laden is a further argument against the kind of regimes—like in Egypt and Yemen—we’ve been propping up against the will of the people and despite the threat of terrorism:

In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, we heard dictators playing the Islamist card for three decades—”support us unless you want the terrorists to win”.

The reality has been quite different. Dictators from Musharraf to Mubarak have relied on terrorists and extremists to bring in the US aid they so desperately need to survive.

Executive power?
The Navy SEALs that killed bin Laden (apparently with two shots to the head) was under orders to kill, not capture. Even our most skeptical left-wingers are happy with this outcome, it seems today, but it’s maybe worth noting that this targeted assassination didn’t happen because of a policy exemption. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The 2012 elections?
“Here, a potentially helpful parallel can be drawn to President George H.W. Bush, who oversaw the first Gulf War in early 1991. In hindsight, the achievement of that war—evicting Hussein from Kuwait—seems slight, but that’s not how it was regarded at the time… the quick and relatively smooth victory set off a prolonged national celebration—one that boosted Bush’s approval ratings to over 90 percent, then a modern polling record. Bush reached that polling peak 19 months before he was to stand for reelection—almost exactly where Obama is now. At that point in ’91, it was universally assumed that Bush—powered by the Gulf War triumph—would be unbeatable in 1992, and every big-name Democrat passed on the chance to run. But the economy was weak and it only seemed to get weaker as ’91 wore on.”
-Steve Kornacki, Salon (You may also recall SNL‘s “The Race To Avoid Being The Guy Who Loses To Bush,” with Keifer Sutherland as Lloyd Bentsen)

Right-wing talking points?
Donald Rumsfeld is already telling people “that critical intelligence about al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts could have come from detainees at Guantanamo Bay.” Could have! Until such time as the government reveals details of the assets involved in this intelligence-gathering operation—which should be any minute now, surely—expect to hear a lot more baseless speculation about interrogation methods. We can also look forward to many, many years of arguments, with predictable participants arguing over whether the president’s speech (“shortly after taking office…”) was a justifiable credit-grab or a shameful slight to work done in the Bush years.

The movie business?
Well, it was reported over the weekend that Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow was in pre-production on a movie titled, tentatively (at least at the time), Kill Bin Laden. So expect several different black-ops thrillers to be greenlit simultaneously. If we’re really lucky, we might even get a jingoistic reenactment with lots of jump cuts directed by Paul Greengrass. If we’re unlucky, we’ll get another one of these.

More of this, hopefully.