The assassination of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in Abbotabad, Pakistan will likely assure Barack Obama’s victory in the 2012 presidential race. Republican hawks will have a hard time pressing their claims that Obama is “soft on terrorism.”
Details about the killing of bin Laden remain obscure. The mission, a joint operation between CIA and Special Forces, appeared to have been mounted from a US-controlled air base in Pakistan — without the advance knowledge of Pakistan’s government. US sources say Osama was shot twice in the head; his son was also killed.
Bin Laden’s body was photographed and then apparently dumped into the sea from a US aircraft. Washington claims this was done to observe Muslim funeral rites calling for almost immediate burial. This sounds preposterous.
The real reason was more likely to prevent bin Laden’s burial site from becoming a shrine and, some cynics will assert, getting rid of the evidence. Expect endless claims that a bin Laden double was killed while the real McCoy still haunts Pakistan’s badlands. Various fakes videotapes used to depict bin Laden as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks used doubles.
Gleeful Americans are rejoicing that the man credited with the monstrous crime of 9/11 has been killed after a ten year search. More thoughtful ones may stop to ponder the remarkable Quixotic drama of a single man who set out to overturn the mighty American Imperium.
To people of the Muslim world, where many hailed bin Laden as a hero and liberator from Western domination, his killing in Pakistan will recall American gangland rub-outs and bodies dumped in New Jersey’s waters and swamps. Particularly after NATO warplanes killed Muammar Gadaffi’s youngest son and three grandchildren in Libya.
Expect already acid US-Pakistan relations to yet worsen as Americans accuse Pakistan of sheltering bin Laden for a decade. This writer has long said that Bin Laden was in Pakistan, and likely with at least some knowledge of ISI, Pakistani intelligence, though its able former Director General, Hamid Gul, whose word I respect, disputes this claim.
It is most unfortunate that bin Laden was literally rubbed out. If he could have been taken alive, the co-founder of al-Qaida should have been brought to the United States to stand trial in New York City, or, failing that, on a military base — but with lawyers and a civilian jury under full US law.
The whole story of 9/11 and al-Qaida remains murky and confused. Fully a third of Americans don’t accept the official US government version of 9/11, believing the US government or Israel were somehow involved — without any conclusive evidence but a lot of angry questions.
Much of the rest of the world also disbelieves the official 9/11 version. In the Muslim world the percentage of disbelievers rises to over 80%.
Now, after bin Laden’s death, we may never really know. Dead men tell no tales. Bin Laden long claimed he had no role in 9/11. Yet he certainly gave his approval and support after the fact. Those al-Qaida suspects brutally tortured by CIA into confessions are unreliable sources of evidence that would never stand up in US courts.
One point I want to set to rest: based on my long experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan and with jihadi groups and bin Laden’s mentor and guide, Sheik Azzam, I can say with a high level of assurance that bin Laden never worked for or with CIA, as has been often claimed. They were merely on the same side during the anti-Soviet struggle.
A big question now is what justification will Washington come up with to keep 150,000 Western troops in Afghanistan?
Hunting down bin Laden was, remember, the primary reason for sending US troops to that remote nation. No doubt Taliban and its leader Mullah Omar will be morphed by the US media machine into a bin Laden stand-ins.
What of al-Qaida? This extremist group, as I have been writing since 1999, was tiny. Never more than 300 men in 2001. Today, the core al-Qaida in Pakistan consists of a handful of hunted men. CIA chief Leon Panetta asserted that there were something less than 50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. There may be a hundred in Pakistan — all on the run.
North America’s media and the Bush administration wildly exaggerated the menace, strength and reach of al-Qaida, panicking Americans into believing, as the analyst Kevin Phillips wrote, that suburban soccer moms in the deepest Midwest were petrified Osama bin Laden was coming for their kids.
The specter of al-Qaida provided a handy pretext to invade Afghanistan to secure strategic territory next to Central Asian oil, keep China out of that region, and double spending on arms. The invasion of oil-rich Iraq was also justified by patently false White House claims Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden over 9/11.
Al-Qaida “affiliates” in North Africa, Arabia, and south Asia are simply small groups of local militants who have taken the al-Qaida brand name without having any organic or communications links to the remnants of the core al-Qaida in Pakistan. They are more a dangerous nuisance than a deadly threat.
Osama bin Laden may well and truly be dead. He predicted long ago he would die a martyr in a gunfight with US forces. Bin Laden has been more or less retired for the past 8-10 years, spending his time and energies in staying alive with a $25 million price on his head. He had almost become irrelevant.
Al-Qaida’s number two, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains at large and is now titular head of what remains of the organization of which he has been operations chief for many years. Dr. Zawahiri, who was brutally tortured in Egypt, is a dangerous extremist with much blood on his hands and a lust for revenge.
Bin Laden is dead, but bin-Ladenism lives on. Osama’s primary goal was to end Western domination of the Muslim world, and exploitation of its resources, which he claimed were being plundered. The Western-backed dictators, generals and kings that ruled the Muslim world as overseers for foreign interests had to be overthrown proclaimed bin Laden.
The Muslim world rejected bin Laden’s bloody-mindedness and his utopian calls for a reborn Islamic caliphate, but many of its people, particularly so younger ones, embraced his calls for revolutions to liberate the region from brutal dictatorships that licked the West’s boots, spread corruption, and betrayed the cause of Palestine. Husni Mubarak’s Egypt amply fit this description.
Osama bin Laden lived long enough to see the revolutions that he had helped ignite among young people burst into towering flames. In this sense, bin Ladenism will prosper and spread, enhanced by the image of Osama the martyr.
The Saudi revolutionary leaves another legacy. He repeatedly stated that the only way to drive the US from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing the United States into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt it. The United States under President George W. Bush and then Barack Obama rushed right into bin Laden’s carefully laid trap.
Today, the nearly bankrupt United States is spending hundreds of billions annually waging small wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and the Sahara. Grotesquely overblown military spending and debt addiction are crippling United States. That is why the ghost of bin Laden may be smiling.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.