United States President Barack Obama, riding high in the polls, his re-election virtually assured, is now free to bask in the glow of his all-American victory in the global “war on terror”, which his administration had rechristened “overseas contingency operations” (OCO). The Osama Bin Laden hit on Monday was indeed an OCO – a swift, overseas “kinetic military action” surmounting innumerable contingencies such as the violation of the aerial space of a theoretically sovereign nation.
Yet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first reaction was to stress the “war on terror” in fact goes on forever, true to the spirit of the Pentagon’s own slogan, “The Long War”. That applies especially to the ultra-strategic AfPak theater. It’s as if commander-in-chief Obama could not but be a regal prisoner in a labyrinth not of his own making.
The White House’s move to break out of the labyrinth was to paradoxically go ballistic and seal the death of the 9/11 trauma, capitalized by the George W Bush administration as a license to kill evil – be it in itself or in the form of an axis – and thus affirm Jeffersonian freedom. From 2001 to 2008, those were the years when the hyperpower – on a mission from God and focused as a laser on a Hegel/Fukuyama “end of history” – simply trampled over international law.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were supposed to be only the first two stops on the way to redemption (then there would be the road to Damascus, Tehran and even Tripoli …) What was christened as The Greater Middle East project was supposed to smash “terror” and the regimes that sheltered it; the Taliban Afghanistan and – in the neo-con vision – Saddamist Iraq. Others would inevitably fall like dominoes.
Almost a decade after 9/11 – and with the Bush “dead or alive” promise finally fulfilled Terminator-style – where does the former hyperpower goes next?
The strategic chessboard has completely changed. It’s hard to exercise hyperpower hegemony when you know China will overtake you as the world’s number one economy, possibly as soon as 2016 – and when you’re drowning in debt to, who else, strategic competitor China. Yet you’re still overextended military, and your never-ending “war on terror”, not to mention two-and-a-half wars, are costing trillions of dollars, paid up by, who else, your top banker China.
Your soft power is not as seductive as it used to be – although your hi-tech creativity is still matchless; and most of all nobody in the developing world, starting with the BRICS group, gives any credence to your Washington Consensus anymore.
And the winner is … China
So for now the winner of the “war on terror” is China, which for a number of reasons, paramount among them the Deng Xiaoping motto “to get rich is glorious”, is now close to the point where it was for 18 of the past 20 centuries, that is, on top.
Obama may be accused of many things – including of being a Nobel Peace Prize warmonger. But he’s also a smart intellectual. The president has surveyed the landscape and has seen how America’s Paul Kennedy-diagnosed imperial overextension has accelerated its decline. And he also has seen how in the process the US was totally corroded by the specter of “Islamic terror”.
And that may lead us to the answer of the magic bullet question about the timing of the Bin Laden hit.
When 9/11 happened, music genius Karlheinz Stockhausen said – to the outrage of millions of Americans – that “this was the greatest work of art the world has ever seen.” He had a point as 9/11 – in terms of its impact upon the collective unconscious of mankind, almost to the point of paralysis – reduced Albert Speer’s and Leni Riefenstahl’s specials to child’s play.
So to symbolically kill the “war on terror” – which was invented because of 9/11 – Obama had to (literally) kill the (alleged) perpetrator, be it real or not, guilty or not, a clone or not. Thus the hit, the swift disposal of the body, no photos, end of the movie, no credits rolling; a tight cinematic narrative. The obvious holes in the plot, as in any Hollywood blockbuster, are deemed irrelevant; what matters is success at the box-office – and we move on.
Like a basketball-playing Freudian, Obama went for the kill, the reason of the whole trauma. He identified it as the only way to start anew – as in trying to end the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq and start concentrating on what really matters for the US; investments in education and infrastructure, the dire state of the economy.
There’s no guarantee Obama’s “cure” will work. Millions of Americans may – and are – feeling the boost, as if the whole country ingested a tsunami of Red Bull. The key question is whether jihadism will disappear for good from the current geopolitical landscape.
In fact even before the Bin Laden hit it had already been defeated by history – as in the great 2011 Arab revolt affirming, unequivocally, the Arab world’s will to welcome democracy, not suicide bombers.
Obama’s “cure” will face monstrous contradictions. Drones kill civilians in the Pakistani tribal areas while the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “humanitarian” war kills civilians in Libya. Humanitarian warmongers silent in the face of the appalling repression in Bahrain and the House of Saud getting away with conducting an anti-democracy counter-revolution all across the Persian Gulf.
If Bin Laden – and Muammar Gaddafi – may be selected for diplomacy by targeted assassination, why not the ghastly dictatorship in Myanmar, or Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan? Moreover, the Pentagon will keep fighting with all its might to keep its Long War going on forever.
Obama the psychoanalyst has just baptized a new, post-Osama world. Let’s see how America reacts, or if it’s soon back to the couch.