Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So bin Laden's dead. Where do we go from here?

Prologue by Winnona

Everyone across the country celebrated today at the death of Osama bin Laden. I was the same as everyone else, though in my elation I felt a little ashamed; as one who has always believed that the God of my understanding would be the "Final Judge" of us all, I felt a little uneasy that I would feel elation at the death of another human being. BUT because of the total evilness of his actions and the actions he inspired others to take against humanity, I understand this elation and the unbridled celebration of others at his demise.

And now I find myself asking, "Now what?" The search for bin Laden and the war around the area of this search in Afghanistan, convinced as we were that he was in hiding between there and Pakistan has consumed our minds and justified so much of the death/destruction in this struggle against the Taliban and Al Quaida; where do we go from here? Recognizing that bin Laden was a driving force, especially on a spiritual level behind these terrorist forces, does this mean they will lose much of their spirit for the fight and either fall apart or call it quits, making for an earlier end to the war, or will they become even more ferocious in their intense anger and eager for revenge of their fallen leader? How much more diligent in our homeland security must we be, in watchfulness for retaliation, and for how long?

Now that we have rid the world of a man who all lovers of democracy and freedom have determined was the epitome of evil and enemy of that ideal, we're going to have to soberly consider those questions and hope we can find the strength and stamina to get to the answers.

After Bin Laden: Let’s Stop Playing His Game
by John Cassidy

While my colleagues have been commenting expertly on many aspects of the bin Laden story, I have been thinking about history: personal history, political history, military history. Like many New Yorkers, I find it a bit hard to separate one from the other.

Driving to J.F.K. on Sunday evening to pick up my wife, who was flying back from Europe, I was struck by the dry, brisk air and blue cloudless sky. My mind went back, as it often does in such conditions, to the morning of September 11, 2001, when, on Duane and Greenwich, a reporter’s notebook in hand, I watched the South Tower tumble into a great dust cloud that quickly enveloped the corner on which I was standing. (I filled up a Styrofoam cup with some of the detritus: it is still in my desk drawer.)

Such ghoulish thoughts were but fleeting: before I got to the airport, I had put them out of my mind completely. After arriving home we retired early and missed the announcement from the White House. Bin Laden’s entry onto the world historical stage, I saw close up; the dramatic news of his exit, I slept through.

Perhaps that was all to the good. Too much exposure to history-in-the-making can lead to trouble. Look at what it did to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their neocon advisers, who decided that the appropriate response to an opportunistic attack by a geographically scattered group of religious fanatics was to launch a “War on Terror,” and then to invade Iraq, the biggest secular country in the Middle East. Eight years after the beginning of that immensely costly diversion it was old-fashioned police (intelligence) work and a small-scale special-forces operation that produced the desired result.

Mulling all this over, I was reminded of the warnings issued in the aftermath of 9/11 by Sir Michael Howard, the British military historian. An admirer of the United States (he lived and taught here for several years) and no peacenik (as a young man, he served in the Coldstream Guards), Howard said that adopting war terminology in response to the criminal threat posed by Al Qaeda could lead to a century-long conflict. The gravest threat to world peace—and to America’s long-term security interests—Howard argued, was the possibility of the wounded superpower lashing out indiscriminately.

Of course, this is precisely what bin Laden had in mind by encouraging his followers to bring their twisted and maniacal cause to the streets of New York and Washington. In his writings on Al Qaeda, Lawrence Wright has quoted al-Zawahari saying this almost exactly: 9/11 was a spectacular provocation, designed to draw the United States and its allies into open warfare. Bush and Tony Blair followed bin Laden’s script as if reading from a screenplay.

Which is why, in historical terms, the dissident Saudi’s violent campaign, even though it engendered the breakup of his organization and, ultimately, his own violent death, was a certain kind of success. The overreaction by the United States and its allies to 9/11 implanted in the minds of many alienated Muslim youths (and a good many not-so-youthful devotees) the fateful notion that the world, as represented by the United States and other Western powers, was their implacable enemy.

The killing of Bin Laden won’t change this mindset; it could conceivably strengthen it. From the perspective of most peace-loving Westerners, a despicable human being has been eliminated and justice has been served. To many radicalized Muslims, the Navy SEALs have created another martyr. It is to be fervently hoped that that bin Laden’s death will dishearten his followers and further disrupt what remains of Al Qaeda. Still, it is depressingly likely that some day soon a group of committed jihadis will seek to avenge his death with more bloodshed.

As Howard predicted, the “War on Terror” could well go on and on—an endless cycle of action and reaction, which some commentators almost seem to revel in. “(T)he fight against al-Qaeda is not over, and it is far from our only enemy,” an editorial in the National Review declared on Monday. “September 11 thrust the United States into a generation-long conflict: It is our Thirty Years’, perhaps our Hundred Years’ War.”

What a nightmarish prospect. Now that bin Laden is gone, surely it is time to challenge the logic of eternal conflict that he expounded—to quit playing the game he wanted us to play.

A good place to begin might be with the speech that Howard gave in London in October 2001, when construction crews were still clearing Ground Zero of human remains. “To declare war on terrorists or, even more illiterately, on terrorism, is at once to accord terrorists a status and dignity that they seek and that they do not deserve,” Howard said. The U.S. Air Force was busy bombarding Afghanistan, a military campaign that Howard likened to “trying to eradicate cancer cells with a blow torch.” Even more disastrous, he went on, would be an extension of the U.S. military campaign “through other rogue states, beginning with Iraq, to eradicate terrorism for good and all. I can think of no policy more likely, not only to indefinitely prolong the war, but to ensure that we can never win it.”

At this remove, who can say for sure that Howard was in error? American troops, by the tens of thousand, are still on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. The covert U.S. military footprint grows ever larger. As of the latest counting, the Pentagon has launched missile attacks against targets in four other Muslim countries: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. (The latter strike wasn’t officially part of the War on Terror.) Despite it all, the violent threat of radical Islam remains—not least from jihadis who were homegrown in the United States, Britain, Holland, and other Western countries.

As of yet, I haven’t even mentioned economics. In 2001, the defense budget stood at about $300 billion: today it is more than $700 billion. Even allowing for inflation, this represents roughly a doubling in outlays. Twenty years after the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States is spending more money on soldiers and armaments than the rest of the world combined. How long can this go on? For a debt-ridden colossus that depends on Beijing and other foreign capitals for day-to-day funding, it smacks of the imperial overstretch that another British historian, Paul Kennedy of Yale, warned about way back in 1987—before virtually anybody in the West had heard of bin Laden.

So, all credit to President Obama for authorizing a successful mission and to the Navy SEALs for carrying it out. But where do we go from here? In May 2011, we can’t rerun history. We can try and alter its future course. Bin Laden’s death and the looming anniversary of 9/11 provide a fitting occasion to embark on such an effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I want to hear from you but any comment that advocates violence, illegal activity or that contains advertisements that do not promote activism or awareness, will be deleted.