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The Endings Yet to Come

| May 2, 2011

The Wall Street Bull's message to bin Laden, blocks away from the fallen Twin Towers, a few days after the 9/11 attacks. Click on the image for larger view. (© Pierre Tristam/FlaglerLive)

The Wall Street Bull's message to bin Laden, blocks away from the fallen Twin Towers, a few days after the 9/11 attacks. (© Pierre Tristam/FlaglerLive)

Celebration isn’t a dignified reaction to the death of any man, even in war. With Osama bin Laden, it’s different, at least for those of us—most of us—who lived through that day in September 2001, when the barbarity of bin Laden’s capacities revealed themselves, unleashed by a perversion of religious zeal rare even for history’s crammed circles of zealots. The celebration of mass murder was Bin Laden’s signature. Celebrating his death is a reaction as visceral as the horror and sorrow we lived in 2001, as helpless a reaction, for the better, as the helplessness we felt, watching those towers fall 10 years ago. Bin Laden had declared war on every American in August 1996. He got his due, if unnecessarily late. He’d forfeited due process long ago.

Visceral reactions help at first. But they don’t make for good policy. They didn’t in 2001. They won’t in 2011.

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The visceral never let up in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks. The visceral wasn’t just the inspiration for what followed. It was the method of what followed, an overreaction that flailed and sprawled over a decade, over three continents and three wars, none of which—not a single act of which—achieved what a group of a less than three dozen men finally achieved the night of May 1 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

One part of the debate after the 2001 attacks, muffled as it was by our own zeal and patriotic fury, was whether to deal with al-Qaeda in the shadows or whether to launch a war. The warmongers won, and lost the decade, and a lot more along the way, including 6,336 American servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan (so far), American influence and prestige, more than $1 trillion. There were also incalculable losses of constitutional principles and moral authority with every act of torture and extra-judicial executions at America’s hands, with every act of imperious fiat by a presidency that, even now with adventures abroad, takes Congress for a footnote—and allows the sham of Guantanamo Bay to persist.

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In matters of foreign and military policy, it has been the most wasteful decade in American history, a waste that won’t be made up by the killing of bin Laden. Symbolism counts. It doesn’t win. Whether the courage of launching the strike on bin Laden will be followed by the courage of stanching American losses in the Middle East, by ending American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and continuing the decimation of al-Qaeda the only way it can work—as it did against bin Laden—is the unanswered question.

Bin Laden in 2011, in any case, was already dead in most regards. He was irrelevant. Al-Qaeda’s influence, never as strong in the Arab world as it was imposed on parts of the Arab world, had waned since the middle of the last decade. It had become marginal, its attempts to stay relevant undermined by the shoddiness of its operations, which its operatives botched more often than they pulled off, by the sophomoric idiocy of its message, which had no resonance with the daily struggles of ordinary people—a caliphate? With this Facebook generation? Really?—and by the brutality of its disciples. Al Qaeda in Iraq was no less bloodthirsty against Muslims than it was against Americans in Manhattan.

If al-Qaeda was in its own intensive care unit by the end of the last decade, the Arab Spring of the last six months finished it off. None of those Arabs in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen have been holding up signs for a new caliphate, let alone iconic images of bin Laden. They’ve been battling for their own liberties, on their terms and, if anything, with aspirations more familiar to western ears—democracy, human rights, pluralism—than with bows to the regressions of al-Qaeda. Al-Jazeera will always find blithering fanatics on the Arab street to speak of bin Laden’s “martyrdom,” or his standing up to western imperialism, Zionism and other shredded clichés. But for all its abilities to pull off the errant bombing, the isolated attack, the hysterical broadcast, as it surely will, al-Qaeda as an influence on history is dead. Its only influence should be limited to the movements and agility of special operations forces. Had it been so limited since 2001, it would have never played the disproportionate role it did on the recent history of the Middle East, or led to the degradation of American policy into reactionary flaps and flounders, a degradation whose price we’ll be paying for years, not least with Pakistan cashing the checks.

The location of bin Laden’s final laird tells the tale.

So he has: a quilt of messages in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, hung at Manhattan's Washington Square Park after the attacks. Click on the image for larger view. (© Pierre Tristam/FlaglerLive)

It would be one of the supreme ironies of this story if that Abbottabad bunker didn’t reveal the cynical hypocrisy at the core of bin Laden’s character. He wasn’t living in a cave. He wasn’t living in the Spartan severity of his very brief Afghan years, after he left the comforts of Sudan—after the Sudan kicked him out in 1996—and before the American invasion of Afghanistan drove him out five years later. This man, who made a trip to the United States in 1978 so his son could get medical treatment, was living in a fortified compound in the comforts of a city known for its country club, its Aspen-like air, its gigantic golf club and its appeals to tourists on their way to the splendors of Kashmir. He was living in a town named for James Abbott, memorializing the days of the British raj. The town was hard-hit by the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, which killed 75,000 people, and therefore a recipient of more emergency American aid on top of the $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion a year Pakistan is receiving from U.S. taxpayers. It’s not a stretch to say that bin Laden, who spent his fortunes long ago, was partly living on American dole.

That’s his duplicity.

Then there’s Pakistan’s, that alleged ally in the war on bin Laden and Islamism. That flaunting compound where bin Laden was living, 35 miles north of the capital, was built in 2005, after the earthquake. It’s eight times higher than the residences around it. It’s surrounded by a wall of up to 15 feet high topped with barbed wire. It’s in a city filled with retired military and intelligence officers. Pakistan’s ISI, the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence, has been playing a double game with the United States since 1979. It created the Taliban in the 1990s. It protected bin Laden in Pakistan until 2001, and very likely enabled his escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. It’s impossible that the ISI didn’t know who was living in that compound in Abbottabad. It’s virtually impossible that the ISI or other elements of the Pakistani military weren’t not only protecting bin Laden, but abetting him.

Pakistan’s duplicity isn’t over. Its long-term interests in Afghanistan aren’t to facilitate American interests, but to further its own against India’s, as it did in the 1990s, when it formed the Taliban as a hedge against India there and in Kashmir, and as a replacement for American withdrawal from the scene after the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1989. That’s Pakistan’s battles. It’s no longer those of the United States. Should Pakistan choose to harbor other terrorists with presumptions of attacking the United States, there’s no begrudging a special ops team to do to them what they did to bin Laden. A few of those terrorists should be quaking in their galabias right about now.

But as brilliant as the operation against bin Laden was on Sunday, it discredits for good the carpet-bombing approach of the previous years, which largely continues. Barack Obama wisely stopped referring to “the war on terror.” That’s only one out of three overdue corrections. Celebrations over Iraq and Afghanistan, to say nothing of celebrations for justice reclaimed over broader swaths of the Middle East, still await.

Above, the Times Square ticker in the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Below, the Times Square ticker Monday. (© Pierre Tristam/FlaglerLive and Michael Appleton for The New York Times)

Above, the Times Square ticker in the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Below, the Times Square ticker Monday.
(© Pierre Tristam/FlaglerLive and Michael Appleton for The New York Times)

16 Responses for “THE END OF BIN LADEN,
The Endings Yet to Come”

  1. William says:

    Where to begin……

    Alas, the evil bogeyman is dead! Let’s all hang out our flags, play on the theme of patriotism all day, and walk around pounding our chests saying “gotcha motherfucker.”

    Being the skeptic, however, there are some questions that pop into my head.

    What a coincidence that this great event should occur 8 years to the day after Chimpy McCokespoon landed on an aircraft carrier with a Cannoli stuffed in his flight suit, proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.”

    And considering the American ego, I would have expected to see his head on a stick displayed on the White House lawn. Instead we get an immediate burial at Sea, making independent DNA examination impossible. Go on, call me a conspiracy theorist, but don’t try to deny the fact that our government has lied to us repeatedly. The 9/11 Commission report, disowned by its co-chairs, is every bit the fraud that the Warren Commission was. I won’t go on about my lingering doubts of the events surrounding 9/11, suffice to say I don’t trust a government which would come up with Project Northwoods.

    But let’s set aside my questions for a moment and make that leap of faith that it’s all true. What’s changed? We still have the Patriot Act, drawn up and ready to go, awaiting only PNAC’s new Pearl Harbor, TSA groping, fear and suspicion, etc. One could argue we’ve cut the head off the snake. True enough, but that snake has hatched several broods in the meantime. Worse still, we’ve been suckered into nourishing that brood by our actions, our global overreach borne out of righteous indignation. If you think I’m full of shit, consider the absurdity of our intervention in Libya, where we’ve chosen sides in a civil war because Quaddafi is using the weapons we sold him on his own people.

    Further, let’s consider the snake, Al-Qaeda (translation “The Base”, or “The Database”). Just as the Taliban was a creation of the ISI, Al-Qaeda was a creation of the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. According to Sibel Edmonds, OBL was a CIA asset up until 9/10, proving the Kissinger bon-mot that the only thing more dangerous than being the enemy of the US is being its friend. Again and again our arrogant interference in the affairs of others has bit us in the ass. We’ve become the most despised nation on the planet, despised by peoples and cultures not suffering from the American short attention span. Bin Laden may have killed thousands, but we’ve killed millions, and the bankrupting of our nation and institutions we’ve done to ourselves.

    So who wins? The people of the United States? If the desire for revenge and our bloodlust is the measuring stick, I suppose we can put a small, insignificant check mark on history’s calender. Whether it can really count as a win is open to speculation, with future (if we have one) historians being the final arbiters of the story. From my perspective, the violent end of OBL doesn’t feed one hungry child, shelter one battered woman, house one homeless vet. Doesn’t make us a whole lot safer either, so long as we continue on with our doctrine of full spectrum global domination.

    If this event should give any measure of closure, let it be in the form of repairing the damage done to our country, both at home and abroad.

  2. nehad ismail - London says:

    Osama v Obama

    Obama has won spectaculaly. Last week it was Obama V Trump, and Obama was forced to produce a birth certificate. This week Obama has to produce a Bin Laden death certificate.
    Who said a week is a long time in politics.
    All the aforementioned aside, Pierre’s analysis is sugically incisive and painful.

  3. JIM.R says:

    A killer killing a killer, as a very lucid gentleman on Democracy Now said this morning.

  4. John Smith says:

    Well that figures, The Bush Camp is taking credit for this great undertaking. The only credit they deserve is that Bin Laden hated the old Man along with George W. since the 90s, and that George W had to make the effort to fight with Bin Laden to where He did the 9/11 attacks. The Bushes are gone and that bastard Bin Laden is dead and My grandson has to go to Iraq and do his duty and clean up the Bushes mess. Thank you Obama for making the decision to get him Sunday and Making the effort to stop this terror instead of just looking for him by using it to make you look good to the people. God Bless Obama and the Navy Seals JOB WELL DONE.

  5. Liana G says:

    Great post William. I too am another conspiricy theorist – and George Carlin says it best.

    Also, it is well known that Saudia Arabia and Pakistan are supporters of Al-Qaeda. Major piece of distraction for the American people. Wonder what’s in store for us that our gov’t has to make this big a distraction! Something’s up!

  6. William says:

    @ Liana

    That was also my initial gut reaction when I heard the news. What’s about to go down that will be buried by the “all Bin laden, all the time ” coverage?

  7. Dorothea says:

    Well said, John Smith. The extreme right and the exteme left have their conspiracy theories in common, one wants a birth certificate and the other a death certificate. When it came to killing Osama bin Laden, the biggest difference between Bush’s and Obama’s approach is that Bush swaggered up to the podium annoucing what he would do in order to gain political traction, while Obama kept the mission a secret and actually accomplished killing the SOB. President Obama also made the right decision in dumping the corpse at sea. Who wants to create a permanent shrine to a mass murderer? As for the timing, it was based on a low light moon on Saturday night.

  8. Liz McLaughlin says:

    As a New York transplant who has family members who are NYPD, NYFD and NYIronworkers still living and working in the NYC area, I am relieved that one who was pure evil is gone from our planet. There will never be full closure, but this at least, is a start.

  9. NortonSmitty says:

    I too have to question the official version of the death. If you look at the official version of the original crime, it is obviously a lie, a textbook false flag operation. It is not possible, let alone plausible, that the 9/11 facts fit the official story. If you believe what you were told happened, you still are amazed about the things that happened that were swept under the rug without examination, like Building 7. Never heard of building 7? Don’t be embarassed, neither did a NY Judge, as well as the American News Media. Here is some info, if it hasn’t been removed from the web yet: .

    In short, a hi-rise blocks away from WTC #1&2 collapsed hours later from a minor fire. Photo’s and ALL other evidence by extremely credible sources prove it was a controlled demolition. It was lost as the focus was on the Towers and then the Anthrax attacks. Remember the Anthrax Attacks? If you do, you probably are a big Jeopardy fan with that big over-educated melon you got. Sorry, but the Fool Me Once rule is in effect for me about the Bush family’s favorite Saudi business partners favorite Son until I see a bearded Saudi head on a pike with a DNA test result strip in his mouth. Even then….

    The Building 7 event alone, to the exclusion of the mountains of other obvious and well documented inconsistencies in the Official Story, will guarantee that I will not be shouting “USA, USA” and getting drunk in celebration this evening. Drunk, maybe. Celebration, not until the head on a pike is planted and rotting on Ground Zero.

  10. Liana G says:

    Norton and William, you guys are on the same page, and so am I! Glad to know I’m in good company :)

  11. dlf says:

    All of us are happy to see justice served; a job well done by “the boots on the ground” the men and women who placed their lives on the line and were not setting in some conference room. I hope all of our joy will last and will over come the issues when the next shoe drops and we all know it will. When that happens it will be of interest to see the comments on this page , who will we blame the people in the conference room or the past president? Anyhow, a job completed and job well done to the current officals

  12. Bob Z. says:

    I am a Navy veteran and wore my Navy jacket today while riding my motorcycle to work, as a salute to the Navy seals who carried out the operation and I received two thumbs-up from other drivers. While the killing of Bin Laden may or may not have a great effect on the terrorist organizations it united our country, at least for a little while, and that is what really matters.

  13. Kevin says:

    What a coincidence that this great event should occur 8 years to the day after Chimpy McCokespoon landed on an aircraft carrier with a Cannoli stuffed in his flight suit, proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.”

    Dear William–No matter the level of repugnant rhetoric that may exist between us, I will always appreciate your creativeness in coming up with “Chimpy McCokespoon.” That was very funny.

  14. JIM.R says:

    Yes Bob, if only our country was united against the foreign policy and militarism that is destroying us, it really would matter..

  15. NortonSmitty says:

    I feel in all fairness to point out that not once while W. was in the Guard patrolling the skies over Texas did the Viet Commies get the nerve to bomb the Lone Star State. Not once. I do give credit where credit is due.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Not once was it proven that Bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. All convenient propaganda. Killing him did not solve anything. Pull your head out of you back passage and think. John Wayne mentality is what makes American citizens so well liked the world over.

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