Earlier this morning, May 1, 2011, President Obama gave the go-ahead for a military action that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The President gave a late Sunday address from the White House today, and social media and news channels are all abuzz with the news. I feel like typing about it, so here it goes.
Osama bin Laden is pretty fucking evil. Even the shortlist of what he’s done includes bombing the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in the 1990s, helping the Taliban wage war against the Northern Alliance, and spearheading the 9/11 attacks on America. Longer lists include involvement in attacks all across the Middle East/North Africa, Europe, Asia, Africa, you name it. We were able to diplomatically evict him from Sudan in the 1990s and militarily evict him from Afghanistan in the 2000s. Now, we were able to kick him out of life.
It’s taken almost ten years of fighting across two countries. We have bombed the shit out of Afghanistan and the Pakistani border. We have lost many American lives and taken even more. We’ve spent a lot of money. And we got him. But what’s next? The war in Afghanistan has only marginally been about al Qaeda – recent fighting has been almost solely against the Taliban in that region. The fight against al Qaeda has been in Yemen, Somalia, and other corners of the region. So, does this change the war in Afghanistan at all?
Right now, news cameras are showing the brouhaha on Pennsylvania Avenue. It started with maybe fifty people chanting “USA! USA!” and at times included girls doing a college/high school style cheer, a singing of the national anthem, lots of screaming, and allegedly beach balls. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was beer and boobies. I saw a handful of facebook statuses display “amen” and “thank god.”
Bin Laden sucked. A lot. But he also died, at the expense of a fuckton more than his life. And the amount of cheering at the death of the enemy seems oddly symmetrical to chants of “Magbar Amrika” (Death to America) in Tehran and flag-burning in Baghdad. I know it’s not the same. But I’ll be damned if the former doesn’t make me think of the latter. And that worries me. If we want to show Islamists that America is great and not the enemy, we probably shouldn’t flaunt our head-shot victories like a bunch of arrogant, well, Americans. The scene is a bit troublesome.
In the past ten years, America has changed a lot. We’ve gotten openly and militarily involved in three and a half countries (one could argue that Pakistan’s only a half). Guantanamo Bay’s detention facilities have become synonymous with America’s disregard for international law and decency in favor of abducting people with names that sound similar to enemies just in case. The PATRIOT Act has expanded the government’s intrusion into our private lives. A large and vocal minority in our country has shifted ill-will towards good-hearted American Muslims.
Once these things happen, it’s hard to undo them. It’ll take a long time to scale back these policies, stigmas, and fear-mongering. And the war must go on. It will, for who knows how long, while we beat on the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda everywhere. And the government will continue to ignore problems like our crippling recession, a crisis in education, and a broken border system.
Osama bin Laden did lots of terrible things, and he won’t be able to anymore. That’s good. War’s still ongoing, and it’ll be hard to really get things back to pre-bin Laden status. I don’t know what all of today means, but I would really like some good news. Today was, by and large, news.
Quick Update: I definitely want to give props to Obama. Even though he failed to mention the embassy bombings in Africa, he devoted a much-needed bit to Muslims and the fact that America is not fighting Islam. Sadly, it needs to be said every once in a while. I’d like to count myself among those “who believe in peace and human dignity.”
Well said, Scott. Yours is the best, most thoughtful take on it I’ve read (in the ten minutes since I woke up, checked the NYT, and found out. I guess a lot happened while I was sleeping… damn this time difference!)
I feel like my friends are either in the “fuck yeah USA” camp or on the “what is there to celebrate? The US is still killing civilians, we’re so nationalistic, etc” side. I’m kind of in the middle. I’m a little sick of hearing the idealistic chant of “what is there to celebrate? American foreign policy sucks.” I agree that our foreign policy leaves so much to be desired, but honestly I think there is a lot to be happy about. I would never celebrate a death no matter who it is, but I think symbolically this means a lot to a LOT of people, and we shouldn’t discount that.
At the same time, it makes me a bit queasy to see the crowds outside the white house. You’re right… it is oddly symmetrical and really a bit disturbing. I feel like our reaction should be muted and solemn, not celebratory.
Anyway, thanks for the thoughts!
Yeah, I understand the reason to be happy. The mastermind behind the deaths of thousands has been brought to an end. Good riddance. But it doesn’t mean the troops are coming home, or end to any of the problems we’ve seen arise from all of this. It’ll be interesting to see what concrete results stem from this. I think you’re right though, that this means a lot to people – I’m just not sure what exactly it means to me.
Also, I’d be interested to hear how the rest of the West interprets all of this, too. Let me know if you have any insight!