It’s Not V-J Day

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

I didn’t think the US would end up finding him. And if we did, I thought, it would have been long enough from the September 11th attacks for it to be considered next to irrelevant. I was almost asleep on Sunday night with half opened eyes when I overheard of someone’s death on CNN. As it turned out, under Obama’s orders and through a black-ops mission, the United States killed OBL.

It’s been nearly ten years since the 9/11 attacks but the death of the man who shook with mirth over the 9/11 attacks is hardly irrelevant. The argument that it’s easy to kill people and not an idea is only partially true. After all, if it were so easy it wouldn’t have taken almost ten years to kill the guy.

Unpredictability lay ahead for anyone tasked with entering the OBL’s compound (located in the middle of a Pakistani city) and ultimately making the attempt to kill the most wanted man on Earth. Like most I would have thought he’d be found or killed in the tribal areas of Waziristan. But for reasons not yet clear he moved to this “mansion” compound and lived there for at least five years. Between 9/11 and sometime after the Tora Bora campaign the U.S. government missed an opportunity to either capture or kill OBL.

During said time it would have been more idealistic to kill Bin Laden and cut down any momentum Al-Qaeda had. The 9/11 attacks were carried out, among several reasons, to attract more recruits to OBL’s network or “cause.” In this sense then, OBL’s death now while not irrelevant, means less today than it would have meant nine or so years ago. Someone dropped the ball on that. In fact, the Taliban had offered up OBL but was denied by the Bush administration.[1] Since that failure then, let us recall all the blunders that occurred years after that: the costly Bush-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a terror attack in Madrid on March 11 2004[2], and London on July 7 2005— bombings whose culprits were inspired by Al Qaeda and cited Iraq as one of the reasons for their participation in the attack.[3] In the years since 9/11 OBL appeared to be a mere figurehead while more real threats formed in places such as Yemen and North Africa.[4] He was considered to be more symbolic than having any commanding power within the terror organization.

But on the contrary, following the raid on his compound evidence has been discovered revealing plans to attack America’s rail system[5] (Or for a more humorous observation of this point I suggest you visit this site). Though the notes discussing said plans were considered “ramblings” and not necessarily in any operational stage[6] they do suggest that OBL still had some operational purpose in the organization.

Blowback

When I saw the news and heard where OBL’s compound was actually located I had immediate doubt about our continued military support for Pakistan. OBL is, in actuality, a product of the American government’s covert support for Afghan fighters during its war with the Soviet Union.

Our involvement there, and our hasty abandonment after the war was over, led to the rise of the Taliban and extremists such as OBL. At this moment, the fact that neither Pakistan’s law enforcement or ISI alerted American intelligence to OBL being in Abottabbad means they were either incompetent or protecting OBL. This, and so many other events in recent events/history, should be an indication to our government that it should no longer provide military aid to Pakistan or ANY country/group. Period. Foreign governments will always claim they are America’s ally, and speak sweetly so long as we provide aid. In the long run it doesn’t pay to provide such aid when another country’s interests don’t exactly match up with our own. Immediately following 9/11 it seemed necessary, but the ISI has had its own interests at times, especially as how they relate to their conflicts with India and their support of militant organizations within (such as the Haqqani militant network and Lashkar-e-Taiba). Projections were set at about $3 billion in military aid to Pakistan for 2011[7]—was it worth it? I don’t really think so. Officials are merely providing diplomatically vague reactions that sound more like an updated facebook status: “It’s complicated.” It’s time to realize that so many of our military aid contributions have either seeded the growth of dictatorships, and despots (Iraq’s Saddam is a good example) or embroiled our country with foreign conflicts that are not in our national security interests. State and Defense department officials might want to make a cost/benefit analysis of doling out weapons and dollars when they only end up hurting us in the long run.

An excellent article, written by Reuters, describing the ‘complicated’ alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan, can be found here.

Withdrawal

With OBL dead America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, set to commence this summer, shouldn’t be doubted, or slowed down in any way. If the Taliban were willing to abandon its ties with Al Qaeda (unlikely to happen) then perhaps it would also alleviate some of our military burdens, and provide the US with reason to make a speedier withdrawal. It’s already the longest running war in our history costing the United States about $6 billion a month[8], and has claimed almost 3,000 of our service men and women.[9]

Considering the unsustainable costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan it is clear that America should never go to war, or involve itself militarily unless it is attacked, or in response to a humanitarian crisis (as was the case recently in Libya). Launching the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, and dropping bombs was simple but rebuilding a country, and maintaining order in a foreign land is not.

Point of Influence

There are no hard numbers on how many Al Qaeda operatives remain in the Afghan-Pakistan region, or abroad. Some estimate there might be around 200 or so but no one can prove that, and only make guesses. Certainly since Operation Enduing Freedom and the subsequent arrests/operations within Afghanistan and Pakistan (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, etc.), Al-Qaeda’s strength and appeal has diminished.

Post-OBL there are two great threats facing America, one short-term, and the other long term.

Firstly, America faces the possible threat of retaliatory attacks from Al Qaeda operatives or radicals sympathetic to OBL’s cause. For some years some in Al Qaeda have spoken of having sought nuclear material to create a nuclear and/or “dirty” bomb. In one scenario a nuclear device would be used as a retaliatory attack after the death of OBL.[10] Safety from nuclear material being used by terrorists in the post-Cold War era has been a concern of several security experts since before 9/11. The threat of nuclear terrorism is real, and whether or not Al Qaeda’s claims to have one in possession are true or not the possibility of retaliatory assaults against us following the death of OBL, or Western targets is cause enough for us to remain vigilant.

Secondly, America’s overall long-term threats from terrorism reside more so in points of influence than physical threats. In other words, people such as Anwar al-Awlaki now pose threats by inciting attacks, and seeking to recruit new terrorists. Al-Awlaki, an American born cleric who speaks English, spoke with Maj.Nadal Hassan—an army psychiatrist accused of murdering 13 people[11] in Fort Hood, Texas—poses a different kind of threat. He has not actually been proven to have orchestrated an attack but rather call on for attacks, and accused of having ties to Al Qaeda.

Interestingly The New York Times made a point to note when and how al-Awlaki might have become radicalized:

“There are two conventional narratives of Mr. Awlaki’s path to jihad. The first is his own: He was a nonviolent moderate until the United States attacked Muslims openly in Afghanistan and Iraq, covertly in Pakistan and Yemen and even at home, by making targets of Muslims for raids and arrests. He merely followed the religious obligation to defend his faith, he said.

A contrasting version of Mr. Awlaki’s story, explored though never confirmed by the national Sept. 11 commission, maintains that he was a secret agent of Al Qaeda starting well before the attacks, when three of the hijackers turned up at his mosques.”[12]

As an English speaker, and someone familiar with Western culture he is capable of attracting followers and resentful Muslims within the U.S., and other places to launch attacks against their governments. On this subject it is prudent for American officials (and Americans in general) not to identify all Muslims as being terrorists. Quran burnings, House Homeland Security Hearings on Muslim cooperation after 9/11, and debates concerning the building of a cultural Islamic center in downtown Manhattan have only added to OBL’s (and al-Awlaki’s) narrative that America is at war with Islam. Negative attitude trends and the ostracizing of people who are Muslim continue as evident recently when an airline ejected two of its passengers merely because others felt uncomfortable having them on board with them.[13]

Though I agree that al-Awlaki, who does have connections to Al Qaeda, should be brought to authorities because of his involvement with Al Qaeda he shouldn’t be killed. Legally it’s tough to defend the execution-without trial of an American, despite his terrorist activities. Morally it is also difficult to justify the killing of someone who hasn’t been proven to do more than call for attacks, and be associated with Al Qaeda members.

That hasn’t stopped our government from trying to kill him within the last few days through drone strikes however.[14]

Hearts and Minds

While America should remain vigilant for threats from Al Qaeda it should also guard against internal prejudices against Muslims, and strive to respect everyone’s liberty while fighting what has been an asymmetrical war since 9/11. As stated before scapegoating an entire religious group, when most Muslims are hard working people pursuing happiness the same as any other, will only aid the enemy in their assertions that the US is at war with Islam. In fact, such broad paint brush strokes will ensure the likelihood of a domestic terror attack here in the US.

The death of OBL is a victory of sorts but it’s not V – J Day. When the war on Al Qaeda is won it won’t be marked by anyone’s death, or any singular event, but after US policy and character has won the hearts and minds of everyone here and abroad. It’s said to the point of being cliche, and yet is hardly understood. It means that America maintains the rights and liberties of all here in the U.S., strays from double standards in its diplomacy (especially in the Middle East, and Islamic countries), and fights its wars with care for innocent civilians, respect for other cultures, and advocate for people’s freedoms especially during this “Arab Spring.”

On that last point it’s important the United States not place its own interests over other people’s democratic interests. Maintaining a relationship with the government of Yemen, for example, however crucial it might be, should never require us to defend or fund its leaders when they are killing or imprisoning peaceful reform/democracy advocates. In doing that there and anywhere we once again give ground to people like Awlaki who argue that U.S. policies support puppet governments and not the will of the people. On the other hand if America makes it a point to defend the democratic rights of each individual in any country when its people calls for freedom then the success of OBL’s death will be amplified.


[1] Buncombe, Andrew. The Independent. “Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender Bin Laden,” October 15, 2001. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bush-rejects-taliban-offer-to-surrender-bin-laden-631436.html

[2] Hamilos, Paul. The Guardian. “The worst Islamic attack in European  history,” October 31, 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/oct/31/spain

[3] BBC News. “London bomber aired on TV,” September 2, 2005.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4206708.stm

[4] Pelofsky, Jeremy. Reuters. “Threat remains after Bin Laden killed by US forces,” May 2, 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/02/us-binladen-threat-idUSTRE74111U20110502?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reuters%2FtopNews+%28News+%2F+US+%2F+Top+News%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

[5] Entous, Adam. The Wall Street Journal. “Al Qaeda Sought to Target US Train Network,” May 6, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703992704576305691763033156.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

[6] Ibid.

[7] DeYoung, Karen. The Washington Post. “U.S. to offer more support to Pakistan,” January 8, 2011.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/07/AR2011010706528.html

[8] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

[9] http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/war.casualties/index.html

[10] Howe, Kevin. The Monterey Herald. “Reprisal attack by al-Qaida likely, says expert,” May 3, 2011. http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_17980927?nclick_check=1

[11] Reuters. “Preacher contacted by Fort Hood suspect on run in Yemen,” November 11, 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/11/11/us-texas-shooting-yemen-idUSTRE5AA2XW20091111

[12] http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/a/anwar_al_awlaki/index.html

[13] CNN. “Muslim group: two imams pulled from plane bound for North Carolina,” May 7, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/05/07/muslims.kicked.off.plane/index.html?hpt=T2

[14] Starr, Barbara. CNN. “Al-Awlaki targeted by U.S. military drone in Yemen,” May 6, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/06/yemen.drone.strike/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn

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