Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Conversion of Osama bin Laden

Neither the short- nor long-term legacy of America's killing of Osama bin Ladin are clear.  Never the less, it is possible to make some fragmentary observations that I think will be relevant going forward.

In no particular order:

  • Put most plainly, OBL is not as important as he once was, nor is al Qaeda.  This is not so much because the capabilities of AQ have been diminished (they have), but because the events of the Arab spring have eclipsed AQ, and OBL, just as they have eclipsed (to a lesser extent) US dominance/relevance in the region.

  • Speaking of the "Arab Spring", it is highly likely that both the US administration and OBL viewed the Arab Spring in the same light:  unwanted.  I think they largely shared that view.

  • The attempt to deny a martyrdom shrine to OBL by burying him at sea won't work.  The US strike on Obama's compound was not just a killing.  It was actually more of a conversion.  What that conversion will be depends largely on how the US behaves in the region going forward.

  • For US Middle East policy, OBL's death will provide fuel for both sides of a debate: those wishing to remove the US from Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., and those wanting to stay engaged there.  One side will point to the nominal mission being accomplished.  The other will see it as proof that progress in our wars, occupations, and "kinetic military actions" is possible, and that we should "stay the course".  Regardless, it is likely that OBL's death will be viewed as general support for the thesis that American militarism works.

  • Ultimately, the meaning of OBL's death and the US role in it has yet to be established.  However, if there is a significant shift in US policy towards disengagement, his death will have been highly significant and beneficial to the nation he attacked on 9/11.  If, on the other hand, the US continues its current policies and actions unchanged, America by its own actions will render OBL's death meaningless. After all, how important could it be if it changes nothing?    Ultimately, the true meaning of the event is what the US makes of it through its own actions--not the event itself.