The article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. Click here to listen to the author discuss covert war and the killing of Osama bin Laden
Back in the 1960s, Senator George Aiken of Vermont offered two American presidents a plan for dealing with the Vietnam War: declare victory and go home. Roundly ignored at the time, it’s a plan worth considering again today for a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now in its tenth year.
As everybody not blind, deaf and dumb knows by now, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated. Literally. By Navy SEALs. Or as one of a crowd of revelers who appeared in front of the White House Sunday night put it on an impromptu sign riffing on The Wizard of Oz: “Ding, Dong, Bin Laden Is Dead.”
And wouldn’t it be easy if he had indeed been the Wicked Witch of the West and all we needed to do was click those ruby slippers three times, say “There’s no place like home” and be back in Kansas. Or if this were V-J day and a sailor’s kiss said it all.
Unfortunately, in every way that matters for Americans, it’s an illusion that Osama bin Laden is dead. In every way that matters, he will fight on, barring a major Obama administration policy shift in Afghanistan, and it’s we who will ensure that he remains on the battlefield that George W. Bush’s administration once so grandiosely labeled the global war on terror.
Admittedly, the Arab world had largely left bin Laden in the dust even before he took that bullet to the head. There, the focus was on the Arab Spring, the massive, ongoing, largely nonviolent protests that have shaken the region and its autocrats to their roots. In that part of the world, his death is, as Tony Karon of Time magazine has written, “little more than a historical footnote,” and his dreams are now essentially meaningless.
Consider it an insult to irony, but the world bin Laden really changed forever wasn’t in the Greater Middle East. It was here. Cheer his death, bury him at sea, don’t release any photos, and he’ll still carry on as a ghost as long as Washington continues to fight its deadly, disastrous wars in his old neighborhood.
The Tao of Terrorism
If analogies to The Wizard of Oz were in order, bin Laden might better be compared to that film’s wizard rather than the wicked witch. After all, he was, in a sense, a small man behind a vast screen on which his frail frame took on, in the United States, the hulking proportions of a supervillain, if not a rival superpower. In actuality, Al Qaeda, his organization, was, at best, a ragtag crew that, even in its heyday, even before it was embattled and on the run, had the most limited of operational capabilities. Yes, it could mount spectacular and spectacularly murderous actions, but only one of them every year or two.