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Osama’s Dead, But What Have We Accomplished?
I should be studying for my finance final right now, but this is far more important. Tonight, President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, and for a moment everything feels like the polar opposite of 9/11. Over the past decade, Americans have been constantly reminded of the changing landscape of terrorism through ever more invasive airport security measures, increasing communications surveillance by the NSA, and constantly-shrinking First and Fourth amendment rights. Tonight feels like a return to better, simpler days, where we could simply climb aboard public transit without subconsciously wondering if we’d become the next victims in a terrorist attack.
Believe me, I feel like the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. But I feel obligated to ask, what cost are we willing to bear to kill one man? Wars in two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. A secret war in Pakistan that followed a secret CIA assassination program. Secret military action in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among other nations. The deaths of thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians. Innocent people tortured. Billions of dollars spent. The list goes on and on.
We have to ask ourselves honestly, does the death of bin Laden significantly increase the safety of US citizens at home and abroad? If the past is any indicator, then if anything his assassination has made us less safe. As this article in the Guardian all the way back in the year 2000 points out,
Putting [bin Laden] on trial would immeasurably enhance his prestige among Islamic militants, and executing him would create a martyr: one more reason for the extremists to attack Americans….
Focusing on Bin Laden as the “mastermind” or instigator behind virtually all serious attacks on US overseas interests is not only pointless but also rather foolish.
It encourages the idea (comforting for many Americans) that such attacks have no real motive: Bin Laden is mad or has some kind of grudge and pays people to do these things.
It’s only his charisma, money and technical know-how that keeps them going.
This avoids having to confront more disturbing questions about perceptions of the way America throws its weight around and the resentment that this arouses among many ordinary Muslims, not just terrorists.
This isn’t to say that anyone besides Osama bin Laden is responsible for his actions. But at the same time, the systemic problem that fuels terrorism hasn’t been resolved.
Tonight, I celebrate with mixed feelings because a truly twisted individual can no longer cause harm to anyone, while being conscious of the terrible price that has been paid to get here. However, my hope is that Americans will now become unified in their calls to bring our troops home, force our government to recognize that prolonged military action abroad will not improve national security, and open up some real dialogue about terrorism and how to best eliminate the incentives for anyone to want to declare war against humanity like bin Laden did.