May 9, 2011

Some bin Laden Thoughts

Remember the Lloyd Bridges character in Airplane!, who several times opines (to nobody in particular) that “it looks like I picked a bad week to give up . . .” a succession of mind-altering substances?  Well, it looks like I picked a bad week to give up blogging, huh?  No more than 90 minutes after I posted the little update below did the word start to leak out that Osama bin Laden was dead.  Under the banner of “better late than never,” here are a few thoughts.

First, regardless of the impact bin Laden’s death has on the War on Terra, or our relationship with Pakistan, or anything else, the world’s a better place with bin Laden out of it.  To throw out another movie reference, I’m reminded of the news update at the beginning of the South Park movie, when the anchor explains that it’s been weeks since Saddam Hussein had been killed by wild boars “and the world is still glad to be rid of him.”  We, the planet, are going to be glad we’re rid of bin Laden for a long time to come.

Having said that, the mob-like reaction to the news, which looked like something that might happen after your team win the Super Bowl (per the local news, couches were burning in Morgantown!), was not our finest hour.  I understand the catharsis of the moment, particularly for those who were victims of 9/11 or family members.  But publicly cheering the death of your enemies – isn’t that something the bad guys do?  I’m not talking about a joyous celebration of the end of the War – ‘cause we aren’t there, yet.  This was one of those things that needed to be done, and those who did it should be satisfied in a job well done, but other than that we just need to get on with things.

The mechanics of the actual killing bother me less.  To my knowledge, bin Laden is on record repeatedly saying he wouldn’t be taken alive.  While that may have been idle blustering, at a certain point you have to take a man at his word.  I’m not certain that someone who set in motion plans that have killed thousands of innocent people around the world is really entitled to the benefit of any doubt in that area.

Then there’s the question of Pakistan – willfully ignorant or merely epically incompetent?  I suppose we’ll find out down the road.

But the real important question that must be answered – right the fuck now, please! – about bin Laden’s death is who gets the credit for it, politically?  Like it or not, Republicans, but as a nation we have a “you broke it, you bought it” style mentality when it comes to presidents.  Whatever good happens during their terms they get credit for, whatever bad happens is their fault.  Actual causality is too tricky to figure out.  It’s why presidents get the praise/blame for economic cycling, even though they have very little impact on such things. 

It’s also how the Republicans give credit to Reagan for the end of the Cold War, as if he kicked over the Berlin Wall himself.  History, of course, is rarely that simple.  Reagan’s contributions to the end of the Cold War were set upon the building blocks of his predecessors.  Likewise, while Obama gets the credit for drilling bin Laden, the operation that brought him down stretches back to the Bush II years (and even the Clinton era, if you want to squint hard enough).  Yes, I know what Bush said and I’m not saying he gets a lot of credit.  But he and his cronies laid some of the foundation upon which the operations was based.  History is like that - it doesn’t really play political favorites.

In the end, the only question that really matters is whether bin Laden’s death makes things any better for us and the world at large.  Yeah, it feels good that he’s gone.  But the War on Terra, like the War on Drugs, isn’t going away anytime soon.  And any hope that burying the bin Laden hatchet would have turned the corner on anti-Muslim feeling in this country is, apparently, wishful thinking.  Only time will tell.  It always does.

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