Osama, Obama, and Us
(Image ganked from Andrew Sullivan)
And now, some further thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden.
* In a very practical sense, bin Laden’s death doesn’t change anything, particularly in the short run. He’s been on the run for years, al Qaeda is designed to be decentralized, the scope of our military operations in the Middle East far exceed the boundaries of bin Laden’s group. Today we still have troops in Afghanistan, and their job there will not be any easier today than it was yesterday. The Middle East itself is not the same region it was a decade ago; it seems to have developed a home-grown taste for democracy. So on and so forth.
But in an existential and psychological sense bin Laden’s death makes a huge difference. Dude’s been out there for years, and the fact The Most Powerful Country in the World™ couldn’t get to him was an overarching narrative frame for much of what else the US did in the last decade. But in the end we did get to him, and the frame has changed. No longer was the US engaged in a futile pursuit of a man who killed thousands of our citizens and would die of renal failure far out of its reach; now the US engaged in a ceaseless pursuit, and in the end bin Laden received a form of justice from his actions, i.e., an American bullet in (or as seems likely more accurate, through) the brain that conceived of 9/11.
Changing the frame from “hapless” to “implacable” means something to us as Americans and also, I expect, means something to others as well, particularly for the folks for whom “bin Laden is laughing at the US” was part of their worldview. What effect the existential impact of bin Laden’s death will have on the practical life of the US and the rest of the world over the long term is something we’ll get to find out in the coming months and years. No matter what, however, bin Laden will still be dead, and that has a cathartic, and I optimistically suspect in the long run useful, finality all its own.
* In the immediate aftermath of Obama’s announcement of bin Laden’s death last night I saw some folks on my Twitter feed note that it was too bad we killed him rather than captured him and put him on trial. I would have been happy with that as an outcome, but I can’t say that I would have been happier with that outcome than what actually happened. Bin Laden killed in a firefight with US operatives, none of whom were killed? All right then. No complaints on this end and good shooting.
There would have been some pleasure in seeing him in the dock, being confronted with his crimes, ably represented by the best defense his money could buy, getting buried by the evidence, and then kept in a tiny cell for as long as we could keep him alive. But inasmuch as I expect that bin Laden was akin to the types who maintain that a fringe on a court flag means its a court of the admiralty and therefore can’t try them for tax evasion — and was perfectly happy to have murdered lots of innocents in any event — this works too. I don’t imagine bin Laden was hoping to spend many days in a courtroom, either. In this one thing I don’t feel it to have been much of an imposition to oblige him.
* As the image at the top of this entry suggests, the fact that a closet Muslim socialist WHO ISN’T EVEN AN AMERICAN is the one who gave the order to kill the bogeyman who has haunted the US for a decade will be a terribly inconvenient fact for a lot of folks. Well, let it be. If only for it moment, it serves to remind us that the job of a president is a serious one, while the job of tearing down a president can be done by morons, and often is. This definitely puts Obama’s birther jabs at Donald Trump over the weekend at the White House correspondent’s dinner in a whole new context; as someone else has noted, Obama’s not a guy you want to play poker with, because he’s got the straightest face in the business.
People are already speculating what this means for Obama in 2012. I think it means that any rumblings about a Democratic primary challenge are now done. It also makes it more difficult for the GOP to paint him as Carter II: The Quickening, although of course they certainly will try to do so; they can’t help themselves, and I think at this point the Democrats would invite them to keep trying. In a larger sense, if the economy falters Obama will still be vulnerable in his quest for a second term. But if it’s coming along, then 2012 won’t be a happy presidential election cycle for the GOP. Dude had bin Laden killed. Kind of hard to top.