Osama bin Laden is dead; and. . . ?

2 05 2011

A few thoughts on the death of a murderous fanatic:

1. I am opposed to the death penalty, in every case. Thus, as I noted in a comment at TNC’s joint, I may be parsing matters to consider bin Laden not the subject of a criminal trial, but a casualty of war.

2. I don’t like facile comparisons of bin Laden to Hitler or Al Qaeda to the Nazis; whatever the totalitarian similarities, the differences, I think, are are even greater.

Nonetheless, this quote from Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem came to mind:

[J]ust as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang. [emph. added]

To want to cleanse the world of its inhabitants makes you an enemy of the world and its inhabitants and gives us license to treat you as such.

I don’t celebrate his death—“grim satisfaction” seems the appropriate cliche—but I do think a kind of rough justice was done.

3. There are concerns that this action will give the US cover to leave Afghanistan sooner rather than later. Would that this would be so.

4. The death of bin Laden matters. I say this not as an expert on terrorism but more generally as a political scientists: Even if the death were only symbolic—his operational role was said to have diminished greatly in the past few years—the symbolism still matters. In both war and politics, symbolism matters.

As to whether this will lead to a retrenchment or fracturing of Al Qaeda, well, either is a possibility. Bin Laden was apparently a charismatic figure, and his former number two (now presumptive leader) Ayman Al-Zawahri is not; that could matter in terms of holding together a far-flung criminal operation.

Or not: The cell structure of Al Qaeda may mean that those freelancers gathered under the Al Qaeda banner have long since left the base of The Base behind.

We’ll find out.

5. Some are concerned at what happens next.

As a general matter, I’m not concerned; something always happens next.

As for specifics,  I (somewhat surprisingly) again agree with Jeffrey Goldberg:

Television-based analysts are already asking if the killing of Bin Laden will provoke revenge attacks by al Qaeda. Is there a stupider question in the world? The implication, of course, is that now, al Qaeda will truly be pissed off at the U.S. Unlike in 2001, when al Qaeda was only marginally angry at the U.S.

He backs off that somewhat in later posts—yes, some terrorists may be moved to strike out in rage or grief—but as Al Qaeda was not much a political organization, that is, it was not an organization with which one could negotiate, any acts around it or in reference to it or against it would lead to a reaction.

That there are reactions does not mean there should be no actions.

6. There are domestic political implications of all this, but it seems small, today, to consider them.

7. To circle back around to the Arendt quote: Yes, I think she got it right.

There are a lot of reconsiderations of her work in light of a new book on Eichmann (The Eichmann Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt), but I don’t know that any of the old or new criticisms can erode the acuity of that judgment, which deserves repeating:

[J]ust as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations. . . we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you.


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5 responses

3 05 2011
geekhiker

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt when I heard the news. I suppose “grim satisfaction” is as good a term as any, but I know that while I felt no joy, I could neither say that I was displeased with the events. We are all products of the time and circumstances of our lives; what the future will bring, we do not know. Frankly, I worry more about the lasting consequences of civilian lives lost from drone strikes 10, 20, 30 years from now…

3 05 2011
emilylhauser

Thank you: Grim satisfaction. That’s the phrase I’ve been looking for.

And me a writer. Sheesh.

Also, thank you for this: the symbolism still matters. In both war and politics, symbolism matters. I’m so tired of saying this to people. Even as they feel their own world resonating differently because of a shattering or recovery of symbols, still the chorus of: “It doesn’t matter.” Dude. Aside from anything else, if it is perceived of as being real, it will be real in its consequences (Erikson) so – yeah. It matters.

Also this: That there are reactions does not mean there should be no actions.

Aaaand thank you for Arendt.

Generally, thank you.

6 05 2011
absurdbeats

@gh: Drone strikes—they’ll show up again in my discussion of thoughtlessness and the notion that war can be “clean” or even “safe”.

@ELH (so that you are not merely “eh”): It is sort of amazing that some people discount the role of symbols, as if flags and bumper stickers and team paraphernalia and crosses and crescents and stars and oh yes, the World Trade Center towers themselves weren’t symbols.

We are a strange creature.

22 10 2013
Willy

It is common sense that if you want to kill a man- the best and most mollary correct way to do it is by using PEOPLE who are highly trained(e.g. Delta Force, Rangers,etc.) to do it. A person can see civilians and judge the difference between a wedding party and a terrorist meeting- bombs and pilots simply cannot.Nonsense. “Bombs and pilots” don’t make the decision to kill, they’re directed from much higher. Whenever possible, airstrikes will be guided in by ground personnel anyway. The rest of the time, missions are based on earlier intelligence, and planned with surveilance photos using either satalites or aircraft. Sure, mistakes are still made, but they are extremely rare. The vast majority of “weddings” that are reported to have been bombed later turn out to be nothing more than enemy propaganda. It’s easy for them to make the accusation, and the western media has shown time and again that they’re more than happy to print their lies, and always hasitant to publish a retraction. For our enemies it’s a win-win situation.

29 04 2015
azithromycin

Haha. I woke up down today. You’ve cheered me up!

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