Monday, May 2, 2011

Now that Osama bin Laden is Dead, Where's Our World Peace?

This morning I awoke to the kind of raucous celebration only ever demonstrated during World Series or Superbowl victories.  The Afghan Assassin, the Jester of Jihad, the Turbaned Terror himself - Osama bin Laden - is finally dead.  Now that that's over with, we can pronounce terrorism done for and world peace successfully achieved, right?  Wrong.

Nobody likes being a buzzkill.  I appreciate the historic nature of this event because of the harm that he has caused many innocent people around the world, the power of his voice and propaganda to incite violence, and because he turned out to be so damn hard to get.  But this was revenge, and revenge doesn't end wars.  I don't doubt that killing him was the necessary thing to do, but in a few years we will not be looking back on this as the pivot point that finally allowed us to take our men and women in uniform out of Afghanistan.  Rather than celebrate in the streets as many in America are doing, I grudgingly accept the grim reality that this needed to be done, regret the price in terms of lives and dollars that we paid along the way, and lament the long road we still have ahead of us.

Some have argued with me that we desperately need a victory right now and should take this opportunity to celebrate.  I can certainly understand that, but my biggest fear is that the media is creating unrealistic expectations for what this means for America and the world.  Just a few Google searches brings up ample parallels between Osama bin Laden's death and that of Hitler.  I know that they share the same May 1st anniversary, but there are a number of reasons why yesterday's events will be anti-climactic in comparison.  Hitler rose to power by capitalizing on the suffocating sense of defeat, desperation, and betrayal among his countrymen following the first World War.  He was a prominent and outgoing leader who built a military machine from his own charisma, and the sense of nationalism that he cultivated allowed him to get away with some pretty heinous acts... for a while.  By the time of his death, many in Germany had come to learn of the terrible crimes that he committed and were just as horrified as we were here in America.  They were ready to shake off that dark part of their history and join the Western world once again.  On the other hand, bin Laden headed an organization built upon decades of international misconduct and religious extremism.  Theirs is a holy conflict that goes beyond mere hatred.  There will be no peace treaty, no end in sight for al Qaeda, and definitely no end to terrorism.  Worse yet, we will continue to see the loss of American and Afghani lives as the war rages on.

So what does this mean for us, should we sit quietly and refuse to enjoy this satisfying accomplishment?  Of course not.  What we should do is avoid unrealistic expectations for what this means going forward, understand that in all likelihood the euphoria that we feel is bound to be short-lived, and behave knowing that our reaction to this has the potential to endear us or antagonize us further in the eyes of the Muslim world.


  1. While I partially agree with the sentiments in your post and definitely do not agree that we should be out in the streets jumping around from the news of a persons death, bin Laden might be a large part of being able to finally start bringing an end to the wars. Now with bin Laden dead, America no longer has to claim a total failure in either of our wars. We have stayed in both places (Iraq and Iran) for far too long and have during the duration hurt ourselves fiscally and in the eyes of the world but with the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden can claim both wars as a victory which is important. Also, bin Laden meant a great deal to his cause in his ability to use his immense wealth and media savvy to continue to stir up zealots against America. Yes, there will still be zealots but we have for once slain the dragon and for today can claim a small victory which can allow us to finally bring home our men and women who so proudly serve us over seas.

  2. You make a great point. There's no doubt that bin Laden was a huge factor, both in his ability to fund the activities of al Qaeda and his ability to rally his allies while really pissing off his foes. The lengths that we had to go to in order to finally get him are a testament to that fact. This won't in any way diminish the drive or zealotry of those who seek to follow in bin Laden's footsteps, but I hope you're right in that his death will diminish their ability to carry out that drive. This is definitely a big moment, and I hope that we can start bringing our troops home, but I doubt the 200,000 soldiers that we have deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are there just for a manhunt. I just can't help thinking of the whole 2003 "Mission Accomplished" fiasco...

  3. It is a very valid point that the troops were not in the middle east just for a manhunt and I agree that I don't believe the country will head in this direction for various reason, most importantly the 2012 election, but for a while now this war has been painted more and more to look like a second Vietnam situation. While there are many similarities in the fact that neither country particularly wanted us to be there, we had little way to denote a line of victory, and we were fighting an army that is hard to pick out from the general citizenry, we are at a moment where the two wars can diverge. We have the road that has been traveled before, continuing with an unpopular war (much less pressure this time politically to end the war even) or we could take the path less traveled and call this moment a victory in the war and begin our troop rollbacks at the elevated rates that have been in the plans for this summer. Hopefully this will begin the end to these wars although we will be having some influence in the area for some time to come. Thank you for your post and thoughts. Another post you might enjoy on the subject is found here:

  4. Thank you for your comment. Not only do you make some excellent arguments, but I also found the blog entry that you linked to both beautiful and well-written. Kolisetty's message is a poignant reminder not to glorify death, no matter what someone may have done to deserve it.

    I admire your optimism and hope that we, as a country, take this opportunity to achieve our goals for reducing our involvement in this conflict. Of course, the very nature of it is that it is never-ending - there are no orderly lines with cannons and waving flags, no terms of victory. But if we adopt an ongoing yet greatly diminished role (which, as you mentioned, has been the intent from the start of Obama's presidency) we'll be in a better position to preserve American and Afghani lives without contributing to any further unrest.