It was inevitable that we would get to this point, wasn’t it? Osama bin Laden is dead. Yet already it is clear that his killing will do nothing to slow or halt the multiple wars of aggression being fought by the US government. Nor will it reverse the past ten years of US history, in which things generally have gotten worse for the majority of us while wars raged and the top 1% made out like bandits. That’s why bin Laden’s death is no victory at all. Not even close.
Some wing of the massive US military-industrial complex finally found bin Laden, the longtime leader of Al Qaeda and central target of the US “War on Terror,” and killed him. By the time most people read this, pictures of bin Laden’s body will be splashed across newspaper covers and television sets everywhere. The nationalist hype machine has churned back to life as crowds supposedly gather outside the White House chanting “USA! USA!”
As I think on it now, it has been a dizzying, and in many ways disheartening, ten years since the international manhunt for Osama bin Laden began. People who are coming of age now were only kids when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 happened–and our lives have been fundamentally shaped by the aftermath of those events. Many of our generation have been killed or irrevocably damaged fighting in wars that were supposedly a response to 9/11. But the thing I am thinking tonight is how, despite all the hype and propaganda, this was never really about Osama bin Laden.
Like Bush’s warnings about “weapons of mass destruction” and promises of “bringing democracy,” 9/11 and bin Laden were only convenient justifications for an agenda of competition, aggression, expansion, and warfare. They were useful window dressings for a policy that could never be explained in an honest way.
Bin Laden is dead; the wars continue. They continue not because “bin Laden-ism” is still out there, but because US imperialism is still here. The wars continue because the US ruling class’s voracious appetite for more military bases, more territory, more power, and more wealth can never be sated.
With his death, it must be concluded that Osama bin Laden’s most significant act was to enable a US Empire looking for an excuse to launch new wars. The man who was trained and funded by the CIA while the Soviet Army occupied Afghanistan has now been tracked down and killed by the CIA while the US military occupies Afghanistan.
That tells you all you really need to know about this moment. This was not about Osama bin Laden, avenging September 11th or protecting Americans. This was about events that began before people my age were even born. This was about empire–one empire replacing another, one empire shoring up its position as “the world’s only superpower.” That’s all it was ever about: the needs of empire and of those who run it.
There is no doubt that reams will be written about this moment in the days and months to come. I’m taking bets on how long it will take before Hollywood releases the movie.
Obama’s speech surely will be immortalized in the process. Like any president’s speech about US foreign policy must be, Obama’s tonight was full of lies and hypocrisy. Calling this “the most significant achievement” yet in the war, the commander-in-chief of a military machine that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis over the past decade actually had the gall to describe bin Laden as “a mass murderer of Muslims.”
It was also apparently without irony that Obama claimed that spending billions of dollars and starting two wars to find and kill one man was an “achievement.” In this process, millions were displaced or killed, thousands of Americans’ rights were trampled, countless American Muslims were locked up or spied on, and returning vets were generally treated like garbage. According to Obama, this all is supposed to stand as “a testament to the greatness of our country.”
Obama did speak the truth when he said that “the American people did not choose this fight.” Hypocrisy and lies aside, he certainly is right in that. But the fight was not chosen by bin Laden either. It was chosen by the American ruling class.
It was this group, who at one point employed, armed and trained bin Laden, who chose the fight. They chose it by following imperial policies in the Middle East and South Asia that spawned blowback in the form of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. This same group now will use bin Laden in death to try to whip the rest of us into a patriotic fervor, at a time when they are growing fabulously wealthy while we all get poorer.
Obama argued that this event should “unite” the country, and ended his speech with a line-by-line recitation of the last stanza of that ode to free thinking, the Pledge of Allegiance. But Obama, representing that class whose wars and tax cuts for the rich have directly worsened the lives of the vast majority of Americans, should not be believed for one second when he calls for us to “unite” in celebration of bin Laden’s death. There is nothing to celebrate here.
Obama tonight claimed that “justice has been done.” This may be the most monumental lie he has ever uttered. This is justice?
What about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and others who have been killed by the US military in its so-called “war on terror”?
What about the thousands of vets who came back from the wars and were screwed over by an under-funded, indifferent, decrepit VA system?
What about the promises to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay? What about warrantless wiretapping? What about the extrajudicial persecution of people like Bradley Manning?
What about the tens of thousands of Muslim Americans whose lives have been wrecked by getting caught up in the drag nets of the Patriot Act?
What about the fact that the Pentagon budget continues to grow while public services that working people desperately depend on in the US are being cut to the bone?
What about the people still in the crosshairs of the US military? What about the people of Iraq? What about the people of Afghanistan, and of Pakistan? What about the people of Palestine?
Where is the justice for the people responsible for all of this? Or because bin Laden is dead, are we just supposed to forget about all of this? Because bin Laden is dead, we should all just “unite”?
No, this is not justice. This is no milestone, no cause for celebration. This is just another moment in which our rulers try to distract us from the fact that they are a much bigger threat to our lives, and to the lives of millions around the globe, than someone like Osama bin Laden ever was.