Osama Bin Laden, the seminal figure of the new century whose incredibly complex and improbably successful mission to destroy the World Trade Center (a symbol of American financial might) and hit the Pentagon (the symbol of America’s military might) while murdering as many civilians as possible on 9/11/01, who forever changed the culture, economies and domestic and foreign policies of the entire Western world, is dead. Taken out as coldly and efficiently as his devastating strike a decade earlier, closing a bloody, irrational, and in many ways, embarrassing chapter in American history.
And so the evil villain of 9/11 is killed, finally, after nearly 10 long years by the new guy—the next generation leader, my generation, the stoically calculating Barack Hussein Obama, hardly the sloppy, overly emotional messes the Baby Boomers sent to the White House from 1993 to 2009, the years Bin Laden made his bones as the FBI’s Most Wanted Criminal.
Eliminating Bin Laden from among the living turned out to be no small feat. In fact, it’s a monumental, almost Biblical vengeance kick that may speak more about the soul of this nation than anything one man could inflict from outside it.
Although in recent years the specter of Bin Laden had faded, his master plan assured there would be no going back after 9/11 in any aspect of social, political or cultural existence. Not since the Civil War has this nation been turned into a completely different thing altogether—and that was an inevitable internal struggle, not the result of an abstract foreign interloper. It is fair to say that no enemy of the United States, including the Nazis, the Empire of Japan, or the Soviet Union, has shifted every single one of our lives the way Osama Bin Laden has.
Since 1996, Osama Bin Laden had been the most prevalent symbol of anti-American rhetoric and its resultant overt violence; boldly hitting American embassies and ships, targeting hotels and tourist spots across the globe. It was in that same year he officially declared war on the United States. Yet, not only did Bin Laden escape retribution for the aforementioned deeds, he thrived. In the Presidential campaign of 2000, neither his name nor the name of his terrorist network, Al Qaeda was ever broached. Hundreds of hours of campaign stumping, thousands of stories in thousands of newspapers and of course debates galore; and not once by any candidate was Osama Bin Laden’s growing mayhem ever cited. Worst of all, in the winter of 2001 our federal government ignored a serious memo regarding intelligence that Bin Laden was a “direct threat,” and then again weeks before the attacks when the CIA warned of an imminent airplane hijacking, which ultimately led to the tragedies of 9/11 and victory for the invisible man.
Truth be told, Bin Laden’s invisible man act had become so darkly pathetic this space had maintained since late September of 2001 that he was already dead. This became a more distinct possibility once the richest, most powerful nation in the world, with operatives all over the planet and at least half of the countries in the Middle East on the payroll, failed to locate him, much less capture or kill him. For close to a decade, Bin Laden’s fugitive hide-and-seek routine was the country’s greatest failure, and because of it, plunged this nation into several war fronts and deeper into debt. All the while we traded in more and more of our civil rights in an avalanche of paranoid incompetence. After threats and bombings, invasions and terrorist plot thwarting, along with several key arrests of his cronies, Gitmo and Homeland Security, torture, fiery speeches and tough talk, still no Bin Laden.
In fact, by 2005, the Bush Administration, with its dumbfounded war hawks Cheney, Rumsfeld and that poor sucker, Condoleezza Rice, et al, closed down the special unit to bring the greatest single American villain of the past half century to justice. The President declared to the Washington press he had no idea where Bin Laden was and could not care less. Bush, the rough and ready faux cowboy, smugly declared, “I don’t even think about him.”
And of course this seemed like a good idea. The whole Al Qaeda thing was belly up by 2005; there was a second term to deal with and the Iraq distraction, already a severe blight on the Bush presidency, was escalating out of control. Afghanistan, another bust, had been left to the dogs. Meanwhile Pakistan, the best anti-terror partner in the region, was annually gathering up three and a half billion of American dollars to weed out terrorists. Curiously, in a suburb 10 miles from its capital city, and a stone’s throw from its military academy, a town teeming with retired generals and lounging military types, Osama Bin Laden built and occupied a suburban fortress.
Five years later, in August of 2010, with zero Pakistani assistance, Bin Laden’s whereabouts were discovered. And in the face of a social networked, Internet connected and 24/7 televised news world the most miraculous exhibition of secrecy in the highest levels of the government resulted in what has to be considered the cleanest, most devastating U.S. military mission in memory. The heavy lifting carried out with rare but ruthless precision by a Navy Seals Special Unit, ending with a gaping hole in the head of the man who put one in lower Manhattan.
No war. No grandstanding. No orange alerts.
Bing. Bam. Boom.
Bad guy erased.
Let’s be brutally honest; this is one motherfucking grand slam for this President, who has heretofore been generally considered ill-prepared for tough national security decisions and accused of being an ineffectual appeaser of rogue nations. He was also mocked as a candidate in 2008 for stating that the real War On Terror began and ended on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and that given half the chance would take out Bin Laden even in a sovereign country. No Shock And Awe, Mission Accomplished, Big Invasion, Nation Building, chest-thumping nonsense. Go in, kick ass, and get out, with the target in a body bag.
Before the raid, Obama was asked point blank by officials if the Bin Laden compound should be obliterated in a bombing campaign. Nope. He decided a body was needed, the result of an official face-to-face snuffing out. He was then asked if the mission might consider taking Bin Laden alive? The President’s response was unequivocally no. No trial. No second act. No screwing around.
There is little arguing, if this thing went sideways, there was no coming back from it. Ask Jimmy Carter, after his doomed decision to rescue the Iranian hostages in a last ditch attempt to save face. Maybe ask Ronald Reagan, whose ham-fisted attempt to arm the Nicaraguan Contras nearly got him impeached.
This is why the timeline from August, 2010 to Sunday, May 1, 2011 makes some sense out of a few of Obama’s curious actions, not the least of which is what is at best a dubious decision to get involved in Libya this past March, the toe-to-toe battles to avoid what would have been a politically advantageous government shutdown last month, and finally, the strange timing of releasing an official birth certificate last week.
It also explains the Secretary of State’s bizarrely worded press briefings on Pakistan/U.S. relations that went from “assisting” to “avoiding” to “obstructing” in the past months. Then within hours of the raid, a veiled compliment to their “support,” even though anyone within earshot of events went public that Pakistan knew nothing of the mission, and no one, certainly not the President, considered cluing them in.
There is no political or historical downside to this puppy. It is, to use a now overused CIA joke, a “slam dunk.” However, a tough sell-job for this administration will be to convince the American people to continue to fund Pakistan’s alliance in the shadow of its openly harboring a mastermind of mass murder for six years. This coming on the heels of a decade of nearly every high-level Al Qaeda operative’s arrest taking place in a Pakistani city. But sell he must. Without Pakistan, there are issues, not the least of which a teetering police state with nuclear weapons bordering the tribal madness of Afghanistan.
The other tough sell will be coming to grips with how the information on the leads to Bin Laden had originated. Especially since the type of torture incompetent fossils like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other neo-con dinosaurs keep touting in a sad attempt to appear relevant to the vengeance they so abysmally botched for eight years is not only illegal but was roundly criticized by candidate Obama in 2008. Conflicting reports could lead to the type of leaks that might launch a re-trial on the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation,” even as it has been, according to preponderance of experts, mostly useless up until now.
Of course this entire episode is “too little, too late.” The fact that it took three wars, billions upon billions of dollars—much of it borrowed from China—thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of lives across the Middle East, and over 10 years to track down what is arguably the most significant villain in America’s recent history, is so fantastically absurd it bares the most serious scrutiny of our nation’s true worth in the realm of justice and stability.
But for now one very important corpse is added to the roll call of maggots that have infected the planet since humans crawled from the slime. And that is always a reason to salute.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.