The Death of the Hired Man?

May 17, 2011

The American murder of Osama bin Laden is not, perhaps, very interesting in itself. Bin Laden’s organisation, al-Qaeda, was supposedly responsible for the bombing of a block of flats, two embassies, a warship, two large buildings, a discotheque and a railway train. That’s a slow week of accomplishments for NATO in Libya or Afghanistan, although the casualty list is a little higher. So far as propaganda is concerned, al-Qaeda has accomplished little or nothing in the last five or six years. Thus, Bin Laden’s death or life is not tremendously important.
Of course it is of immense political importance in the warped world in which we are forced to live. The fact that the leading nation in the Western world has made it completely uncontroversial to murder one’s political opponents is itself an indication of how low humanity has sunk since the days when this was considered disorderly behaviour — the kind of thing which Bulgarians or Libyans did to show how degraded the Communist or Arab world was. However, since political murder is now commonplace we must treat it as such, and therefore ask the logical question: what political gain did the United States government hope to make from it?
The immediately obvious gain is a party political one. The Democrats are slipping in the polls daily. They have no means of resolving the economic crisis which is dragging Obama and his party to disaster. However, they can murder a political opponent who is intensely unpopular in the United States because he purportedly murdered thousands of Americans. This very possibly will not have much effect on Republicans, who are mercilessly free from reality principle, but it may cheer up Democrats, who will tell themselves that George W Bush failed to murder Bin Laden over seven years, while Barack Obama has managed to murder him in only two and a half years. Obama thus appears as a much more competent assassin (or rather, employer of assassins) than Bush was. All hail to the noble heir of Franklin Roosevelt, employer of the assassins of Sandino!
On the other hand, it is May, and the election is in November next year, so we have eighteen months until the election. In contemporary political culture, memory is terrifyingly short. By November 2012, nobody will remember Bin Laden’s name. So why was he murdered? Why not bring him back alive, sending in a snatch squad instead of a kill team, for a tremendous show trial which could be organised to culminate in September or October and thus allow Obama to seek re-election on the basis of the judicial execution of Public Enemy No. 1?
The answer is quite possibly not sinister. For one thing, American combat operations in Pakistan and Central Asia are only too often inept. What if they sent in a snatch squad and it failed? Given the Republican sympathies of the military, the facts would certainly leak out, and then Obama would be pilloried as the President who failed to kill Bin Laden. Better try to kill him than end up a second Carter, blamed for the bungling of his own military. But also, if they brought Bin Laden out, there would be a clamour arising from the Republicans; why was he not simply killed? Why allow the man a trial? There would be hideous denunciations of Democratic adherence to the laws; no doubt there would be demonstrations demanding that Bin Laden be simply lynched, in the good old fashioned way, or handed over to properly identified Republican sadists to be tortured to death.
And there is another trifling problem — it is quite possible that, given a fair trial, Bin Laden would have walked free. The Americans appear not to have found evidence linking Bin Laden with the crime other than his own private claims, which are not actual evidence at all since they are not sworn statements and cannot be considered confessions. If Bin Laden stood before a trial and denied everything, he might well escape. Also, what conceivable American jury could be found to try Bin Laden after the long public campaign against him? Any conventional jury selection procedure would break down. But even if he were tried by military commission, a military lawyer would probably make mincemeat of the charges — meaning that such a commission could only find Bin Laden guilty if it were held in camera so that nobody would know that the judge’s decision was an absurdity. But it is inconceivable that the trial of Bin Laden could be held in secret.
If Bin Laden walked out of the courtroom a free man, even if he were gunned down a second later, Obama’s Presidential hopes would be snuffed like a cheap candle. No, the only possible thing to do was to act on the knowledge; to dash in and murder Bin Laden the moment he was found, and then bring his decaying corpse back to the United States, to parade around and brandish; the bloody shirt and the body in it too . . .
But that didn’t happen, did it? The gunmen blew Bin Laden away, and then a transport plane rapidly dumped the corpse in the Indian Ocean. Apart from demonstrating that Obama has learned a thing or two from Pinochet and Galtieri (they’ll be dumping nuns out of helicopters next), doesn’t this strike you as at all a little odd? Not even a stylized photo-op with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs stomping on Bin Laden’s exploded cranium? Just images of a dead man who could, given the sophistication of modern photo-faking, be anybody.
That is a little weird, isn’t it?
Who is this man who has been murdered — if, indeed, he has been murdered at all, if the whole thing is not an elaborate hoax? He is, very simply, the poster boy for the Global War on Terror, which in various guises has been the cloak behind which American armed imperialism has been practiced for the last decade. Without Bin Laden, bombs would not be falling on Tripoli today. There would be more independence in the Arab world without Bin Laden; Israel would be on a much shakier footing. It is ironic that Bin Laden’s avowed intention was to rid Islam of the Crusaders, given that he provided such an opportunity for them to take action.
Or is it ironic? Is it not possible that Bin Laden’s avowed intention was not his real intention? Is it possible that, all along, Bin Laden has been the West’s hired man, providing the pretext for the invasions of Central Asia and Mesopotamia and the Horn of Africa? Is it possible that the al-Qaeda presence in Benghazi, far from being a threat to Western interests in Libya, is actually working, knowingly or not, for the West just as the CIA and SAS are? We assume, quite plausibly, that Western military and political planning is extremely incompetent, and that Westerners are incapable of keeping secrets, meaning that Bin Laden cannot be the West’s man because it would be simply too embarrassing for the West if the fact were ever to come out into the open.
But it isn’t going to come out into the open, because Bin Laden is now thousands of feet underwater.
Perhaps there is a more valid reason for the murder of Bin Laden. Obama desperately needs to save money. He has been compelled, by his political weakness, to make slashing cuts in important areas of his budget — further undermining his political prospects by undermining the national economy. He cannot cut further, however, because this would undermine his political credit within his own party, many of whom are well aware of how much his policies are damaging their prospects as well as his own.
But he can save money by pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He can wind down the international armed offensive which Clinton launched in 1996 with Operation Desert Fox, the first shots of the second war against Iraq. He has no real need for this offensive now that virtually the whole world is under his economic control. But he can’t pull those troops out so long as he has waging war against a scarecrow named Osama Bin Laden.
Now the bogeyman under the bed is dead — assuming that the bogeyman ever lived in the first place. Now, therefore, Obama can declare victory and withdraw the troops, saving many, many billions. He has seemingly intended to do this (although the “draw-down” of troops in Iraq only reduced their number by three-fifths) for some time. Murdering Osama — or pretending to, or announcing that it has happened — is perhaps the easiest way of laying the grounds for this.
It won’t happen immediately, of course. Obama, mired in war across Africa and Asia, can’t simply blow a whistle and declare everything over. He is not the kind of man to take such a bold decision, and in any case he probably lacks the power to override the military-industrial complex and its political allies across the spectrum of approved opinion. But he can at least begin the process. If he wins in November 2012 he might even be able to get something done thereafter, since he would have nothing to lose — it would, after all, be his last term in office.
It is unlikely, however, that he would do that. His record suggests that he might try, but he would fail, and his spin-doctors would explain that the vested interests proved too much for him (concealing the fact that once again he was just cutting and running). However, what Obama actually does hardly matters. The point about this murder is that it has the potential to strip the spurious meaning out of American military imperialism. From now on, aggression will no longer be justified by an imaginary threat. Instead, it will be justified by the same force which facilitated Clinton’s wars, and which facilitated the war against Libya — the force of smug imperial self-interest, the cloak of human rights which Americans love to wrap themselves, because its lining is the Stars and Stripes anyway.
In Obama’s mind, no doubt, this lays the ghost of George W Bush and provides an Obama legacy to be proud of (unlike the real legacy of double-digit unemployment and the collapse of American credit ratings). Three cheers for the hopey-changey war criminal of Wall Street!