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Bye, bin Laden

Peter Wickham

Bye, bin Laden

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Like several Barbadians, I remember where I was on September 11, 2001, and we similarly recall the moment that President Obama announced that the United States government had just killed Osama bin Laden last Sunday.
In the interim, global politics has evolved considerably as a result of that notorious incident which inspired two wars, defined the George W. Bush presidency and contributed to the current global economic crisis.
America has shifted its leadership from a conservative Texan to a liberal African American, but throughout this, it continued to be obsessed with the capture of bin Laden. 
Naturally, we are all happy for America, although not as much as America is happy for itself. However, it is equally clear that this extrajudicial killing will not bring closure for the Americans, or end the war on terror.
It is also unfortunate that the world will not revert to pre-September 11 levels of security which were considerably less distressing to law-abiding travellers but we learn to live with change.
Global political implications aside, the manner in which this issue will impact on America’s domestic politics is at this time most fascinating.
It is clear from the information forthcoming that President Obama’s team has carefully “choreographed” this killing which has virtually assured Obama a second term in much the same way that the “war on terror” assured his predecessor two terms.
It was immediately noticeable that Obama sought to “own” the killing from his statement that “he” ordered the CIA to make the capture of bin Laden its top priority.
This is no simple rhetorical statement, but a clear indication that upon assuming office, he changed both direction and tactics in the war on terror and moreover, that this change had borne fruit.
The Bush approach was loud, conspicuous, expensive and only succeeded in helping Americans part with approximately US$700 billion that is much needed elsewhere.
In contradistinction, Obama’s approach was quiet, inconspicuous, relatively inexpensive and highly effective.
He has therefore legitimated an alternative approach to the war on terror which one suspects will be a hallmark of his presidency from this point onward.
Obama has, however, also demonstrated his commitment to fighting global terror and Islamic adversaries, if necessary, which is a commitment that several have doubted he would have the “cojones” to do.
In the same way that Obama signalled his commitment to the Israeli cause early in his presidential bid, he has re-affirmed his willingness to take on Islamic extremists if necessary in this instance. As much as one would wish that a president would have no need to “prove” his “Christianness”, it is clear that this president is being forced to do just that in order to justify his re-election.
In the aftermath of the incident, the most controversial issue emerging is the manner in which the Americans sought to dispose of bin Laden’s body, which raised ethical and political issues. The ethical issues arose from the fact that bin Laden’s burial at sea was not exactly “Islamic”.
Obama indicated that bin Laden was “prayed over” using a prepared text before his body was tossed into the ocean, while Muslims generally prefer a conventional burial on land which is presided over by an Islamic official.
There has not been much concern expressed over the extent to which this was offensive to Muslims, but there has been considerable discussion about the fact that Americans cannot now produce a body to prove his death. America is the home of conspiracy theories and one presumes that the absence of a body will fuel such theories.
Interestingly enough, Obama holds a proverbial Trump card (no pun intended) in much the same way that he held one in his birth certificate dispute.
He has what one presumes are detailed and gruesome photographs which he can release if pressured in much the same way that he released his “long form” birth certificate.
In the final analysis, the killing has satisfied America’s desire for revenge which many believe is justifiable.
However, it will neither end the war on terror, nor make Americans safer in the short run. Obama has already announced end dates for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan and this victory will presumably strengthen his resolve to end those battles of which America is quite weary.
In all of this, it is interesting that greater attention now needs to be paid to America’s ally in the war on terror, Pakistan. Its inability to detect the presence of bin Laden in that populous section of the country for the past five years raises questions that will become more numerous and pressing.