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Osama is Dead, But What Have We Learned?

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Despite all the euphoria, I am not going to celebrate Osama's death. Sure, Osama was a thorn in America's side for a long time, but, like we all learned in kindergarten, two wrongs don't make a right.

Certainly, Osama was a mean-spirited son of a gun. He killed a lot of people out of pure malice. What's more, if he'd had the opportunity, he probably would have slaughtered lots more people. Worst of all, Osama claimed that he had the right to kill people based upon a distorted interpretation of Islam. As a result, gentle, peace-loving Muslims the world over have unfairly become the objects of misplaced scorn, abuse and discrimination.

I concede that "something had to be done" about Osama, however, rather than viewing Osama's execution as a cause for celebration, I think it would be better to treat this event as an opportunity for reflection. Who was Osama? Why did he become public enemy number one? And, how can we make the world a better, safer place in the post-Osama era?

As everyone knows, Osama became a household name when we was infamously identified as the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. However, 9/11 was not Osama's first atrocity. Not by a long shot. In the 1990s, Osama orchestrated a sequence of bombings at US embassies in Africa. At the time, Bill Clinton's many detractors insisted that the President was wagging the dog when, in the midst the Lewinsky scandal, he mounted military operations targeting Osama and his terror network. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Osama seemed to come out of nowhere in the 1990s and, in a sense, he did. As early as the 1980s, Osama's base of operations lay in Afghanistan. For most Americans, Afghanistan was completely off the radar screen. However, in 1979, way back before the cold war was over, the Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan. Naturally, the US opposed this exercise in Soviet expansionism and made a covert, but concerted effort to undermine the Soviet invasion. Thus, it is important to emphasize that, during the 1980s, the US and Afghan rebel groups were allies: we were both fighting for a common cause against a common enemy. Even more significantly, in prosecuting that cause, the US also allied itself with none other than Osama bin Laden.

The degree to which the US officially trained and supported Osama remains a matter of dispute. Nevertheless, there is no question that, during the 1980s, the US and Osama both had friends and enemies in common. So, what happened? How did Osama go from being a strategic ally in the 1980s to public enemy number one?

Although very few people in the US are willing to own up to it, the truth is: the US blew it. As the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began falling apart, the US withdrew its support and left its former allies flapping in the breeze. From the US perspective, Afghanistan was just one small pawn in a much larger global struggle against socialism. When Afghanistan was deemed to be of no further use in that monumental struggle, the US turned its back on its former brothers in arms.

Big mistake.

Rather than tying up loose ends in Afghanistan and civilianizing a pro-American ally--at the cost of a few schools, roads, and injections of economic aid*--the US decided to cut and run. To put it mildly, this really pissed the Afghans and their sympathizers off. No one likes to be treated like cannon fodder. Thus, Afghanistan rapidly transformed from a steadfast ally into a simmering cauldron of anti-Americanism. The rest is, as they say, history.

In Osama's twisted mind, US treachery in Afghanistan justified his misguided jihad. That being the case, Osama has no one to blame but himself for his demise. There is no justification for murdering thousands of innocents just because you feel slighted by a former ally.

That said, the US is far from blameless in this fiasco. Just imagine! Had we not been so short-sighted and self-serving, the US could have transformed its support for Afghanistan's anti-Soviet rebellion into an enduring strategic partnership. Had we taken time to consider the potential consequences, the US could easily have chosen the other fork in the road: today we could be bosom buddies with Afghanistan. Oh, the humanity.

Osama is dead, but I am not going to celebrate, because you don't buy peace with murder--no matter which side of a war you may be on. If we're going to win the war on terror, the US will never do it with bullets. Wars only end when enemies find a way to become allies. We had that opportunity in the 1980s, but we squandered it. Can we repair the damage? I'd like to think so, but it won't happen until we quit foisting all the blame on Osama, and take a long hard look in the mirror.

*If that sounds expensive, then compare it to the cost of an endless war.

 

http://goodscience.sociology.org/

Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at Colorado State University -- Pueblo. Tim's primary research interests are in the areas of science, technology, society (STS) and the future and Tim blogs about those topics at the following sites: The (more...)
 
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It was actually the permanent stationing of Americ... by John Peebles on Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 3:11:50 PM
Osama was a Frankenstein of US creation. Celebrati... by Timothy McGettigan on Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:38:28 AM