By Ivan Eland
Although the Obama administration has said that the killing of Osama bin Laden is not a VE or VJ day—which brought a return to normal times after World War II ended—perhaps it should be. President Obama should declare that the Bush-era “war on terror” has finally been won. The main trunk of al Qaeda has been severely weakened, and regional affiliates of the group would likely focus on local issues—not anti-U.S. attacks—if the United States quit stirring the hornets in their regions.
Of course, he is unlikely to take this action, because the securocrats—to whom Obama has been so deferential and who need a continuing threat to justify continually building empires of added manpower and funding—are already cautioning that anti-U.S. terror attacks will likely continue and may actually increase, at least in the short term, in retaliation for bin Laden’s martyrdom.
While this may be true as far as it goes, it conveniently ignores the underlying causes of Islamists’ anti-American attacks. American politicians, securocrats, and media don’t like to bring up these root causes because they undermine the “patriotic” narrative that America only heroically responds when attacked. As with the Japanese air attacks on Dec. 7, 1941, the American version of history begins with al-Qaeda’s attacks on the day of infamy—in this case, Sept. 11, 2001. In both cases, the narrative begins with a diabolical enemy raining destruction from the air on a sleeping United States. The events leading up to both attacks, which might make the U.S. government look a little less innocent, are regularly swept under the rug—as if the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of “uncaused” events in physics could apply to international politics.
An example of such discarding of causal factors for political purposes can be found in President Obama’s late night speech announcing the demise of bin Laden:
We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. . . .
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores. And started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens.
In the second quote from the speech, the world seems to start on 9/11. The first quote indicates that bin Laden had previously declared war on the United States, but it conveniently omits the reasons he launched his morally repugnant series of attacks.
The American media also gingerly stepped around the underlying causes of bin Laden’s war on the United States by noting, in their coverage of his killing, that he wanted the return of a pan-Islamic caliphate, which ended with the demise of the Ottoman Empire after its defeat in World War II. Although bin Laden and his fellow travelers have mentioned this pie-in-the sky goal as an ultimate objective, most experts on bin Laden agree that he originally decided to attack the United States because “infidel” U.S. troops remained in Muslim lands after the first Gulf War. More generally, according to those analysts who followed his writings and pronouncements, bin Laden attacked the U.S. not because of its culture, ideas, or freedoms, but because of its military and political meddling in the Middle East and other Islamic nations—most of which is unnecessary for U.S. security. He has been very clear on this point.
Such facts are dangerous to bring up because “patriotic” security hawks will shout down the offender with false charges of “blaming America” or “blaming innocent victims of heinous attacks.”
Killing innocent civilians for any reason anytime is heinous and bin Laden is a villainous monster, but that doesn’t excuse the U.S. government from blame for unnecessarily stirring up such Islamists by its profligate military and political meddling in the Muslim world. In the insurance world, the U.S. government might be accused of “contributory negligence” (although U.S. policy is usually more purposeful than merely negligent). All Americans should read the post-World-War-II history of heavy U.S. intervention in the Middle East prior to 9/11.
Obama should make the killing of bin Laden a VE or VJ day and use it as a cover not only to withdraw from Muslim Afghanistan, but also to quietly lighten the U.S. political and military footprint in the Middle East and Islamic world. The two pillars of American Middle East policy have traditionally been U.S. support for Israel and the control of oil using military power. Neither is needed. Israel is now a rich country, with hundreds of nuclear weapons, and it can easily defend itself without U.S. support. Oil is a valuable commodity that will be produced and exported to the world market, around and even through conflicts, without the need for U.S. military occupation or meddling in the Middle East.
Yet these two policy pillars motivate Islamists such as bin Laden to attack the U.S. Let’s declare victory and come home.