I’m not going to pretend that I’m the first person to resist the overall mood of jubilation at Osama bin Laden’s death. I’ve been watching the reaction on Twitter, and there are plenty of people besides myself approaching this news with a fairly cynical outlook.
Don’t get me wrong. I think what’s transpired is, on balance, a good thing. Bin Laden deserved to be brought to justice, and while I don’t believe that murder is justice, I’m quite certain that bin Laden would have been executed even if he’d been captured alive.
But I’m getting a general vibe of “it’s finally over” from many people on Twitter, and that was my starting point when I began to unravel my feelings about all this. The “it’s finally over” feeling is understandable – we’ve spent the last decade viewing bin Laden’s capture as the end goal of the War on Terror. And that’s where we’ve been mistaken.
Bin Laden provided a politically convenient excuse for the War on Terror, but bin Laden was not the point of the War on Terror. Bin Laden is not the reason for the PATRIOT Act or the the impetus behind the TSA’s expanding invasions of privacy. Bin Laden is not the reason we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan and launching drone attacks on Pakistan. And these things are not going to stop just because he’s dead.
If you believed these things were about bin Laden rather than an excuse to funnel more money into the military-industrial complex, then you’ve put far too much stock in government propaganda. If you believed the War on Terror was a real, new thing, rather than just a fresh label for the same thing we’ve been doing for half a century, in Vietnam, Korea, and elsewhere, then the neocons’ fear tactics worked on you.
One lie was put to rest tonight, the lie that the 9/11 attacks were a declaration of war that necessitated military action. Terrorism is a crime that necessitates police action, and that is essentially what brought bin Laden to justice. Intelligence regarding his location was followed up on by a small squad of soldiers. Bin Laden died resisting arrest, not at the head of a vast army.
The other lie, the lie that any of this military action was ever intended solely as a response to bin Laden, will gradually be put to rest in the coming months and years, when America’s perpetual warfare doesn’t grind to a halt or even slow down. Clinton may have managed to partially reverse Reagan’s defense budget increases, but that’s because the Cold War was over. Terrorists may prove to be a better bogeyman for the military-industrial complex than the Soviet Union was, because the threat of terrorism will never truly cease, especially not when we’re out there pissing people off with our adventurism.
So I’m glad bin Laden has been brought to justice. But this isn’t over. It’s been going on for sixty years and it won’t end until we confront the war profiteers who have hijacked our foreign policy.