Thoughts on Bin Laden

So, the biggest influence in global politics and security over the past 15 years is no more. As most commentators have suggested, it doesn’t actually change that much in real terms. OBL has not in any real sense been commanding Al Qaeda for years, merely providing funds and support and franchising its activities out to other organisations. Osama was more of a figurehead, and he can probably  do that better dead than alive.

Serious questions have to be asked about Pakistan. For somebody as dangerous as OBL to be hiding deep in the country, within 1,000 yards of Pakistan’s equivalent of Sandhurst? For two US Helicopters to enter Pakistani air space without being spotted? Let alone that he escaped detection for so long. Commentators have talked about the tightrope that Pakistan has to walk with regard to terror – meaning that although the Government wants to maintain law and order, many in Pakistan seem to have at least a lukewarm attitude to Islamic fundamentalism. It might be difficult to bring peace to the Afghan-Pakistan area all the time there are undercurrents of support there.

But the problems are not just in Pakistan – the world at large has dealt with Bin Laden inadequately ever since he first emerged onto the global scene. I can recall taking part in a model UN event for students in Geneva in 1998  just after Al Qaeda had bombed US Embassies in Kenya and Tanazania; as much as I tried, nobody was overly concerned with the threat, the regulation of the internet and female circumcision were bigger topics. Not to belittle those two issues, but history has borne me right on that one.

Al Qaeda’s message could well be increasingly redundant. Whereas OBL had presented violence as being the only option, the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have shown the Arab and Islamic world that terrorism is not necessarily the only way. It’s probably not as simple a case as Islamic fundamentalism dying away forever; the movement is so amorphous and loose to apply any general trends. But the undermining of its message and the loss of its sprititual leader could be the end of the beginning.

I can’t help but feel that Terrorists – like many criminals – aren’t as much motivated by politics and rhetoric as we might think, and are merely interested creating in a bloodbath. The sheer hypocris of Bin Laden’s hatred for the US was almost comical. As much as he hated the presence of US troops in Saudi before, during and after the Gulf War, those very same US forces prevented the Islamic Holy Land from being over-run by Saddam, who was far from a devout Muslim. And as for Afghanistan and the Soviets, the US did much to defend that Islamic state too. But as an aside, it is also slightly sad to hear prominent US figures talking about terrorisim, when for years they did very little about the IRA. Not only that, in some quarters the IRA and Sinn Feinn were openly supported, while killing British citizens and servicemen. Records released from the National Archives recently suggest that none other than Senator Ted Kennedy blocked the sale of firearms to the RUC.

Ironically, I suspect that OBL’s death may cause the US more problems than it solves. Which bogeyman does the country unite against now? Where does US strategic policy head from here? A strategic vacuum can be an unpredictable and dangerous place to be. Withdrawing from Iraq, planning to withdraw from Afghanistan and with no appetite for an expeditionary foreign policy, we are probably looking at a new phase in American relations with the rest of the world. Hopefully aside from all the pantomime regarding Obama’s birth certificate Americans will realise that electing a President with brain cells is actually quite a good idea. The same critics would gladly elect the Austrian-born ex-Terminator in any case.

One thing I have enjoyed is seeing all the conspiracy theorists dining out on this one. Anything happens and the same old nutters crawl out of the woodwork. Here’s an idea guys, how about he was actually killed? There might be a very good reason they haven’t shown photos, namely that if he was shot in the head half of his face would be missing? And that the body was disposed of so quickly so as to not let it become a shrine? Even if they did release photos the same cranks would probably dispute that it was him, or even if they did hand over a body. And if some of the cassandras out there don’t realise, any photograph of a man shot in the head aren’t going to be pretty – bullets don’t make the nice neat little holes that some people seem to think. Any image of OBL with half of his face missing is bound to inflame tensions in some quarters. I agree with the Administration that the damage from releasing them outweighs any pros.

And while we’re on predictable responses to world events, can we stop talking about Afghanistan being a war for oil? There’s none there!

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36 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, News, Uncategorized

36 responses to “Thoughts on Bin Laden

  1. John Erickson

    I’ll skip the conspiracy theories – I’ve been dealing with those by the lorry load. I’ll just go after the “what’s next”, since you covered the rest so well, James.
    There is already a huge number of voices crying for an immediate pullout of Afghanistan. That, to a large degree, is an outgrowth of the “whose the enemy now” that you mention earlier.
    The problem is, to pull out now leaves a vacuum. The Afghanis are in no way ready to take over their country’s security immediately. The best I can see happening is a throwback to the US “Wild West” layout – a series of NATO/ISAF bases, heavily defended and with fast heavy units to back up the Afghan forces. If anything, rather than a drawdown, we should do a force shift. Drop some of the combat troops, and get more engineering personnel into the country. More roads, more electricity, and more plumbing will help “win hearts and minds”, and instructional aid for the farmers will help reduce dependency on the poppy crop. By supporting the Afghan army, NATO can begin to SLOWLY lower the number of foreign troops out. But it will take years, not weeks.
    Or that’s what I think, in my humble opinion. Gentlemen, start your hatchet jobs! :D

  2. x

    Well I heard Bin Laden is living with Elvis, Hitler, and Lord Lucan in a secret bunker on the far side of the Moon reached through a magic portal in the Oval Office……..

    Speaking as a former student of the odd field of IR I can say, hand on heart, nothing bores me more than the Globe War On Terror/Global War Against Terror. I am not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch and I know there are security reasons for secrecy, but are we really facing a tide of Islamic terrorism? Many would say that biggest Islamic threat is demographic. It is hard then to reconcile Labour’s immigration and multi-cultural polices with their former leader’s beloved war against this largely unseen (and largely inert in the West) enemy. Surely if they, Islamicists, are such a threat why let them in? Don’t really want an answer to that as it just seem an obvious question.

    I grew up in the 1970s and I remember the TV news and newspapers would tell stories of these bogeymen in a place called Northern Ireland who shot soldiers and blew up buildings and hi-jacked buses. The latter to the 5 year old me was quite worrying as we went on the bus to nan’s; I wasn’t sure what hi-jacked meant but it seemed hi-jacked ‘planes always ended up in really hot and sandy places and I just knew it was naughty. But that was a terror campaign. As an infant, the smallest nearly infinitesimal part of society, I was scared; not all the time admittedly. I mean it wasn’t as if the IRA were Daleks. But the fear reached me. As it did say to those people going out to pub’s in early 70′s Birmingham. Or soldier’s families. Or just the ordinary people of Ulster whatever their politics.

    So may I ask where are these Islamic terrorist attacks? The authorities and many white people in the inner cities no that Islamic peoples are being smuggled in to the UK. That isn’t to say the numbers are huge; I am quite sure the white population aren’t facing a Fijian like situation. But if “they” are smuggling in human beings with this level efficiency where are the weapons? The AK47s? The RPGs? The plastic explosive? Why haven’t a dozen or so bearded “radicalised” (there’s a buzz word for you) young men ran amok shooting people at an out-town shopping centre? Are the security services that good? Well yes they are, but if the are no real threats just empty chatter on the Internet you would expect them to stop most plots.

    I would like to add that I don’t think smuggling people into the UK is a coordinated attempt to turn the UK into an Islamic state. That is just a silly conspiracy theory. A bit like that one I heard the other day about Bin Laden not being dead but really he is living on the Moon…….

  3. John Erickson

    Careful, X, your “portal” leans dangerously near the concept of the “Stargate” from the movie and multiple series of similar names! I don’t want our SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) channel to have to sue! :D
    I think some of the “immigrants” problem in the UK are similar to problems we had immediately following 11-September. Several Indian families were killed or burned out because morons couldn’t tell the difference. I get the feeling from reading the BBC that a lot of the folk screaming the loudest would be unable to tell an Afghan from an Indian from a black African!
    The US’s failure to properly address the IRA problem is our romantic association with the Irish. This country went from viewing Irish as scum, to having to love EVERYTHING Irish. I had to put up with a lot of crap in high school and college, when people would sing the praises of the “brave” IRA blowing up those “evil, imperialistic Limey bastards”. (We’ll ignore the fact that “Limeys” are specifically British naval personnel….) In the same fashion, we adored the Mujaheddin (?) blowing up “those Commie bastards” in the 1980s, conveniently forgetting they’re the same folks we’re blowing up today. (Ever notice that EVERY enemy of the US lower and middle class are bastards? Awful lot of unmarried parents out there! ;) ) That’s the problem with us Yanks – short memories!

    • x

      Proficient members of the IRA were few and far between. These are the type characterised in your police/intelligence TV action series. Many IRA cells were inept. And most “IRA action” was gangster thuggery and cowardly. I put “IRA action” in quotes because I believe a good pro-portioned of what went on over the water though done in the name of the “Struggle” had little to do with it and wasn’t “officially” sanctioned.

      Um. As somebody who was aiming to specialise in imperialism, specifically the later years of the Raj, I don’t really want to be drawn on Pakistan. Um. All I will say is that Pakistan’s problem is that it isn’t India. When the League and Congress peddled the idea of a Pakistan it meant many different things to many people. My belief was that if the political leaders hadn’t driven independence so hard today’s India would stretch from Hindu Kush to the borders of Myanmar. It is the old, old story that the price for the vanity of politicians is the happiness, wealth, and security of those they supposedly represent.

      We are getting into “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” territory. I remember this came up for discussion in a Global Politics lecture. The young lecturer put it to a vote; she firmly believed a terrorist was terrorist. Like many youngsters her world view (such as it was as at 28 or so she had been in full time education since she was 5!) was very black and white. Though saying that moral absolutism wasn’t just confined to the politics and philosophy department it could also be found much to my chagrin within the hallowed corridors of my home school, history. So much for open and free thinking and seeing stuff from the perspective of others….

      • James Daly

        I think you’re spot on about the IRA x, if the Troubles hadn’t kicked off when they did many of the players would probably have just been career criminals of a different kind. Hardly the stuff of Che Guevara…

        The partition of India is certainly proving to have a long and unpleasant legacy. Unlike India which is a sub-continent, Pakistan is not really an entity, hence the lack of unity or purpose. You probably know more than me x, but it strikes me that Pakistan was created merely as a dumping ground for Muslims, and the creation of a state provides the opportunity for statesmen to become founding fathers… Mountbatten being such a ‘hands-off’ Viceroy and then Governor-General cannot have helped matters.

        • x

          There are more Muslims in India today than there are in Pakistan. Many of them happy to be Indian too.

          Pakistan was formed from states with Muslim majorities. So that it those states in the NW and Bengal. Oddly the Muslim League didn’t poll very well in those states, for a long time it was very much the party of the minority Muslim populations in Hindu dominate states. In cultural, ethnic and religious terms India is very diverse so some areas had a Balkan like patch-work of Hindu and Muslim which gave rise to the mass movements during Partition. It could be seen as self-enacted ethnic cleansing. But not all Muslims left India and not all non-Muslims left what was to be Pakistan. Inter-communal violence only became a problem during the 20th century as the Indian middle classes became more politicised. In many cities the only differentiator was religion in what was homogeneous middle class that worked and played together (and aped their supposed British repressors who in reality they had more in common with than “their” own poor.) That isn’t too say inter-communal violence was a 20th century invention. As always if you have two groups living together who have opposing views on any matter there will be a certain amount of friction.

          What Jinnah (who was a bad Muslim, drank, ate pork etc.) didn’t see was the cultural differences. A Punjabi and Bengali are, to use a wonderful quote, “as different as Finns and Greeks.” Hence 1973 wars and Bangladesh.

          As for Mountbatten being hands off. Well by the time he took over the momentum towards independence was too strong to control. Both Congress and the League had showed themselves to be incompetent in state government and wanted the British out. But when things went wrong wanted the British to solve whatever problem had occurred. Though my understanding this was more a diversionary tactic. If the British had any real power in the sub-Continent by 1947 then there wouldn’t have been the train-wreck that was Partition. That isn’t to say Britain remaining India; just a more controlled hand over of power. I still think India would still have followed her non-aligned path. I don’t think an India that been partitioned in more civilized manner would have become a “brown Canada” if you follow. Though the British lost control of the India Empire they did managed to meld its peoples into a very powerful regional and soon to be global power. It is just a shame that Indian politicians wrecked what would have could have been an even larger country that instead of spending years in mutual distrust could have put those energies into something more positive.

          In summary thanks to politicians the world has three states from what was once one. One state is large and doing well. The other two are poor and lack resources. One of them is a breeding ground for terrorism and teetering on failing. So……

    • James Daly

      I know that a lot of people in the UK have long memories when it comes to the US’s record with Irish Republicanism, particularly Squaddies and their families. I can’t stand Bono (love U2 as a band, but not Bono!), but in one of U2′s live shows he bemoans coming across so-called Irish-Americans who have never actually been to Ireland talking about ‘the revolution back home’. A lot of the self-branded Irish-Americans are no more Irish than I am (Irish great-great-grandfather).

  4. John Erickson

    A lot of various “whatever”-Americans over here are far more American than “whatever”. We try so bloody hard to be different when we should focus on just being Americans.
    There’s one point of recent Pakistani behaviour that irritates me. Somewhere between 75% and 90% (I’ve heard several different quotes) of the Pakistani army is on the Indian border. Sheds a bit of interesting light on the Bin Laden raid, doesn’t it?
    I wasn’t really trying to debate the “terrorist vs. freedom fighter” issue. I just wanted to point out that American will back whoever is convenient. Trust me, if you guys had pissed us off in the 80s, we would’ve given arms and aid to the IRA (and probably had half of Boston leveled by idiots trying to build bombs). We back Afghans when they attack Soviets, but bomb them when they attack us. It’s the reason we have no credibility in the Middle East. The only country we’ve regularly stood behind is Israel, and that’s caused more problems than it’s solved. (Although it has been GREAT for defence industry business.)
    I wish I had a simple answer. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern relations aren’t my strong suit! :D That’s why I keep coming back to you learned gentlemen. ;)

  5. John Erickson

    Okay, time for the bloody Yank to ask dumb questions again! :D
    For anybody: Being ignorant of the developments during WW2 and immediately post-war, may I ask what the driving force was for partition? (As opposed to just ignoring the problem of religious differences.) Was partition driven by the dissolution of the British Empire, due to expenses from fighting WW2, or what else? Feel free to be brief – I’m just trying to keep up here! ;)

  6. x

    I think John it would be quicker just to read it……..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India#Background

    What you have to remember that the idea of Pakistan was for a long time very plastic. Nobody sat down with map when the “idea” was first dreamt up.

    The term Hindu originates in Arabic and basically means “people who live East of Indus.” It was a catch-all term because there seemed to be no simple collective term for the mish-mash of faiths and beliefs. Islam compared Hinduism is simple; it is a monotheistic faith after all. Being in a minority in India is one thing; you get lost in the scenery. But being in a clearly defined (large) minority is another. Um. If everybody is different it is easier to accommodate everybody. I think Islamic scholars and politicians drove the differences between the religions too much. Yes Hinduism is one faith but it is very rich and complex with many subtleties. But once all becomes lumped together as Hinduism, there is something to push against. (Um. Rather like saying we don’t like people who speak Chinese. But what is Chinese? Do you mean Mandarin? Cantonese?)

  7. Briani

    We’re on a hiding to nothing in Afganistan.We could stop there another 10 years but until corruption is sorted out the taliban will just walk back into power the minute we leave.Enough lives have been thrown away for nothing already.

    • x

      True. The security threat from Afghanistan is the heroin not fundamentalist Islam. It is drugs that are bringing death and misery onto Britain’s streets. UK forces should spend their time destroying poppies. Forget stupid ideas like national building and introducing democracy. No need to occupy towns or patrol. Just find the fields and burn them.

      • James Daly

        The misery that stuff causes around the world… Not just in terms of addiction but organised crime. I’m no Methodist or straight edge kid but I can’t stand narcotics, the thought of all those supposedly enlightened people out there ‘expanding their mind’ while conveniently ignoring the fact that they’re bankrolling all kinds of nastiness.

    • John Erickson

      I’ve never gotten a clear answer as to where the engineers are. Everywhere that the US Army has gone with road building and sewer laying gear, we’ve left with the people at least neutral towards us, if not actually loving us. Besides, with paved roads, it’s harder to lay IEDs. If we did more for the infrastructure, I would think the people would view the improvement in their lives as a good reason to drop the Taliban. Then all we need is a worthwhile central government….

      • x

        Yes introducing a mechanism for taxation always wins the people over doesn’t it? ;)

        The majority of Afghanistan is happy to live in the Middle Ages let them be.

      • John Erickson

        (Sigh.) You silly European socialists, all you ever want to do is tax people. :D
        I still say pave the roads. Keeps people from leaving us little explosive presents. Besides, if you supply them with electricity and the Internet, they’ll be too busy surfing to bomb us OR plant poppies! ;)
        Seriously, at least give ‘em the choice of moving into the Victorian age. Cheaper than MRAPs, and DEFINITELY cheaper than soldiers.

        • x

          Considering the distributed nature of the Islamic terror networks giving them better IT infrastructure would be the last thing we should do. Indeed giving them better roads so they can move out the region at a pace quicker than walking would be a bad idea too.

          We wouldn’t need paved roads or MRAPs if we weren’t there………

          I see a bright future where UAVs drop incendiaries onto poppy fields flown by operators sitting in a bunker in the Mid-West……..

        • John Erickson

          No I/T? Don’t you think we could get them hooked on World of Warcraft, or maybe a version of Call Of Duty where they get to play the terrorists? ;)
          Seriously, I hate the idea of just pulling out and abandoning things after all the bloodshed. Yeah, I know, good money after bad and all that. I just think that some infrastructure work (NOT internet – that was a joke! :p) like roads and MAYBE some electric would both help us while our forces are in country, and help the locals once we pull out, without giving that much help to the trouble makers.
          Then again, maybe you have the pullout idea. Do a mass burn of the poppy fields when they’re ripe, then slip out while the populace is stoned! :D

        • James Daly

          There’s a disdain for ‘nation building’ but I think it’s really important – give people jobs and improve their quality of life and chances are they won’t hate you, even if they don’t love you

          • x

            A few weeks back on that awful Radio 4 programme Any Answers? a caller rang in and much to my surprise made a logical argument for doing away with aid. The widely travelled lady said that giving African villages a well and hand cranked mills for their own maize actually destroyed village life. Her argument was that having water close at hand resulted in the children being idle. And the mills meant the community aspect of the women milling together (plus the cultural aspects such as work songs) had stopped. The idle children and lack of group work had begun to had a detrimental affect on village society. Sounds a bit far fetch but think of it. Further when the hand mills broke there was little enthusiasm to do the work by hand, consequently unless there was flour (from aid) people went hungry. Sounds a tad Thatcherite perhaps. But what she was saying that these few helpful well intentioned aids had picked a hole in a society. It would have been interesting to know what the lady made of mass vaccinations in Imperial French Africa (and subsequently other imperial territories) and the subsequent rise in Africa population.

            What is my point? Well the Afghans had fought long and hard to kick out invader after invader so they could herd goats and horses etc. And play odd games involving horses and goat skins. Who are we to tell them they need jobs? Can parallels be drawn between pre-WW2 SE and E Asia and Afghanistan? No not really. The native societies of SE Asia and E Asia had quite advanced societies comparable (in some respects superior) to the West. Therefore when they began to industrialise it was simple matter for them to catch us up (and pass us!) Afghanistan is fundamentally the same as when the East India Company set up shop. Any job scheme would be make work. Look at the arguments for paying farmers not to grow poppies. Afghanistan has mineral resources yes, but modern extraction methods mean there are no jobs for the native populous there either. Just look at who does the work in Nigeria or in Middle Eastern oil fields. If the Afghans were a tribe in the Amazon who had never met a European the UN would be working hard to protect them. Yet for some reason the poor Afghans have to have democracy…..

        • James Daly

          Socialism? Wont see that in Britain for a long time, and neither have we since 1979 either

  8. John Erickson

    You know, you guys are just no fun anymore. I make cutesy comments about getting the Afghans hooked on the Net, and X just gets into picky details. I give YOU, James, the crack about socialism, and you just ignore me! Boy, see if I ever come back here again! HARRUMPH!!!! (Stalks off, muttering.) ;)
    Seriously, James, you need to redo your site layout. Margin crush is cramping our discussions! :D
    My feelings (for what they’re worth) is that the destitute-ism of the Afghans contributes to a lot of the “extremism”. If we give them something to do (like become the next cheap source of labour, a la China), they’ll have less time and desire to go blow things up. The romantic in me would like to think that the “Arab spring” could just as easily sweep through A-stan and Iraq, and maybe even knock off the nutcases in Iran. Like I said, romantic…..
    Gotta go hack some grass. Blast me in absentia, I’ll volley back later! :)

    • John Erickson

      Actually, that’s our trick. See, Obama is a secret Muslim using Socialism (?) to turn America into Sharia lite (??) with the help of Jewish financier George Soros (???) in order to deliver us to the Islamo-fascist neo-Nazis (????).
      I have to go lie down now. That last sentence just blew a head gasket and several piston rings. And it didn’t do me any good, either! :D

    • x

      Sorry John. :( ;)

  9. John Erickson

    You guys know I’d never leave, I love the byplay too much. :D
    To your point, X, about aid, I think it goes to the old “Give a man a fish” routine. So much of western aid to various “in need” groups is usually either food, or what WE think they need in terms of technology. If you don’t give the kids something to do instead of milling the grain, they’re gonna find something – and kids are the same the world over, it’s gonna be trouble! (That’s to YOU, James. X and I were PERFECT kids, right? ;) ) Don’t just drop bags of flour or corn or rice on ‘em, teach ‘em how to grow it themselves. If you free up adults and kids, show an adult a skill (carpentry, basket weaving, whatever) then have them teach the kids. Introduce a learning environment, rather than a subsistence environment. “Teach them to fish”, rather than giving them fish. (Then again, I’d make all US teens go through 2 years’ military or Peace Corps service, but that’s MY fascist dream! :D)

  10. x

    Teach a man to make a fire and he will be just warm every night. Set him on fire and he will be very hot for the rest of his life. :)

    • John Erickson

      Oddly enough, that concept also addresses the “teach a man to fish” routine. Not that he learns to fish, mind you, he just becomes VERY disinterested in eating for some reason… ;)

      • James Daly

        I like the way that the saying about ‘teach a man to fish’ assumes that everytime someone goes fishing they always catch fish… in my experience, thats not necessarily a given!

        • x

          Yes it should be “teach a man to farm fish.” Back in the “Medievals” fish from ponds was for the masses one of the main sources of protein.

        • John Erickson

          Not only is that very common around here, but the Greenies are pushing it as an ecological way to feed the masses. It seems that raising fish and growing hydroponic plants are pretty symbiotic, so the latest “hot concept” are vertical farms, with the fish eating some of the plants and using the plants’ oxygen output, and the plants using fish poop and CO2 to grow.
          Alternately, you just need the right method when you go fishing. The heck with poles and string – just a grenade or two, and you get all the fish you can carry! :D

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