Osama bin Laden

Obama, Romney, and the Death of Bin Laden

Pointless partisan squabbling distracts from the ongoing catastrophe of American foreign policy

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The partisan squabbling over the killing of Osama bin Laden is a typical election-year distraction, effectively squelching discussion of more important matters one year after the execution of the al-Qaeda chief executive.

Aided by cable-TV talking heads, Americans are spending too much time speculating over whether presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would have given the order to get bin Laden, and also issuing paeans to President Obama's "courage." (We have a strange notion of courage. Did Obama risk his own life? Of course not. He was safe in the White House Situation Room. Perhaps he "risked" his political career, but even that isn't certain. A failed operation might have won him sympathy for a good try. On the other hand, the men under his command were ordered to risk their lives and the lives of others.)

While the commentators are engaged in trivialities, big foreign-policy questions are ignored.

For instance, although bin Laden is dead, his strategy of sucking the United States into bloody, expensive imperial wars in the Muslim world has worked like a charm. In a video released in 2004, bin Laden said, "We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah." He compared what was happening in Afghanistan then to the previous Soviet debacle there. "We, alongside the mujahideen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat."

Ironically, President Jimmy Carter's national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has bragged that he helped draw the Soviet Union into Afghanistan in 1979 precisely to mire the Russians in their own "Vietnam." That experience failed to deter President George W. Bush from blindly following in the Soviets' footsteps; nor did it keep Obama from redoubling this futile effort, including a major expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan, which have killed at least 1,400 people since Obama took office. The U.S. government has been fighting the same people it helped fight the Soviets.

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations," bin Laden said.

Right he was. The Obama administration ruthlessly drone-bombs Yemen and Somalia to eradicate the "threat" from real or potential al-Qaeda affiliates in those countries. Even American officials are aware that this policy creates anti-American militants. This is not rocket science. Bomb people, and they will dislike you—and perhaps seek revenge.

Bin Laden got his wish. America's fiscal house couldn't be more disorderly. The debt is over $15 trillion, larger than the GDP. The Congressional Research Service says that from 2001 to 2011 the Afghan war cost $443 billion. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, and many more maimed. American deaths total more than 1,800, with well over 15,000 wounded. The number of survivors whose lives have been effectively destroyed is uncountable. And that leaves the Iraq war out of the account. Al-Qaeda wasn't even in that country until George W. Bush invaded in 2003.

The point is that we let bin Laden take our eyes off the ball. He and al-Qaeda were creatures of American policy, though not in the sense that U.S. agents funded him or set up his organization. Rather, he turned his wrath toward America (and away from U.S.-backed Middle Eastern oppressors) as it became apparent that so much of the misery inflicted on the Muslim world had its origins in Washington, D.C.

The sources of misery include the decade-long economic sanctions on Iraq, which killed half a million children—a price pronounced "worth it" in 1996 by President Clinton's then-UN ambassador and later secretary of state Madeleine Albright; the stationing of U.S. troops near holy places in Saudi Arabia; and the continuing subjugation of Palestinians by U.S.-backed Israel. In the absence of those and related policies, bin Laden would have had no interest in seeing U.S. territory attacked.

To be sure, bin Laden is gone. But the abominable foreign policy goes on.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine. This article originally appeared at The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  1. Bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes. And people think I’m joking when I make comparisons between the government and the mafia.

    1. The only meaningful difference between the government and the mafia is the number of people with guns.

      1. And the number of Guidos in the room at one time

  2. Bin Laden’s dead? I hadn’t heard.

    1. Gillespie and Welch wrote a book about it, I think

  3. Yeah, well, Mr. Sheldon Richmond = aka, APPEASER?!? We killed bin laden!! Whoo hooo! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!U.S.A!U.S.A!U.S.A!

    although i sometimes think that maybe it shouldn’t have cost a decade and a trillion dollars

    1. Who’s Sheldon Richmond?

      1. Wasn’t he in that band, Sheldon Richmond and the Modern Lovers?

      2. Sheldon Richman|5.9.12 @ 11:11AM|#

        Who’s Sheldon Richmond?

        uhm… your poorer second cousin?

        PROBABLY SOME AL QAEDA LOVING FRENCH APPEASE-NIK WHO WANTS TO CUT AND RUN AND LET THEM FIGHT US OVER HERE RATHER THAN KILL EM OVER THERE USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA! FROM THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA TO THE SHORES OF TRIPLOI WE WILL FUCK UP ALL THE HAJIIS AND CREATE MORE ENEMIES!! HOOORAAAAA

  4. For instance, although bin Laden is dead, his strategy of sucking the United States into bloody, expensive imperial wars in the Muslim world has worked like a charm. In a video released in 2004, bin Laden said, “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah.” He compared what was happening in Afghanistan then to the previous Soviet debacle there. “We, alongside the mujahideen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.”

    Ah sorry but post facto rationalizations do not count as a strategy. His strategy pre-9-11 was anything but that.

    In Osama bin Laden’s eyes, the United States was a hollow power. Despite the nation’s apparent military strength, in his view Americans had no stomach for losses, and a devastating terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland would drive the Americans out of the Middle East. In his 1996 fatwa declaring war on America, bin Laden pointed out that the United States withdrew its forces from Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. And in 1993, after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed on a single day in Mogadishu in an attack for which al-Qaeda claimed some credit, the United States hastily got out of Somalia.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..story.html

    Yet, Reason repeats this lie over and over again.

    1. I was going to post something along these lines. Bin Laden both underestimated the will of the U.S. in response to an attack and overestimated the desire in the Muslim world for a “restored Caliphate.”

      My guess is that he was hoping the 9/11 attack would serve as the Muslim “shot heard round the world.” Alas, other than a few Palestinian idiots and some jihadist douchebags in Europe, it seems that most of the Muslim world was horrified, and the attacks had the opposite effect.

    2. Strategies can change. The fact is that the U.S. government got sucked in, creating new enemies.

      1. Bullshit Sheldon. What new enemies have we created? Did the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas support the United States pre-9-11? I mean it is not like Pakistan wasn’t selling nuclear technology all over the middle east or anything. And certainly Iran was a reliable ally.

        Seriously, who are these new enemies because I am not seeing them.

        You want to make a case against the wars, make it. But please explain what option we had other than going into Afghanistan. And stop pretending Bin Ladin got us right where he wanted us by chasing him into a cave and killing 1000s of his followers.

        1. Seriously, who are these new enemies because I am not seeing them.

          Tune in to Bomb Patrol Afghanistan and you’ll see all kinds of people trying to kill American troops who would otherwise be minding their own business if we weren’t occupying their homeland.

          1. these are no doubt people who previously hated the Taliban and al-Qaida, and were flying American flags from their homes? Come on. They know why we went there; for some, that fact just made it easier for them to participate.

            1. Some of the people planting IEDs in Afghanistan think we’re Russians.

              Seriously.

              There is no excuse to have troops there.

              1. I’m not disputing it’s past time to go, just the notion that previously innocent goatherders are now killers.

                1. You don’t think that previously innocent goatherders, having friends and family killed by our troops, might take some shots or bury a bomb?

                  1. I think the “we turned them into terrorists/killers/etc” is intellectually flimsy. It also insults their intelligence by presuming they have never heard of 9/11. If our presence makes them take up arms, your logic would dictate that they did likewise against internal threats.

                    1. I think the “we turned them into terrorists/killers/etc” is intellectually flimsy.

                      Wolverines! (One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter)

                      It also insults their intelligence by presuming they have never heard of 9/11.

                      It’s a fact, Jack. Look it up. Oh, and ignorance != intelligence.

                      If our presence makes them take up arms, your logic would dictate that they did likewise against internal threats.

                      Speaking of logic, internal threats != foreign occupiers.

              2. A whopping 8% (eight) percent of Afghanis in the two most violent provinces know what 9/11 was, according to a survey released on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

              3. sarcasmic|5.9.12 @ 11:40AM|#
                Some of the people planting IEDs in Afghanistan think we’re Russians.

                tHEY HATE THEIR FREEDOMS

      2. jesus Sheldon. Maybe we should have just issued a strongly-worded letter instead. Yes, the time to leave Afghanistan has long since passed, but that’s about tactics, not strategy. And I don’t see the new enemies. The ones who hated us before hated us today and nothing will change that.

        1. Count me as believing that

          (a) We got rid of a few old enemies with the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

          (b) We didn’t really pick up any new enemies at the state/organizational level.

          (c) We’ve made some new individual enemies.

          (d) We’ve given our enemies a much easier way to kill Americans by sprinkling them around Afghanistan and Iraq.

          1. I agree with D. Soldiers are easier to target in your backyard rather than theirs. I just get irritated at the hyper-simplistic approach of assigning credit to Bin Laden for thoughts no one knows he had. The 9/11 attack was to draw us into a prolonged conflict; it was motivated by the belief that we were a bunch of pussies who would do nothing.

          2. Of course we have made our enemies much easier to identify and kill as well.

            1. John|5.9.12 @ 12:59PM|#
              Of course we have made our enemies much easier to identify and kill as well.

              WE USED THE OLD “COME AND GET ME HAJI” TECHNIQUE WHERE YOU OCCUPY AN ARAB COUNTRY AND WAIT TILL THEY START SHOOTING AT YOU

      3. Strategies can change.

        I’ve never heard of anyone adopting a strategy, even in midstream, that called for their core organization to be nearly obliterated.

        I’m no expert, but from what I can tell, AQ circa 2001 is pretty much gone. What we have now is local franchises trying to leverage the original AQ branding.

        Its as if McDonalds had decided to pick a trademark fight with Disney, went predictably bankrupt, and the remaining executives were taking credit for the burger joints that still called themselves “McDonalds”.

        Or, you could say that bin Laden was stupid enough to believe that he could possibly survive a war effort, aimed at him, that was so massive it actually bankrupted the US.

        Nah. Its post facto bullshit by bin Laden.

        1. R C Dean|5.9.12 @ 2:26PM|#
          Strategies can change.

          I’ve never heard of anyone adopting a strategy, even in midstream, that called for their core organization to be nearly obliterated.

          Clearly you’ve forgotten the inspirational Battle of Tripoli harbor, where brave Marines improvised a strategy to destroy the barbary fleet by *packing their boat full of explosives then blowing themselves up*

          OK, it didn’t work, and they were all killed, but it SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF THE HAJIS

    3. Yeah, I’m definitely in the camp that bin Laden didn’t expect the U.S. to go apeshit. His whole worldview was based on U.S. weakness and decadence. Smack us hard, and we’d go away. No way he wanted us to occupy more Islamic nations.

      Naturally, al Qaeda took a different position when we went and toppled two governments. What else are they going to do? Too bad we didn’t just topple, leave, and say, “Now don’t do it again.”

      1. Actually I think he was hoping to use the Japanese strategy in order to forcibly transform Saudi Arabia into a democracy with a constitution written by MacArthur.

        It didn’t quite work out, though.

        1. Now that’s a viable approach. He only failed in not getting us to nuke them first.

          1. Yes, but maybe he was hoping for German endgame.

    4. So some guy’s opinion is now fact? So he’s also right that we took a middle ground on civil liberties even though habeus corpus was suspended, the president has claimed the right to assassinate Americans without due process and you can’t travel without being groped? Seeing as he makes bullshit claims in the same article that he makes his OBL claim, leads me to doubt that his statement is based more on his opinion on justifying government overreach.

      1. Wow Mo. You are on a roll of stupid today. But you make up for it by being smug. None of the quote I gave are opinions. They are factual statements about what Bin Ladin believes. Now if you don’t think they are true, fine show me some links showing they are not true and the Bin Ladin believed something else.

        But pointing out that you don’t like this guy’s opinion and conclusion he draws from these facts doesn’t refute the facts themselves.

        Jesus, are you trying to take the mantle of the MNG chair for most dishonest and stupid commentator?

        1. Really, it’s not an opinion? The whole article is him making inferences based on his opinion and interpretation of earlier facts. Does he have any evidence that OBL believed “a devastating terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland would drive the Americans out of the Middle East”? No, he makes an inference based on OBL bragging about prior victories and then immediately draws a straight line to his perceived views? Does he base it on any intel gathered by US forces?

  5. Last time OBL came up, someone posted this most awesome of comments:

    Maybe you haven’t been paying attention dude. The War on Terror is over. They got the terrorist.

    That’s why they dismantled the TSA, repealed the PATRIOT ACT, initiated trial proceedings for some of the Gitmo prisoners and released the ones they had no evidence on, closed the prison at Gitmo, pulled out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya, and stopped playing tuff gai with Syria and Iran.

    In the next few months we’ll see the end of warrantless wiretaps altogether and the prosecution of intelligence agents who performed them and the telecoms who abetted them.

    It’s peacetime ASM, VT day was almost a year ago now!

    1. We have had pretty much ten years of unmitigated success at preventing terrorist attacks on US soil. Yeah, it makes sense to maybe scale back a bit.

      1. Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
        Lisa: That’s spacious reasoning, Dad.
        Homer: Thank you, dear.
        Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
        Homer: Oh, how does it work?
        Lisa: It doesn’t work.
        Homer: Uh-huh.
        Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
        Homer: Uh-huh.
        Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
        [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
        Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
        [Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

        1. *FAKE*

          Lisa Simpson knows the difference between spacious and specious.

          1. typo != fake

            1. sarcasmic never makes typos! I don’t know who you are better stop pretending to be sarcasmic.

      2. To be sure, we had that before 9/11. The first WTC attack–which was mostly a failure–is the sole exception, right?

        The reason we weren’t attacked in any systematic way before 9/11 is because you have to be a fucking nutcase to provoke the most powerful nation on Earth, particularly when that nation will, more or less, stay out of your way if you give it half a reason to do so. It’s not like we’ll buy the nonstate actor nonsense, either, as we found states to blame quickly enough after 9/11.

        They’re well aware that there are elements here that are sympathetic to Muslim concerns and don’t want to jeopardize that. 9/11 was a huge mistake, as it took the U.S. from at least quasi-neutrality to open hostility to much of the Arab world.

        Are there whackjobs still out there? Sure. But we’re a pretty easy target, and it’s not primarily due to our security apparatus that we’re not under constant attack.

        1. I agree with this. The biggest reason we haven’t been attacked on native US soil is because there aren’t really that many people who have the desire, will and means to instigate a terrorist attack.

          It wouldn’t take much to set off some bombs or open fire in a shopping mall, and the fact that it hasn’t happened can only be attributed to either A) nobody wants to do it, or B) the government is really, really good at stopping it.

          The government, being highly retarded, probably isn’t stopping thousands of whackos from machine-gunning the Dippin’ Dots stall, so it stands to reason that there aren’t that many people who want to.

          1. Why did you have to use Dippin’ Dots for your example. Abercrombie and Fitch is desperately in need of a good machine gunning.

        2. Hold it pro. According to Sheldon and Mo, 9-11 was the greatest thing that ever happened to our enemies. So they might take issue with your logic.

          And 9-11 was a pretty big failure and justified a response. I really can’t blame people for reacting to it. And without question they have prevented some terrorist attacks. They captured or killed all of the people behind 9-11. I doubt KSM and Bin Ladin would have called it day after 9-11.

          But as sarcasmic’s comment above proves, Libertarians are no more serious about this topic than the worst “lets just kill all of the Arabs” redneck.

          1. I oppose the subsequent occupations and much of what’s happened since the attacks, but I was okay with the invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban.

            And it takes a lot of creativity to believe that we fell into some evil mastermind’s trap. We’re easy to attack, even now. It’s just stupid to do so.

            1. Right, we’re easy to attack, impossible to topple (unless it’s self-inflicted). What bugs me is we don’t carry ourselves with the swagger and confidence of winners, we have the cowering fear and paranoia of losers. The TSA in airports (coming soon to trains and buses) is Exhibit A.

            2. real americans supported the invasion before 9/11

              1. I know, I’m so behind the times.

                1. It’s not your fault. Its your french-apeasenik genetics impairing your ability to understand the strategic importance of constantly starting fights with the rest of the world to remind people that our balls are larger and hairier than theirs. Its part of the well-understood foreign policy strategy of “fuck you, dude.. we ROCK!!”

  6. If I was AQ, here’s what I would do:

    No suicide attacks. Those guys just aren’t reliable. So, no mass shootings, which would be just so, so easy to do. Hell, we do them to ourselves.

    So, bombs it is. Put some guys to work in the oil boom. Trivially easy; they are desperate for laborers. Once on-site, stealing explosives would be child’s play.

    That’s the hard part. Now all you need to do is buy some ball bearings or roofing nails, and some backpacks, and make some detonators. Now you’ve got all the bombs you want.

    And crowds of Americans aren’t hard to find. Go to any sporting event, and you’ll find a crowd just outside. Stash the backpack, walk away, and bang – terror attack.

    If the Islamonutters are as capable and widespread as the WOTters say, we should have seen these attacks by now. We haven’t. Ergo. . .

  7. Um Sheldon I think you have a little math problem.

    Is the US broke? Sure thing.

    Did the war on terror have anything to do with it? Well lets look at the numbers…

    According to the CBO the total direct and indirect costs (including interest) of both wars by 2017 will be around 2.4 trillion dollars.

    Spread out over the 16 years from 2001 to 2017 that gives an average annual cost of ~$150 billion a year. Over that time the Federal budged will have averaged about $3.5 trillion a year meaning war spending accounted for only about 4% of Federal spending, hardly the thing that is driving us bankrupt.

    Further even if we assume that the CBO estimate is correct and also that none of the war spending would have been spent by the government on ANYTHING else in the interim that would lower out national debt by $2.4 Trillion, a large number to be sure, but only ~11% of what the Debt will likely be by 2017 (probably around $21 – $22 Trillion).

    In otherwords if Osama Bin Ladens goal was to bankrupt us by sucking us into an eternal war we couldn’t afford he failed spectacularly as we could easily continue this level of warfare in perpetuity as long as we dealt with the unsustainable costs of our entitlement programs, the fact is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while expensive in terms of the total dollars spent ammounted to little more than pocket change to the US government and could have doubled in cost and not been economic backbreakers.

    1. If Bin Ladin’s goal was to bankrupt us, he should have time warped himself and supported the Great Society and New Deal.

      1. Yeah, working to stop mideast strife and keep the price of gas low would have bankrupted us MUCH faster as the “robust economy” would have been used to justify further massive expansions of the welfare state.

        That might have bankrupted us by now had they done that.

  8. I love these threads where John turns into a reflexive, foaming-at-the-mouth neocon/Toby Keith hybrid.

  9. I like to review Jonathon Swift’s The Conduct of the Allies at times like this.

    “After ten years’ war with perpetual success, to tell us it is yet impossible to have a good peace, is very surprising, and seems so different from what has ever happened in the world before, that a man of any party may be allowed suspecting that we have either been ill used, or have not made the most of our victories, and might therefore desire to know where the difficulty lay. Then it is natural to inquire into our present condition; how long we shall be able to go on at this rate; what the consesquences may be upon the present and future ages; and whether a peace, without that impracticable point which some people do so much insist on, be really ruinous in it self, or equally so with the continuance of the war.”

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  11. holy places in Saudi Arabia; and the continuing subjugation of Palestinians by U.S.-backed Israel. In the absence of those and related policies, http://www.riemeninnl.com/riem-dsquared-c-13.html bin Laden would have had no interest in seeing U.S. territory attacked.

  12. …Bomb people, and they will dislike you – and perhaps seek revenge.

    So like, if you preemptively blew up a building in the middle of a metropolitan financial center and killed 3,000 people…

    As was already discussed, this entire line of reasoning is based on the premise that history started when we all woke up this morning. Terrorism against the United States was all about drawing us into an epic war in retaliation for our “occupation” of the House of Saud, except before 9/11 when it wasn’t.

    I was just discussing this in another article here the other day. You can oppose US military adventures overseas without devolving into a drooling idiot and rationalizing terrorism on the part of backwards religious fuckheads.

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