Saturday, May 14, 2011

Irony Was Bin Laden's Greatest Skill

The ten year history of bin Laden as the manifestation of EEEVIL came to an end in the early hours of May 2 but the fallout of that raid and a proper assessment of the impact of the man has yet to be done. When sufficient time has elapsed to discard the absurd demonization of bin Laden and to instead look critically at this moment in history, what will become clear is that what bin Laden most represented was neither incomprehensible evil or jihad against infidels but, rather, the irony of imperialism. We shouldn't forget that first and foremost bin Laden was America's man. He began his career as a "terrorist" with American money and weapons when the biggest EEEVIL of the day as the former Soviet Union and the USA saw an opportunity to deal that empire a body blow in Afghanistan. At the time President Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wondered rhetorically what was or more significance - the defeat of the USSR or winding up some Islamic radicals. I wonder what he thinks now. In any case, Bin Laden's career in bloody irony took its first steps when he turned US gold and guns on the USA itself in the wake of the first Iraq war and the USA's use of Saudi Arabia - the Muslim holy land - as its staging ground.
The second moment of irony was the act that catapulted bin Laden's name and face onto the lips of everyone on the planet - September 11, 2001. The irony was not that an act of terror made bin Laden famous, it was, rather, that instead of weakening imperialism and the US role in the Middle East, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the killing of several thousand people - almost exclusively innocent civilians and rescuers - did the opposite. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks the political strength of US imperialism was immensely strengthened. Patriotism in the United States, and with it the idea of "my country right or wrong", as well as support for an unpopular president, all went through the roof. The populations in a number of countries - I won't say the world because lots of places no first hand the vicious wrath of the USA - certainly Canada, Europe, and Australia amongst others, bought into the idea that "we're all Americans now." (Of course, when America killed half a million children in Iraq with sanctions - a fact that President Clinton's Secretary of State blithely described as "a price worth paying", nobody was saying "we're all Iraqi children now.") So the immediate result of bin Laden's attack on the Great Satan was to provide an excuse for the US military machine, led by the frothing chickenhawks from the Project for a New American Century, to launch at least two wars and provide cover for Israel to tighten the screws on the Palestinians.
The third and final irony that has to be seen as bin Laden's real contribution to global political discourse came with his death. The Americans, ever-filled with hubris and disdain for their junior partners, failed to consider the lesson that bin Laden had demonstrated that an act ill-considered can easily become its opposite. After discovering bin Laden after ten years they were so used to ignoring Pakistani sovereignty with impunity, firing drone-carried Hellfire missiles that kill civilians and militants by the bushel, that they didn't even bother to work out the political logistics before going in unannounced with Special Forces soldiers in the middle of the night. This was coming on a big scandal about a CIA operative who was busted carrying out an assassination in Pakistan only recently. And so bin Laden, having spent most of the last ten years utterly isolated and marginal to world events - including the one set of events that might just free the Middle East from American influence: the Arab revolutions - overnight has become, in death, central to Pakistani politics. The uproar of this latest slap in the face to Pakistan's sovereignty might just lead to the cutting off of crucial NATO supply lines to Afghanistan and an end to the right to fly drone missions. No drone missions in Pakistan means that Afghan guerillas can once again move back and forth across the porous border with ease and find shelter amongst the Pashtuns of Pakistan (the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan was an utterly arbitrary British and Russian division that went right down the middle of the Pashtun population, separating clans and families who still have strong ties). It might be the biggest blow to US imperialism in Afghanistan and Central Asia since this whole thing started. If America and NATO suffer humiliation and defeat in Afghanistan - as they should - we won't have bin Laden to thank, we'll have the Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America. And that might be the sweetest irony of all.

Pakistan may cut Nato's Afghan supply line after Osama bin Laden killing | World news | guardian.co.uk
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