Before any of this gets misconstrued, I want to be clear. I hated Osama bin Laden as much as I hate anyone and I am very glad that he is dead.
Here's the thing, though. His death felt more like revenge than justice, and even then it was oddly unsatisfying and even a little unsettling. The attacks on the World Trade Center happened just under a decade ago, and since then we have engaged in two, maybe three (depending on how you're counting) wars, ostensibly based on bin Laden's actions. Now, in 2011, the goals of the wars have changed so many times I'm not even certain what our current objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Libya) are. And a war without an objective is very difficult to win. More on that in a later post.
So where does Osama bin Laden fit in to all of this? Well, he was our primary villain for a decade, the face of al Qaeda, even though his relevance seems to have waned considerably since he was forced into hiding. And then we assassinated him. Assassinations are essentially murders; state-sponsored assassinations are death penalties without trials. And that doesn't bother me as much as the uncertainty that necessarily goes along with covert operations like this. We've all seen that famous "situation room" photo, where the President and his cabinet are waiting to hear the outcome of the raid. Imagine how that scene would have played out if they identity was not confirmed? What if the man they had killed were not bin Laden? Would they be disappointed? Would they have considered the lives that had been unnecessarily taken? Would they have expressed condolences? I tend to doubt it.
Just listening to the bravado and victory swagger over his death kind of makes me sick. Sure we killed a bad man, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of others. So there may be a bit of justice, but the celebration has been far more bloodthirsty. It makes me think of Superman and his archenemy, Lex Luthor. Superman is invincible, impossibly strong. Luthor is brainy but physically unimpressive. Imagine a story where Superman tires of dealing with Luthor's scemes and just decides to punch through Luthor's face or smash him to death with a boulder. It would be relatively just, and it would solve a lot of Superman's problems, but would Superman be seen as a hero? Are we heroes when we swat a mosquito?
Bin Laden was a bigger threat than a mosquito, certainly, but cheering the death of a weak and weird old man at the hands of a Navy SEAL team just seems ugly. Don't misunderstand me - I'm a horribly ugly person myself. I would have loved to hear that bin Laden died by other means - say his cancer finally overtook him, or he died of food poisoning or pneumonia or fell down the stairs. I tweeted earlier in the week that I will be extremely happy when Fred Phelps dies, and I mean that, so long as he isn't assassinated.
A few of the best commentaries on his death that I have heard. I highly recommend them.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin