Osama Bin Laden’s death caused most of America to break out the flags and head to the local town square to pat each other on the back saying “we got him.” Regardless of how we feel about the final execution of the modern world’s most notorious villain, capturing or killing Bin Laden was the impetus for the war in Afghanistan (remember, we originally went to war against the Taliban because they were harboring him). Even though most Americans understand that the war in Iraq was never about the war against Al-Qaida, such a momentous occasion should give us pause to ask ourselves what exactly it is we’re doing fighting two wars and several smaller conflicts across the globe, and what exactly, continuing our course of action will accomplish:
What does Bin Laden’s death really change? We’ve already heard plenty of rhetoric that Bin Laden’s death does not end the war on terror. We’ve spent billions on GWOT since 2001, shed the blood of hundreds of thousands and invested our entire military industrial complex into it. While people will talk about how this is a symbolic victory, we’ll still be told that America must remain vigilant. Occupations will continue, drone attacks will continue, the loss of civil liberties at home will continue. We’ll continue to trade our freedom for a false sense of security. We’ll continue to justify torture, “collateral damage” (re: civilian deaths), and the concept of preemptive warfare.
Was it worth the price? Nearly 2500 servicemen and women died in Afghanistan in the past 10 years. More than 10,000 civilians have died since just 2007. In Iraq, nearly 4,500 servicemen and women have been killed and close to 1.5 million Iraqis have died because of the war and occupation. Since September 11th we’ve spent $1.3 trillion on warfare. That’s a hefty price tag for retribution of the actions of one man, or an organization that only 200 to 300 members left in Afghanistan. It’s been pointed out by plenty of experts that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan increased animosity towards the U.S. and helped Al-Qaida recruiting. We’re still living under constant threat of a shadowy attack and now should live in fear of a “lone wolf” style retaliatory attack.
Where do we go from here? With those two things in mind, what’s our course of action now? If we’re not going to withdraw, what’s our overall goal? If a small U.S. special forces team took down the world’s most notorious terrorist, then that should be the model we’re using to combat a small shadowy terrorist group. Instead, there doesn’t appear to be an end to the escalation of drone attacks, which are killing just as many civilians as terrorists, actions which become the perfect recruiting tool. If the “global war on terror” has really been about getting Bin Laden and the others responsible for 9/11, then we’ve accomplished our number one goal. Unfortunately, Americans are already hearing the familiar words “this is far from over.” If that’s the case, then the death of Bin Laden offers little long term comfort to any of us.