The good, the bad, the victory

The death of Osama bin Laden Sunday night at the hands of United States forces sent a tremor throughout the world.

The death of Osama bin Laden Sunday night at the hands of United States forces sent a tremor throughout the world.

I personally called three people as soon as CNN sent me a breaking-news alert. Facebook status updates abounded with the same sentiment. Within minutes, hokey (though amusing) memes started sprouting like plumes of kudzu; “Osama been-Gotten” being one of the most popular. Jubilation, relief, solemnity, disgust or casual disinterest all marked the death of the FBI’s number one most wanted for the last ten years.

It’s good that he’s dead—the world is a better place without him. Osama bin Laden is responsible for the worst act of terrorism in American history. His activities led to the launching of two costly wars, resulting in the deaths of thousands of American troops and Muslims alike. He singlehandedly managed to send the Western perception of Muslims back to the Middle Ages. He had the extraordinary gall to erroneously champion his brand of violent crime, radicalism and militancy as an extension of Islam.

In a word, he earned his reputation fair and square.

I’m conflicted, however, over the crowds celebrating his death outside of the White House and elsewhere. Maybe the ire invoked by the 9/11 attacks has cooled for me during the course of these last 10 years. It’s not that the man didn’t deserve it; it is beyond the power of any government or military on earth to give him what he truly deserved.

It’s just that, after so many billions of dollars, so many deaths, so many years and so many ruined lives, I have trouble welcoming this “achievement” as anything resembling an actual victory. After all, a terrorist committed to the downfall of a nation such as the U.S. could scarcely hope for so hefty a price tag to his own eventual, inevitable death.

If bin Laden had any clarity at all in the moments before that fateful bullet made everything go black, he probably would have given himself a pat on the back.

Props to the U.S. military, the intelligence community and the marksmanship of U.S. Navy Seal Team—their efforts have been exemplary. We should give a little credit to President Barack Obama, who may have just spotted a crack of sunlight on the overcast horizon of 2012.

Props to the Pakistani intelligence services as well, who took only a decade to notice the million-dollar, security-walled complex a whopping 35 miles from the capital and within shouting distance of their version of West Point military academy.

Apart from the cosmic realignment we can now expect at having justice so rightly served, the ultimate impact of bin Laden’s death should be fairly slight. His influence in the Arab and Muslim worlds had subsided to near nothingness. Having voicelessly evaded the West has cast him in a light many of his sympathizers consider cowardly.

The impact on al-Qaeda will likely be indirect. Perhaps indicated by the fact that his hideout in Pakistan contained no phone lines or Internet connection, it is prudent to assume that bin Laden’s actual strategic authority over the organization he created was probably pretty small. No one knows for sure just how centralized al-Qaeda’s leadership is or was, though we may find out soon.

The biggest consequence of his death will be to morale. One of bin Laden’s true successes was to design an organization that could outlive himself. Recruitment will surely be more difficult from now on. Other than that, al-Qaeda will probably continue to go on much the same as it always has, albeit, perhaps, with a serious chip on its shoulder.

In actuality, the death of Osama bin Laden will probably have a far greater effect on the West than the Muslim world, for which the talk of the town remains focused on Libya and the ongoing protests in Syria and Yemen. This could very well mark a shift in American attitudes toward Muslims, now that Islam’s (regrettably) most visible face now lies somewhere at the bottom of the Arabian Sea.

Apparently, his burial at sea off a U.S. Naval vessel was given full deference to Islamic custom and honors. I was relieved to hear this, and proud. True warriors respect their enemies, especially ones who fight with such ideological conviction. Of course, there was a political motivation to this (no country wanted his body, and no one wanted to risk his burial site becoming a shrine of sorts).

So, in summation: al-Qaeda is still alive and well. The funds for Iraq are fairly depleted. The war in Afghanistan isn’t doing so well, its funds also emaciated. We’ve devoted quite a bit of coin to this whole mess; the oft-quoted figure is somewhere a little more than $1 trillion. Thousands of civilians are dead—both American, Arab, Pashtun, Urdu, Turcoman, Kurd and Uzbeg.

But Osama bin Laden is dead.

At Portland State, Professor George Armantrout teaches a course on Roman History. In it, students learn of a man, a military leader, by the title of Pyrrhus of Epirus. While regarded widely as one of the most brilliant tacticians in warfare, he is also famous for his rather nasty habit of losing several thousand of his own soldiers and officers in pursuit of victory. “Another such victory, and we shall be undone,” Pyrrhus has been credited with saying. The Battle of Asculum and the Battle of Heraclea, for this reason, have been termed “Pyrrhic Victories.” The term can now be considered a noun—a victory or goal achieved at too great a cost.

Why bring this up? No reason. No reason at all. ?