Whose Victory?

Bin Laden and the Empire

Emperor Obama announced on Sunday, May 1, that Osama bin Laden was dead, killed by SEAL commandos during a raid in Pakistan. Jubilant crowds gathered in New York and D.C., in an unseemly display resembling a soccer riot. Darkly amusing gaffes in coverage, with many proclaiming Obama dead, illustrated the sorry levels of literacy in the media. Meanwhile, the White House badly mangled the story, making it sound as credible as the myth of Jessica Lynch.

First bin Laden was armed, then he wasn’t; he shot at the SEALs, but he didn’t, and was only killed “after a firefight” (not during?). He used one of his wives as a human shield, or didn’t, and she was shot in the leg—or maybe not. The only photo released so far has been a Photoshopped fake.

Bin Laden’s body was reportedly buried at sea. Two reasons were offered: to avoid making his grave a terrorist pilgrimage site, and to honor the Muslim custom of burial within 24 hours of death. Except burial at sea violates Muslim custom to begin with, and since when is that a paramount concern anyway? Had that really been the case, they could have just buried bin Laden in an unmarked, shallow grave in some desert somewhere—as is the custom of the Wahhabi Muslims of Saudi Arabia, to whom bin Laden belonged.

If the White House can’t get its own story straight—and its media handlers know a thing or twenty about perception management—what are Americans, and the rest of the world, to make of it all?

Mission Confused…

One could be forgiven for the naive assumption that 9/11 has been avenged, and the great “war on terror” (or whatever it goes by these days) is now over. Had the military-industrial adventure begun in late 2001 really been about avenging 9/11, or killing bin Laden, or even stamping out terrorism, the assumption might have some merit. Yet as events demonstrated, and by Empire’s own admission, this was not the case.

The “grand strategy” articulated by George W. Bush in September 2002 was basically an update of the Soviets’ Brezhnev Doctrine, only this time expanded to the entire world. While the Soviets reserved the right to intervene within the “socialist community,” the American emperors claimed the right to attack anyone, anywhere, under any arbitrary pretext.

In 2003, that was Iraq, accused of harboring the phantom WMDs. When those failed to materialize—and it is frankly surprising that the Empire hasn’t tried to simply plant fake evidence—the official story switched to “freedom and democracy.” Just as the mission in Afghanistan shifted from ousting the Taliban to somehow ensuring women’s rights. Or how a UN mandate to set up a no-fly zone over Libya morphed overnight, without anyone even bothering to justify it, into unrestricted bombing of civilian targets and open interference in a civil war: a Balkans all over again.

So, no, the war isn’t over. The odds of His Most Elevated Majesty, Barack I the Blessed, Bringer of Hope and Harbinger of Change, ordering the troops back, declaring a victory, and having a ticker-tape parade at Times Square are somewhere near zero.

vs. Mission Accomplished

On the other hand, Osama bin Laden and his followers had a very clear objective. Several, in fact. One was to take the jihad they waged in Afghanistan during the 1980s (with U.S. help!) and make it global. The other was to do to the U.S. what they did to the Soviet Union: make it bleed to death.

In a 2004 tape broadcast by al-Jazeera, bin Laden spoke of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy” so that “the real loser is you … the American people and their economy.”

They proceeded to do just that.

While the Empire engaged in conventional wars, with conventional forces, bin Laden and his very loosely related associates worldwide conducted “4th-generation warfare,” in which they could even win by losing.

Far from being a force against Islamic militancy, the Empire has proven to be its objective ally. But to what purpose?

Emanuel’s Freudian Slip

War, wrote Randolph Bourne many years ago, is the “health of the state.” Since the state is at its core a protection racket, its power can only increase if its subjects can be convinced they are in danger—the more danger, the better. More than two decades ago, Robert Higgs painstakingly documented how every crisis helped the government Leviathan grow.

For four decades of the Cold War, the American public was fed scary stories about Communists under every bed. Even under the threat of nuclear annihilation, the U.S. and the Soviets intervened in local conflicts around the world; once the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War became the Cold Peace, the newly established American Empire had no restraint. But for that, it needed a villain.

In November 2008, Rahm Emanuel, then chief of staff to the newly elected emperor, told a Wall Street Journal conference of top corporate chief executives: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” He merely blurted out loud what has been a modus operandi for governments since their inception.

The “War on terror” has given birth to the PATRIOT Act, renditions, secret camps, torture, assassination, illegal invasions foreign and domestic, the TSA… a veritable wish list of government powers, created solely on the basis of fearing the Bearded One.

Actually, the “War on terror” was never really fought. It was forfeited at the very beginning, when the regime of Bush II decided to continue supporting the “good” terrorists (i.e., those serving Imperial purposes), such as the ones in the Balkans. Instead, the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, was harnessed to provide justification for a project of global hegemony—a war of terror.

Today the Empire gives air support to rebels in Libya who are proud of their time with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and everyone just shrugs it off. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia, right?

Getting General Grievous

From the perspective of the Empire desirous of a war without end, the death of bin Laden came more as a complication than a victory. Would not the proles ask for peace now? Fear not—already there are calls to expand the war to Pakistan, for that is where bin Laden hid for who knows how long.

Because it obviously makes sense to start yet another war just as one approaches complete financial and moral bankruptcy, does it not?

Justin Raimondo once posited that in the aftermath of 9/11 the earth slipped into a hole in space-time, a “Bizarro World” where nothing made sense. Certainly, over the past decade, the Empire has shown remarkable resilience to rational discourse and any attempts at logic. Those convinced they were shaping the universe by their willpower alone had no patience for the rest of us in the “reality-based community.”

Fair enough. Perhaps fiction may prove better than fact at explaining this phenomenon.

There are several reasons why the “prequels” to George Lucas’ famous Star Wars trilogy didn’t meet with critical acclaim, but the background political story is not one of them. Over the course of the three films, Lucas showed the demise of the Galactic Republic and its gradual transformation into the Empire. This was accomplished through a series of engineered crises and a protracted conflict (the “clone wars”), all of which empowered the chancellor. The grandfatherly-looking statesman turns out to have been the mastermind behind the crisis all along, manipulating both the Republic and the factions opposed to it, so he could become emperor.

The part that is important to remember here is that the purported “villains” of the prequel trilogy were disposable entities with silly names (Darth Maul, Count Dooku, General Grievous), and while their deaths have inspired victory parades, they made absolutely no difference. In fact, they only served to further Chancellor Palpatine’s plan to transform the Republic.

Any similarity with Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or Moammar Gadhafi is entirely coincidental. Or is it?

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.