Killing bin Laden: A Psychological Boost for Self-Doubting Americans


bin laden.jpgPolitico‘s Josh Gerstein and I had a quick chat about the implications of the successful operation by the Navy SEAL team that penetrated Pakistan’s territory and snuffed out one of the great terror masters of our time.
I have long believed that Osama bin Laden had become a symbolic phantom that both opponents of the US as well as US-supporting national security zealots would exploit for their own purposes. To some degree, those who resented America would hold out bin Laden as a hero that an impotent America had failed to vanquish — and those Pentagon-hugging national security zealots would wave bin Ladenism around to justify ever more expansion of America’s defense budgets and support the pile-up of wars abroad.
Bin Laden is now gone — and this may help correct both the view abroad that America is impotent and flailing; and may help those inside the US to engage in less over-compensation for their own self doubt.
Here were my thoughts as shared with Josh Gerstein:

. . .Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, said killing bin Laden probably would have been more significant a few years ago in terms of his importance to Al Qaeda operations. Earlier this year, the Obama administration said the Yemen-based Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, which has fewer ties to the central Al Qaeda group, now poses the greatest terror threat.
However, Clemons said bin Laden’s death will help the U.S. at home and abroad in ways that go far beyond its impact on planning of terror plots.
“The real is question is the self-doubt many Americans felt about leadership in Washington and the impotence many around the world felt it reflected on the part of the U.S.,” Clemons said. “People don’t understand how incredibly important it is to demolish the brand of Osama bin Laden. He’s a pop culture figure, a rock star of transnational terrorism. To have that lurking out there unresolved would have permanently handicapped us psychologically.”

Hopefully a key lesson learned by the bin Laden hunt is how ineffective and counter-productive the deployment of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and private contractors has been when it came down to moving America’s interests forward. I supported the hunt for bin Laden, but not the nonsensical obsession that has now led to three wars, the death of hundreds of thousands, with no definitive conclusion to the broader challenge of transnational terrorism.
— Steve Clemons


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