Killing Osama’s Body, Nurturing His Dream
by DR. WALID PHARES
September 11, 2012
Finding and bringing the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice by any and all legitimate means became the centerpiece of American national security policy after that fateful day in 2001. "Bring bin Laden to justice or bring justice to bin Laden" sat atop the list of US national security priorities irrespective of who was President, which party held sway in Congress, or which Hollywood actor might be opining at any given moment in time. "Finding bin Laden" wasn't a political football. It was an obligation that superseded the economy, entitlements, the national debt, and unemployment rate in importance. The entire US defense complex, Intelligence and Homeland Security establishments were mobilized to find Osama bin Laden after 2001.
Eichmann eluded justice after 1945. It wasn't the first Government of the State of Israel, but one that came decades later that apprehended the Nazi war criminal. Apprehending Eichmann was a permanent institutional objective. Law enforcement and justice agencies sometimes bring criminals to justice many years after they have committed their crimes. Such was the case with bin Laden. American intelligence located him and top decision makers authorized the operation to get him. It didn't matter where he was. The American people wanted him brought to justice. The mandate to find, capture, or eliminate him wasn't a privilege. It was an obligation delegated to the Chief Executive by the American people. Operational mechanics notwithstanding, there was one and only one option to choose from.
The Obama Administration is taking sole credit for this great achievement of the American people. They have made it the centerpiece of their partisan campaign platform. "Obama killed Osama" has been turned into a campaign slogan, as if Bush, Clinton, McCain or Romney would have done anything less. However, what is being camouflaged by the "I killed Osama" campaign is the realization in the American people that Osama's dreams are thriving despite the fact that he is dead. Severing the head of al Qaeda is being brandished as the administration's piece de résistance when in reality, the organization bin Laden created, and the movement and ideology that inspired it, are much closer to achieving the dreams of al Qaeda's late founder. It is ironic that killing bin Laden is being hailed as the near-end of the war on terror while the Obama administration's global and regional policies are facilitating Osama's dream of the rise of emirates, and a restored Caliphate, at the hands of Islamists, Salafists and jihadists, even if in the early stages.
Is there a link between the administration's policies and Islamists' and Jihadists' bold forward march? Critics might be dubious about the idea, citing the killing of bin Laden as prima facie evidence of an all-out war against the enemy of the United States. Killing Osama while allowing Islamists to overrun the Middle East is not victory, but abetting bin Laden's vision and keeping his dream alive. Here's why.
The leader of al Qaeda was eliminated by Seal Team Six by Presidential order. It was the right thing to do. Killing bin Laden was one operation in a wider war, a single act of justice against a terror leader. Despite this, Osama's ideological goal kept advancing and the supporters of his ideology spreading their doctrine. The same administration that took credit for his elimination has allowed his dream to be realized, or at least supporters of his dream to begin achieving it. Killing a wanted terrorist is good US policy, but facilitating his ideology is the greatest possible transgression against US interests and freedom imaginable.
Bin Laden was buried at sea, but a sea of jihadists still operates in Pakistan, and more importantly, in Afghanistan. The Taliban, bin Laden's allies and protectors, are roaming the country, attacking NATO troops, executing boys and girls for attending parties, and infiltrating security forces to assassinate police and US personnel. The jihadists are gaining strength in Afghanistan, and while Washington was eliminating bin laden, it was pursuing a deal with the Taliban that included possible release of Taliban leaders. This is what Osama wanted, a US pullout out and a Taliban victory. Great, we destroyed him. Afterward we will destroy freedom in Afghanistan.
Granted, taking out Osama's lieutenant al Awlaki in Yemen with an unmanned US drone strike is a military and intelligence success. But al Qaeda is still seizing villages and towns, murdering soldiers and civilians, moving closer to the border of Saudi Arabia, and nearer to the Red Sea. In Yemen the battle has just begun. Americans are being told that the fight is about to end when in reality, it is just beginning. Shabab al Jihad is still up and running in Somalia. Killing jihadist leaders around the world is not depressing news for them, but serves as a call to mobilize in greater numbers. The Obama administration should be fighting the ideology that inspires and recruits jihadists. Instead, it ended the programs that detected, identified and countered their doctrines. It pulled the trigger on Osama while pulling barriers out of the path of his acolytes. Claiming victory for elimination of an enemy's commander while clearing a path for his army around the world seems surreal. From Somalia to northern Mali, emirates are almost fully established. In Northern Nigeria, Boku Haram is wreaking havoc massacring Christians. Jihadists are springing back in Syria, the Sunni Triangle of Iraq, and in Lebanon. Al Qaeda is alive and well, despite the death of its master.
But more disturbing than the franchises of al Qaeda, is the outcome of the Arab Spring in North Africa and possibly in the Levant. Bin Laden's doctrine is a version of jihadi Salafism. The forces overwhelming Egypt, Libya and Tunisia all the way to Morocco are products of a similar doctrine. Both of Bin Laden's ideological mentors have also influenced the Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's Nahda. Those who call themselves Salafists are ideologically closer to Osama's jihadists. But knowing these things only establishes a common ideological baseline. By partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and their equivalent in Tunisia, the Obama Administration is bringing Islamists to power in North Africa. The Islamists are not concealing their desire to resurrect the Caliphate or who will be receiving US aid. This is "surrealism" at its worst.
In summary, a war criminal was killed but his dream of a Caliphate spreading throughout the Middle East. This isn't the claim of fringe scholarship in the US. These are warnings issued by liberals and seculars in the region. In US politics, "I killed Osama" may buy political capital in conventions and Presidential debates, but on the ground in the Middle East, Osama's dream is being fulfilled. Along with Osama's dream, thousands of new Osamas are being bred. Indeed, the Salafists in Tahrir Square chanted "we are millions of Osamas." The elimination of bin Laden should be placed in its true historic context, a single act of justice against a perpetrator. But the true measure of American victory in the region will be when secular democracies begin to preempt the production of a million Osamas. Unfortunately, instead of taking a chapter from Reagan, the Obama administration is retreating from the ideological war, and allowing the doctrine of Osama to be realized, even though his body is in the depths of the sea.
Dr Walid Phares is an advisor to the US Congress on Counter Terrorism, and the author of ten books including Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America and The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East. Dr Phares appears on national, international and Arab media. He teaches at several universities and briefs US Government agencies on Terrorism and the Middle East.