With any big news story, there are three kinds of people in the audience: fools, cranks, and skeptics. Fools believe the establishment line as soon as they hear it, without needing concrete reasons. Cranks doubt the establishment line as soon as they hear it, without needing concrete reasons (then they often tell lies to persuade others to doubt it too). Skeptics realize that both the establishment and the cranks are highly motivated and unscrupulous liars, so nothing they say can be taken at face value. Therefore, the skeptic tries to make up his mind based on known facts and knowledge of human psychology.
The trouble with democracy, of course, is that ultimately only the fool vote matters.
I am a skeptic, and I am reasonably convinced that Osama Bin Laden is dead. Bin Laden is dead, because the Obama administration would not have faked his death if they knew that he was alive somewhere and could make fools of them simply by releasing a video of him holding the latest issue of the New York Times. So we know that at some time in the recent past, the Obama administration received solid evidence that Osama Bin Laden is dead. The only question is: when? Was it May 1, or some time before then? Bin Laden could have died any time during the near decade that has elapsed since the 9/11 attacks, and his death has been reported many times.
The quick disposal at sea of a body we are told was Bin Laden’s means that we will never know for sure who was killed in that house in Abbottabad. The release of pictures might convince some. But since pictures can be faked, it would convince only those already inclined to be fools. It will never convince rational skeptics. (And there is no point in even trying to convince the cranks.) This should come as no surprise to Obama, given the reaction to the recent release of a scan of his purported birth certificate.
Well, if Bin Laden was not killed in Abbotabad, who was? I don’t know. It could be virtually anyone. Time may tell, and the truth may be acutely embarrassing to the United States. The home could have been occupied by Bin Laden family members, Al Qaeda operatives, or just an unfortunate family, one of many such families to become collateral damage in the “war on terror.” (Now that the tongue-tied George W. Bush is not in the White House, can we have the last syllable of “terrorism” back?)
If the home was not Bin Laden’s, the most likely explanation is that the residents were at least connected to him or to Al Qaeda. It would be very unlikely that the US would have launched a fake assault on the home of just anybody, and if they were choosing just anybody, they would have chosen a house in a remote area in Afghanistan, not near the heart of Pakistan’s military and governmental elite.
The best evidence regarding the identity of the main victim of the Abbottabad raid will come from the people in the house who survived. They are now in the custody of the Pakistani intelligence agency. Others may be in US custody. Eventually, their stories will come out.
I am inclined to believe that Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, and that the subsequent handling of his death — including the constantly shifting story — can best be explained by stupidity, incompetence, weakness, and arrogance.
If the Obama administration knew that Bin Laden was dead and launched a fake assassination, what would be their motivation? It is folly to speculate, given how feckless and chaotic this administration’s foreign policy has been.
Would it be an attempt to get an ephemeral bump in the polls? The risks seem too high and the rewards seem too low. The timing is off as well. If the whole thing was fake, they could have chosen the time and place. The place would not have been Abbottabad, and the time would be October of 2012.
Would it be an attempt to “declare victory and go home” from Afghanistan and Iraq? That seems unlikely, given that the predictable result of the Abbottabad raid will be an increase in conflict between the US and the Muslim world.
Would it then be precisely an attempt to stir up more conflict? But isn’t the administration doing enough of that already?
We don’t know how or when Osama Bin Laden died. But we do know that enough people in the Muslim world now believe him to be dead that he has been transformed from a legend to a martyr. The predictable result of this will be increased hatred of the United States in the Muslim world, the formation of new terrorist organizations, and increased recruitment for existing groups.
Al Qaeda has been quite inactive in recent years (which is consistent with an organization whose titular head was long dead or alive but in retirement). But Barack Obama has now breathed new life into Al Qaeda. All this will lead to the death of more innocent people around the world, which will lead to a cycle of retaliation, which will deepen America’s involvement in fighting Muslims. Thus the idea that the events in Abbottabad will hasten our exit from Afghanistan and Iraq is naive.
Savages mutilate and destroy the corpses of their enemies. Degenerate and cowardly savages then concoct after-the-fact rationalizations for this behavior. The reason for dumping Bin Laden’s supposed corpse in the ocean is the same reason that Adolf Hitler’s remains were scattered to the four winds: the burial places of famous men become shrines and pilgrimage sites.
But of course, such measures are futile. The material elements of a body can be scattered but not destroyed. To the Hitlerist, the absence of an identifiable body and grave simply means that the whole world is now the shrine and resting place of Adolf Hitler. Now, in time, as nature works her way, the whole world will become the shrine and resting place of Osama Bin Laden too. The destruction of their bodies, moreover, merely means that their followers must strive for a more inward and spiritual form of devotion. But in the end, it is the spirit that rules this world anyway.