I'm a bit late to the party wherein we all celebrate the death of bin Laden. Or decry the celebration of the death of bin Laden. Or party-poop the death of bin Laden by saying his erradication will mean nothing in the long run. Or warn of the martyrdom of bin Laden. Or refuse to give Obama credit. Or refuse to give Bush credit. Or any of the other veritable myriad of ideas floating around the internet in the wake of bin Laden's death. What I haven't seen reflected in the multitudinous blogs, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, though, is the idea that bin Laden is merely a symptom. Not a cause.
It's 1979. The main enemy of the United States is the Soviet Union so the United States funds the Afghan Mujahideen as they fight against the Soviets. But when it is obvious that the Afghan insurgents are destined to lose, the U.S. stops all funding, putting the the Afghan rebels in a much weaker position and, ultimately, causing its demise.
We can argue and pontificate whether bin Laden was a direct recipient of these funds or whether he received any specialized training from CIA operatives. I have no idea. And there are people who insist that the US never funded the Afghan rebels at all. Again, I have no real way of proving or disproving any of these stories.
But let's, for a moment, presume that the story is true; that the U.S. threw money at a group of unpredictable rebels in hopes that they would do the dirty work of ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan. Then when those unpredictable rebels were found wanting, the U.S. gave up on them and vanished.
If this did happen, it is nothing short of reprehensible. The philosophy behind funding insurgents to fight as soldiers-for-hire in some sort of undeclared war for world domination is inherently problematic, of course, but to fund them and then abandon them mid-fight is downright horrid.
Again, I'm not claiming this as truth. But if it is true (and it likely is) that makes Bin Laden a symptom; a symptom of the failed diplomacy and failed political maneuvering of the government of the United States. A symptom of America's inability to sell its democracy to troubled areas without holding hands with people who run almost entirely counter to democratic ideals. A symptom of the Machiavellian "the end justifies the means" philosophy. A symptom of sacrificing pawns in a larger game of chess where the pawns, ultimately, don't matter.
And sometimes the pawns get pissed. And sometimes the pawns gain power. And then what?
If I were a more astute historian, I would outline all of the regimes and dictators that the United States has supported solely for the purpose of jettisoning a marginally worse regime or dictator. Then I would dissect the benefits derived from, as well as the problems created by, these associations and partnerships.
I am not, however, an astute historian. Regardless, here's a list, off the top of my head;
Ngo Dinh Diem (Vietnam), Chiang Kai-Shek (China), Idi Amin (Uganda), Franco (Spain), Pinochet (Chile), Sadam Hussein (Iran), Muammar al-Qaddafi (Libya), Noriega (Phillipines), Mubarek (Egypt), the Contras (Nicaraugua).
Hmmm. So you join forces with the playground bully because you want to win at dodge ball during recess. But then, when you go inside and sit back down at your desk, the bully starts to make the kind of trouble that is not acceptable within the mores of the civilized classroom. What do you do? Stand up for him because he helped you win dodge ball? Or abandon him because you're playing a different game and he's not helping now? And if you abandon him, will he find you after school and beat the crap out of you?
Tough one. I guess it all depends on how much that one game of dodge ball means to you.
None of this to defend bin Laden. Nor will I pretend that I know the intricate details of why the United States seem to continually get in bed with people who aren't good for it in the long run. But America does seem to have a habit of throwing in its lot with spurious characters and then not knowing what to do with these spurious characters when they have served their short-term purpose. And sometimes those spurious characters get angry and retaliate, leaving us with a Laurel and Hardy "this is a fine mess" moment. Or we're left with something much, much worse.
So maybe we ought not get in bed with spurious characters in the first place?
Oversimplifying, certainly. But still food for thought.