Stanford Progressive

Why Osama’s Death Doesn’t Make You Any Safer

By Shadi Bushra, published May, 2011

UPDATE: Here are a NY Times and an Al Jazeera articles stating that Bin Laden was unarmed when shot and killed.

One hour ago, President Barack Obama appeared in front of cameras to announce what had been rumored all evening: US forces had killed Osama bin Laden. Below is a link to that speech, but here are the key points:

-American intelligence had received a tip in August and were actively tracking bin Laden’s whereabouts based on that information.

-Eight months later, it was confirmed that he was in a compound somewhere in Pakistan.

-On Friday, April 29th, President Obama gave the order to proceed with an attack on the compound.

-Today (Sunday, May 1st) President Obama made the announcement that he was killed in Pakistan during a press conference (below).

Beyond what was said in the speech, other details have begun appearing in the last hour:

-The compound was a large, heavily guarded residence 35 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital – estimated to be worth $1 million dollars.

-Pakistani government, intelligence, and military officials were not informed or warned of the operation.

-The operation was conducted by US Navy SEALs.

Beyond the facts as they were presented by President Obama and other officials, there is room for debate on the repercussions of this operation. It’s worth keeping in mind how many years and billions of dollars we have spent on two wars allegedly linked to bin Laden. Add to this the tremendous loss of life – American troops as well Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani civilians – and one has to wonder if it was all worth it for one man whose death will not greatly tip the scales of war in our favor.

In fact, in all likelihood this will lead to a rough several weeks for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Killing Osama will not affect al Qaeda’s ability to plan and execute terrorist attacks or insurgencies. Most intelligence indicates that he had little to do with the day-to-day workings of the organization for the last several years. On the contrary, this will likely rally al Qaeda’s troops and swell its ranks with fresh recruits. In the process of seeking justice and/or revenge, the United States has made the man a martyr.

Third, with this coming on the tail of the death of Moammar Qaddafi’s son and grandchildren, there is the question of legality. While attempting to reassure voters of his national security bona fides during the 2008 primaries and general election, Obama promised that if he had intelligence that bin Laden was in Pakistan he would act. Although he fulfilled that promise, now we have to deal with the consequences of an attack in a nation that we are not at war with. It will be interesting to see how Pakistan explains an American military operation right outside of their capital. Pakistan’s government purportedly supported the goal of capturing Osama bin Laden (even if it wasn’t so eager to act on elements of the Pakistani Taliban). However, regular Pakistanis are tired of their national sovereignty being ignored and the anti-American sentiment will be hard to deal with. The fate of Afghanistan (and our troops) hinges on the US-Pakistan relationship.

A related concern is that video and pictures of Americans celebrating an individual’s death (any individual), may lead Muslims and others to conclude that we are blood thirsty or revenge hungry. Although bin Laden was representative of the brand of Islamic extremism that declared war on the United States, we should keep in mind that our actions now could change how moderate Muslims view us. Think for example, when some civilians overseas have staged anti-Bush demonstrations. How many Americans were quick to extrapolate from such incidences that all Muslims hated all Americans? While the world is undoubtedly a better place without him, it may be a good time to question how prudent it is to celebrate any death, any where.

With all these reservations in mind, this will undoubtedly be a political win for President Obama. Expect a substantial increase in his poll numbers – I would even say a double digit bump. Between this and last night’s Correspondent’s Dinner, I’d imagine Donald Trump will have much less to criticize Obama about.

A Non-Serious, but Humorous, Take


  1.  Jordan Richard-Craven, May 2, 2011 @ 6:34 am

    Ahhhh I’m so glad someone else agrees with me! Seeing everyone celebrate a man’s death on Facebook with pictures of American flags and “USA USA!” chants makes me so sad. You know there is actually a party in the suite below mine in celebration of being American. The invitation asks people to bring beer, baseball, hot dogs, movies, hats, flags etc. Since when has death called for a celebration?

    Thanks for writing this summary and offering your thoughts. I’m glad someone else sees the tragedy in all this. I can’t bring myself to feel happy that we solve our problems by taking lives.

  2.  Christian Smith, May 2, 2011 @ 6:34 am


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