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Too Much Ado About Osama Bin Laden
By Terrell E. Arnold
With a bluntness that many predictably applauded, President Obama reported to White House guests Monday night that Osama Bin Laden was captured and then killed Sunday by US forces in a US raid on a hideaway in northern Pakistan.
In what sounded like a made for television raid of the A Team, Obama reported that elements of Navy Seal Team Six had raided Bin Laden's luxury compound, cornered the villain and his close followers and killed him after capture. White House "clarification" on Tuesday made it amply clear: Ben Laden was unarmed.  In short, Bin Laden was executed. The President then went on to report that Bin Laden was carried on board a US warship, prepared for burial in line with Islamic customs and then buried at sea .
With that candid account, the President presented a vexing problem: Who other than his self-confessed executioners can say that it was actually Bin Laden and that he is dead? It is worth noting here that nearly a decade ago  Bin Laden's close followers in the Afghan/Pakistan frontier region reported that he had died from natural causes and had been buried in line with Islamic customs. Location of his grave was not reported. And no detached witnesses have stepped forward to verify his passing.
For better or worse we are again denied the benefit of detached witnesses, or careful identification and forensics, and it is doubtful that members of the strike force that conducted this raid had ever met Bin Laden. Since his leadership team reportedly cultivated a number of look alikes, the evidentiary situation is disquieting. Will the real Bin Laden please rise up!
However, let us take it as given that the death of a "Bin Laden" has been confirmed. Now the harder question on the table is: What difference does that make in the global terrorism environment? In dealing with this question, one must differentiate the reactions of victim families or of harassed governments from the realities of the global terrorism situation.
Although it is far from proven that Bin Laden had anything to do with the 9-11 attacks, and CIA sources have been candid about that uncertainty, capture and killing of the accused leading perpetrator is a perceived matter of justice. Surviving victims and families could all take comfort from Bin Laden's demise, because it represents a significant element of closure.
What his death means for global terrorism or for many national efforts to combat it is a very different story. To get at this situation, we need to examine how important Bin Laden actually was to the patterns of global terrorism. That may be widely debated, but in fact it is not too complicated.
Just what was Bin Laden's role? He invented little of the world's political dissidence. In this regard, he was principally an exploiter. He espoused some basic causes that were actually very well established before he ever entered the picture. The centerpiece of his vexation was the ongoing Israeli effort to steal Palestine from its people. In this he joined the sizeable number of groups in the Middle East that clustered around the Israel/Palestine conflict.  By the time al Qaida arrived on the scene, however, the majority of Middle Eastern terrorist groups that had operated in and around the Middle East in the 1980s and later had concentrated their activities in the Israel/Palestine boundary regions between Israeli territory, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
However, the bulk of international terrorism as regularly reported by the State Department and the George W Bush team formed National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was not centered in the Palestine conflict. In 2009 there were roughly 11,000 terrorist attacks in 84 countries, involving over 48,000 casualties, mostly wounded and mostly civilians. The bulk of the attacks (over 60%) occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There were a reported 850 attacks in Africa, but 700 of them were in Somalia and the Central African Republic. In short, while attacks were widely distributed, the great majority of attacks were concentrated in five or six trouble spots. The bulk of them did not involve al Qaida, even though the NCTC reports it was the third ranking culprit in Iraq.
A perhaps predictable fuzziness surrounds the terrorism data in popular thought. While there are more than 40 international terrorist groups on the US State Department list, few of them make the news and they are seldom if ever mentioned in US media. Al Qaida has become the designated culprit, and the typical newsworthiness of any references to al Qaida or Osama Bin Laden means most people think of them when terrorism is mentioned. This in turn provides a convenient peg for the US War on Terrorism.
We need to be reminded therefore that the majority of attacks occur in countries where US combat troops are stationed. The odds are that most, if not all, the "terrorists" in those countries see themselves as insurgents seeking to rid their countries of the American occupiers. That being the case, the War on Terrorism is simply self-perpetuating. In other words, Osama Bin Laden's reputation has been on a decade-long free ride. His troops have been responsible for only a small share of the global mayhem.
Then what change should we expect with his passing? The worst prospect, as some have already noted, may be retaliation. No matter who was actually killed in the raid on that compound, the US averred fact of it is that US forces deliberately assassinated Bin Laden. In extremist and perhaps not so extremist minds of the world's Muslims, that assault will contribute to Bin Laden's martyrdom, and recruitment to the al Qaida cause will be enhanced because of it. It is prudent to expect an increase in assassination attempts on American officials wherever they are.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <mailto:wecanstopit@charter.net>wecanstopit@charter.net
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