Osama Bin Laden — Everyone’s Missing the Point

Osama Bin Laden — Everyone’s Missing the Point | Common Dreams.

Osama Bin Laden — Everyone’s Missing the Point

by Barry Lando

The jubilation of Americans and Western leaders at the death of Osama bin Laden, though understandable, misses the point. In many ways, the figure gunned down in Pakistan was already irrelevant — more a symbol of past dangers than a real threat for the future.

Indeed, from the point of view of America and many of its allies, the most menacing symbol in the Arab World today is not Osama bin Laden but another Arab who recently met a violent death — Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor who chose to set himself on fire after being harassed by corrupt local police.

His act, of course, ignited the storm that has spread across the Arab World and proven a much more serious threat to America’s allies in the region than al Qaeda ever was. Ironically, his sacrifice probably also dealt a far more devastating blow to al Qaeda’s fortunes than the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

The Arab world today bears no relationship to the situation a decade ago after 9/11. Obsessed with bin Laden and al Qaeda, the U.S. has been sucked into a vast quagmire — a disaster for the Americans, their economy, and their standing in the Arab World.

What particularly provoked Osama bin Laden — a Saudi — was the decision of Saudi rulers to accept the presence of more than a hundred thousand “infidel” U.S. troops and their allies in Saudi Arabia following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. In general, he and his followers were outraged by U.S. support for corrupt, repressive regimes from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Yemen, as well, of course, for America’s backing of Israel.

As Osama himself told CNN in 1997, “the U.S. wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to all this. If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists… Wherever we look, we find the U.S. as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world.”

Bin Laden’s message resonated throughout the Muslim world. But U.S. officials remained deaf to its meaning, and continued obsessed with al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. The upshot — U.S. policy was the best recruiter Osama could have asked for. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, CIA killer teams, mercenaries, predators, and “diplomats” swarmed across the region from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia, supported by sprawling new bases and pharaonic embassies.

The bill for all this — for an America crippled by cutbacks in health, infrastructure. and education — will be in the trillions of dollars. But despite this massive effort, none of those targeted Arab countries could by any stretch of the imagination be considered a success story. Hostility to the U.S. is high throughout the region. In polls, the majority of those Arabs queried consider the United States a greater threat than al Qaeda.

In Pakistan, despite the U.S. lavishing tens of billions of dollars on that country’s military, it turns out that Osama bin Laden, rather than groveling as an outlaw in the isolated tribal regions, has been living in a fortified villa near the country’s major military academy and a large army base, just a few miles away from the capital city.

America had also launched an ambitious civilian aid program: $7.5 billion over five years, designed to win Pakistani hearts and minds and bolster the civilian government. But, corruption is so rife throughout the Pakistani government, and its officials so incompetent, that the U.S. has been unable to disburse most of the aid. As the New York Times reports:

Instead of polishing the tarnished image of America with a suspicious, even hostile, Pakistani public and government, the plan has resulted in bitterness and a sense of broken promises…

The economy is failing. Education, health care and other services are almost nonexistent, while civilian leaders from the landed and industrialist classes pay hardly any taxes.

Pakistanis see the aid as a crude attempt to buy friendship and an effort to alleviate antipathy toward United States drone attacks against militants in the tribal areas.

The same reports come from Afghanistan. A decade after the U.S. invaded, tens of thousands of American troops are still fighting what seems to be, at best, a see-saw battle against the Taliban. There also, according to another report in the New York Times , the U.S. is backing incompetent, corrupt, unpopular leaders. Millions of dollars of U.S. funds actually get diverted as payoffs to the Taliban and their allies — bribing them not to attack U.S. projects, such as $65 million highway that may never be completed in Eastern Afghanistan.

The vast expenses and unsavory alliances surrounding the highway have become a parable of the corruption and mismanagement that turns so many well-intended development efforts in Afghanistan into sinkholes for the money of American taxpayers, even nine years into the war.

Now back to Mohamed Bouazizi the Tunisian fruit vendor whose death unleashed the Arab Spring that is still roiling the region.

Though Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have yet to be credited with overthrowing an Arab regime, the spark provided by Bouazizi has already led to the downfall of American-backed tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, and continues to threaten other despots in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.

Ironically, most of the leaders overthrown or desperately trying to hang on to power had declared themselves implacable enemies of al Qaeda. Yet, again, it was not bin Laden, but Bouazizi, who turned out to be a far greater menace.

Precisely for that reason, it is Bouazizi’s Arab Spring, not sophisticated U.S. killer teams, that most threaten al Qaeda and its allies. By demonstrating that secular uprisings can succeed in toppling the aged, crusty tyrannies, young Arabs across the region have — so far — undercut the appeal of the Islamic radicals.

So far, because despite the early successes in Tunisia and Egypt, the future of the Arab Spring is far from clear. The current process will take decades to play out. The political and economic establishments have been decapitated in Egypt and Tunisia, but not decimated. In the rest of the region, though seriously shaken, the old order still reigns supreme.

The same corrupt Saudi regime that fueled bin Laden’s outrage is still in power, still backed by the United States. Indeed, they have been doing their utmost to tamp the spreading revolt, spending millions to bribe Yemen’s tribal leaders, dispatching their troops to Bahrain to help crush the uprising of the Shiite majority in that country.

Indeed, that brutal repression may radicalize thousands of young Shiites, generating hosts of new recruits for al Qaeda or other extremists Islamic groups — even as the corpse of Osama bin Laden lies somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

Tibet : Monks at a monastery besieged by Chinese police are running out of food.

Tibet : Monks at a monastery besieged by Chinese police are running out of food | dossiertibet.

Tibet : Monks at a monastery besieged by Chinese police are running out of food

Tensions were running high on Monday at besieged Kirti monastery, where Chinese security forces are enforcing a lockdown in an attempt to get hundreds of monks to move out.The siege of the monastery, which is home to some 2,500 Tibetan monks, was sparked by the death of a monk last month in a self-immolation protest against Beijing’s rule.”If any of the monks leave, they will be detained and returned [to the monastery],” said a Tibetan resident of Ngaba, who asked to remain anonymous.”There were [some detained],” he added. “If any of those monks come out without an identity card, they get taken away.”

“They want to take those monks away somewhere and have them study, but their relatives don’t want them to go,” he said.

He said monks inside Kirti were still very short of food.

Strong police presence

A number of monks had left the monastery by disguising themselves as ethnic Han Chinese, though some were discovered and detained by local police, the Tibetan resident said.

“They are being taken to a local jail, where they check to see if they had anything [to do with the protests],” he said. “They lock them up for many days.”

A second Tibetan resident confirmed there was still a strong police presence around the town and monastery.

“Yes, [they are still surrounding it],” he said. “There are dozens of police on each street.”

Interrogation sessions

A Tibetan named Tsering living in exile in Dharamsala said nearly 800 government employees were involved in the campaign.

“The monks were forced stand alone in the middle of the group and subjected to grueling interrogation sessions,” he said.

Previous campaigns have required participants to denounce the Dalai Lama and pledge allegiance to China’s ruling Communist Party.

Exile Tibetans with links to Kirti said local officials had visited the monastery and warned monks that they could face closure or destruction of the monastery.

Monks are currently being confined to their dormitories after 8 p.m., with beatings for any found breaking the curfew, the paper said.

Around 300 local people had signed a petition vowing to protect the monks with their lives, with officials intervening to stop the signing process because of gathering crowds lining up to sign.

Notes from the front

Notes Going Overland from Iraq through Iran into Afghanistan

Posted by Stillmind on Jan. 15, 2011 via Daniel Britts
The one and only Sandra Romain (2001 cream-colored MZ 251 Kanuni) as she leaned, gutted by bandits, against the wall of the Afghan National Police compound in Charikar, Afghanistan about 50 Kilometers from her final resting place in Bagram. Photo by author.

Editor’s note: The following three vignettes are taken from Daniel C. Britt’s experience during the U.S. withdrawal from cities in Iraq, up through his overland zig-zag from Baghdad through Iran to Bagram, Afghanistan. He’s been traveling at ground level in the region since 2009, and was joined by videographer Max Hunter in 2010, the two of whom are chronicling the experience with a documentary film scheduled for independent release in 2013.


June 27, 2010, Grass fire on the outskirts of Ainkawa, Iraq

Smoke from the grass fire is in the space where the wall cradles the door.

It’s stinging my eyes. It’s burning a black line down the edge of the dry, craggy lot across from the apartment.

Trucks cross the lot with the long dust tails that belong to comets. The dust falls down and settles in the unfinished Kurdish houses. Most only have windows and a door on one side. They look like giant gray heads. The window side is the face. The taller, wider doorways are the mouths. Each has three or more eyes. Fat Bangladeshi day-workers and delivery men are lollygaggin’ in the eye sockets.

The heads look crazy or dumb, depending on the way the Bangledeshis lean.

+++

I cut through the lot the last time Sandra Romain died on me, on my way back from Ainkawa with whiskey to pay our landlord with.

The bottle’s clanked together as I pushed her up the sides of all the ditches onto the dirt road. Her back tire had been patched on the side but it was alright otherwise. The front was bald and going flat. I hadn’t fixed any of her yet.

It was Grant’s and Teacher’s whiskey, a bottle of each. The Christians at the liquor store sold plastic bottles too but today those were light in color for whiskey, more like Listerine. And today, the kid behind the counter looked especially guilty.

I didn’t want to be too cheap with our landlord this time. Since the videographer and I moved in with our crumby microwaveable chicken steaks, ants have been forming clusters in the kitchen and the front room.

Sandra Romain had a leaky carburetor. I took the scenic route down the street covered in broken green glass. She died because the carburetor let out slowly all over my boots and the road. I didn’t see it coming and drove further than I should have because I liked the wind and the way the light swam on the shards.

+++

Now it was only the sun and the hot rocks.

You heavy bitch.

Two miles to go.

The houses weren’t as freakish up close. Ivory knobs and green swinging gates explained everything.

Up close, most of the Bangladeshis weren’t lollygaggin’ at all. They were stirring tar in the heat and stomach-sick, leaning out of the eye sockets, vomiting down the cheeks. The fumes got them. Without a motorbike, there’s no such thing as wind here.

+++

Smoke is all over the flat and the black line has grown to a hundred meters long.

The more my eyes water the funnier it gets.

Chickens run away from it.

Cinders dance in the window frame.

The smoke dips into my glass of water.

Burn the grass in a country plagued by dust?

Men, douse it in benzene. Light it at noon. Iraq isn’t hot enough at that time of day.

It’s been done like that for years, during shelling from Turkey and two decades of war with Iran and America.

To keep it up takes strength.

We don’t let trouble bother our routines. We don’t fix anything. We go to work and vomit every day.

Continue reading

Afghanistan…How much longer?

Notes on Temperatures in a Warzone

Curated by Stillmind

-12/23/10- by Jake Reed
The first writer published in response to Matador’s recent call for nonlinear narratives, Jake Reed reflects on his experience in Afghanistan through different temperatures.
Afghanistan. Photo: US Army

125° Fahrenheit

Doha, Qatar, summer 2010. My bottle of frozen water is warm after the 100-yard walk from the chow hall to my tent. My flight to Afghanistan leaves in fifteen minutes. I won’t return for six months. They issue me my weapon and body armor. They give me my final instructions. I walk across the runway and feel the heat resonate up my legs. The C-130 lowers its cargo door and we shuffle inside.

-65.2° to 176° Fahrenheit

The operating temperature of the 5.56mm round that goes into my M4 Carbine. I have ninety of them hanging on my vest. This means that when everything else breaks, I can still shoot something.

I haven’t shot anyone yet. Most of us haven’t. We awkwardly sling our rifles over our backs and slam them into doorways and kneecaps. We attach scopes we hope to never use. I make sure it’s in the background whenever I’m on Skype.

14° Fahrenheit

The temperature at which my iPod officially stops working. I throw it across the room and it bounces off the plywood wall. I’m on a random mountain in Afghanistan. I haven’t slept in 32 hours. I curl into my sleeping bag and try to shiver myself to sleep. My M4 is a foot away. It’s loaded. I stare through the bullet holes in the tin door and see the full moon outside.

Photo: US Army

3.56° Fahrenheit

The amount the temperature drops with every thousand feet of altitude. The loadmaster opens the Blackhawk doors so the gunners can respond to any threat during takeoff. The wind whips through the helicopter and smacks me in the face. My helmet is the only reason is doesn’t rip off my cap. I shove my hands into my pockets and fold my legs into my chest. I left my gloves in the tent.

I look at the soldier across from me. He’s carrying a sniper rifle. He looks up and smiles – he’s just as cold as I am. The higher we fly, the colder it gets. I look out the door and see mountains. They’re covered with trees. In the distance I see taller mountains covered in snow. The sun rises over the range and everything is colored gold. I’ve never seen a more beautiful landscape.

208° Fahrenheit

The steeping point of Rooibos tea from Teavana. Someone must have sent it in a care package. I don’t care about the perfect cup – I just want something warm. I pour boiling water over the tea leaves. I set my stopwatch for 5-6 minutes and look around. I just landed back at the front office and I’m the dirtiest thing in this room. I unsling my M4 and lean it against my desk. I take off the forty pounds of armor and drop it to the floor.

I need a shower. I need sleep. I need to slow down before I burn out.

I log onto my computer and start responding to emails. The phone rings. My colleagues come back from lunch. I don’t get to sleep for another fourteen hours. I forget all about my tea.

98.6° Fahrenheit

The operating temperature of the human body. The temperature of the blood that flows through your veins. The temperature of the blood that pours from shrapnel wounds and seeps along the floor of the Heath Craige Joint Theater Hospital in Bagram. I’m here to get an infection on my foot looked at. Two soldiers are being medevaced to Rammstein after an IED went off during a routine patrol. The ambulance idles outside. The flight crew is fueling a C-17 on the runway. Angry passengers walk out of the air terminal complaining that their flight was being rerouted to Germany. I step over the trail of blood and fill out the sign-up sheet for sick call.

My plane leaves in a month. 

For more wartime writing, please see Daniel Britt’s notes on traveling overland through Iraq and Afghanistan.

    About the Author

Matador ID: jakeallreed

Jake is a workaholic travelphile whose idea of a good time is sleeping on a dirty cot in the middle of nowhere. He’s been shot at, homeless, stranded in a blizzard, and pushed off a cliff.