The World after Osama bin Laden
Death welcome, but BU experts vary on its strategic value
Are we safer?
President Obama says we are, now that Osama bin Laden is dead. Throngs celebrated around the country Sunday night when the president announced that U.S. commandos had killed the 9/11 mastermind at a compound in Pakistan.
BU experts have some other opinions. Perhaps most upbeat is Joseph Wippl, a 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and a College of Arts & Sciences international relations lecturer.
“It has to have a negative effect on the morale of terrorism,” Wippl says of bin Laden’s demise. That doesn’t mean that terrorism is going to come to an end. He says bin Laden “hasn’t been able to play a large role in it because of the pressures placed on him” during a decadelong manhunt. “But on the other hand, this is a bad thing for the terrorist culture. The effect is they’ve lost their leadership, the guy who issued fatwas on crusaders and Jews.”
Wippl believes other terrorist leaders are in the crosshairs as well.
“The next ones up are going to be al-Zawahiri and Omar,” he says. Ayman al-Zawahiri is al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and Mullah Muhammed Omar is the leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban. “I think we are looking for them very, very seriously, and I think we’re going to get them. I think in that sense, this is a positive thing.”
Other BU experts welcomed bin Laden’s death, but disagreed about its strategic significance.
“He was probably not an operational figure” in al-Qaeda, says Adil Najam, the Frederick S. Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy, a CAS professor of international relations and of geography and environment, and director of the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. “The importance of his death is the closure that it brings. His death is more important for the United State than it is for al-Qaeda.”
Former Army colonel and West Point graduate Andrew Bacevich, also a CAS international relations professor, agrees that bin Laden’s death is of marginal practical significance, for all its gratifying emotion. “Anti-American, anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic world predated bin Laden,” he says. “It stems from factors unrelated to bin Laden, and persists with bin Laden gone from the scene.”
Bacevich believes that al-Qaeda was never as strong as we made it out to be after 9/11 and that the attack on the World Trade Center happened because we allowed ourselves to be open to that kind of attack. “We are safer today because we’ve invested very substantial efforts in ensuring that our guard is up,” he says.
He also believes that the recent freedom uprisings in the Middle East appear to reject al-Qaeda’s antimodernity ideology. “To the extent that that perception is correct,” he says, “al-Qaeda is losing, and may already have lost, the battle for the hearts and minds of the people in that part of the world.” Bacevich stresses, however, that it’s unclear how the countries where the uprisings occurred will remake their governments.
Bin Laden’s death in a populous city with a heavy Pakistani military presence also raises questions about how much Pakistani authorities knew of his whereabouts. Pakistan receives about a billion dollars a year from the United States for anti-terrorism operations.
Bacevich says the circumstances raise the possibility of Pakistan’s complicity in hiding bin Laden. That nation, he says, either must convince its American allies that “they genuinely did not know this guy was hiding in plain sight” or face an American evaluation of whether the alliance “has become simply a sham.”
Najam, who is a native of Pakistan, says suspicions of the country’s complicity are unfounded. That nation likely is even more joyful than Americans over bin Laden’s death, he says, because, while 3,000 people died here on 9/11, 12 times that many Pakistanis have been killed by extremists in the ensuing decade. “At this point, the governments get on much better than either the people or the media,” Najam says. “If you read the Pakistani media, there’s constant U.S.-bashing, and if you read the U.S. media, there’s constant Pakistan-bashing.”
Nor, says Najam, should much be read into the U.S. decision not to warn Pakistan that an American attack on bin Laden’s compound was coming. “I assume very few people in the United States knew about it,” he says. “So it was not a surprise that the Pakistanis were not told of the details. It would be very unprofessional if they were.”
Rich Barlow can be reached at email@example.com Comments