Osama bin Laden: my part in his downfall

The killing of Osama bin Laden offers the United States an opportunity.  It may not be the opportunity it thinks it has.

Amongst bin Laden’s supporters there will be shock.  Al Qaeda is a decentralised network in the manner of many modern movements; it’s linked by ideology and the internet rather than by a command structure.  With the death of ‘the Sheikh’ the leadership vacuum will be difficult to fill.  It’s not about occupying a command position; it’s about being a figurehead and motivator.  No one else we know of has Osama’s charisma; none has his track record and none his totemic value or mythos.  These are things one cannot manufacture.

The US may have managed to create the sense that its justice rolls on inexorably and inescapably.  However if it simply tries to capitalise on that momentum with simply more of the same, it may miss an opportunity.

While it remains as important as ever to keep up the pressure on violent extremists it’s also the moment to reach out, in deed rather than in word, to the wider Islamic world.

One significant gesture would be to finally get a grip on the US military’s propensity to use spray and pray tactics.  Reading accounts of D-Day and the Normandy campaign it’s apparent that the American military’s slapdash attitude to civilians and allies goes back at least to 1944 when they’d already earned a reputation for incompetence and carelessness in that regard.

It was a feature of the war in Vietnam.  Civilian casualties were monstrous.  More allied Australian troops were killed by the Americans than by the Vietcong and friendly fire incidents within the US military were numerous.

The damage done to coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by the attitude of US troops to civilians is incalculable.  It has almost certainly prolonged both conflicts at great cost both to local people and to the US treasury.

It’s time to let the innocent see the gentler face of the United States.  It’s a time to reach out.  There is no suggestion that there should be any let up in efforts to dismantle Al Qaeda but that requires efforts to strangle recruitment.  In an age when ‘joining up’ just requires people to believe and to act independently in a common cause, that means winning hearts and minds.  I’m not really convinced that the US military and security services know how to do that.

UPDATE 10.15 GMT

Hey folks, you heard it here last… they buried him at sea.  Brilliant.  One day after President Obama takes the mick out of Donald Trump for his birther beliefs and suggests the release of the presidential birth certificate will allow Ekky Trump to concentrate on Roswell and the faked moon landings instead, they give conspiracy theorists new hope.  Osama isn’t really dead, he’s still on the run/in a detention facility/hanging at Gracelands with Elvis and Glen Miller.  Hats off to the geniuses who thought that one up.  There truly is no intelligence quite like military intelligence.

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