Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

I'm not at all about watching grisly videos depicting gruesome events of death and carnage. There are websites devoted to such dark and perverted entertainment and that they maintain even a semblance of popularity lends me to wonder if our worlds population of sociopaths is much more inflated than any can effectively measure.

Never the less, some years ago I did watch a video of American hostage Nicholas Berg having his head sawed off like so much livestock to the slaughter. It is as much by this haunting few moments as 9/11 that I identify the message and methods of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

A few years later, upon learning that the man who held the knife that so violently ended Nick Berg's life, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had found his demise, courtesy of the United States Air Force, I allowed myself some small sense of celebration. And when I learned that after the two F-16's had "reached out and touched" him he'd survived long enough to see American soldiers (apparently delivering medical attention no less) and likely realized the source of his doom, I thought along the lines of, "Better than dead, the motherfucker knew who brought it about."

Likely of little comfort to Nick Berg's family but for me a sense of vindication, of vengeance realized. A selfish, if understandable reaction but necessary to illustrate my personal hatred of what Al Qaeda represents. Necessary because sometimes when people read dispassionate analysis or consideration they leap to emotional conclusions. Consider the above a litmus of my own personal views while I cast them aside and look at an issue straight on without the taint of emotion.

Back in 2001 President Bush promised to capture bin Laden "dead or alive." Is Osama bin Laden more valuable dead or alive? What are the pros and cons of each outcome?

The Pros:

The concept of these questions is naturally counter intuitive to most Americans. Bin Laden not only deserves death but in eliminating him the US scores a major victory in the "War on Terror" as they effectively decapitate the leadership of Al Qaeda.
Without bin Laden AQ will continue shatter and become even more fragmented and tactically impotent. Truly AQ's successful attacks since 9/11 have served to illustrate a continuous scaling down in both size and effectiveness. By lopping off their leadership they, like a queen less hive of wasps, will surely scatter to the winds.

Additionally the demise of bin Laden will serve a symbolic victory of western ideals over the anachronistic values and ideals of radical wahhabism. Much as MacArthur "humanized" Emperor Hirohito on board the USS Missouri in the signing of the Potsdam Declaration, the end of bin Laden would serve a message to any and all that hold him a prophet...

The Cons:

... Except that in death Osama bin Laden becomes a martyr and, perhaps, elevates both his own status and the dogma of Al Qaeda to the level of Prophet.

Decapitating the leadership of Al Qaeda may have very different consequences than pounding AQ in Iraq leader, al Zarqawi, out of existance. AQI without Zarqawi combined with collective dissatisfaction within the Sunni tribes served to render AQI impotent and eventually virtually inconsequential.

Assuming that bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri don't travel together (be straight out imbecilic if they did) AQ without bin Laden is still within the reign of al Zawahiri. And Zawahiri is likely AQ's "brain." A former leader of Egypt's Islamic Jihad, he was fingered in the assassination of Eqyptian President Anwar Sadat and served a three year sentence. That sentence left him hell bent in both his message and method of toppling secular Islamic regimes. If Zawahiri entered prison a terrier he came out a frothing pit bull and when the two met in Pakistan in the late 1980's (as the Soviets licked their wounds and pulled their forces from Afghanistan) ideology met method and strategy.

A dead bin Laden also serves a very formidable martyr. Bin Laden's demise will meet out western justice but may well serve a clarion call to many across the Islamic world and the ranks of AQ would likely see an immediate, if short term swell. Even given additional fragmentation (as the organization would likely suffer) operations could resume a higher status of return with a sudden swell in ranks under al Zawahiri.

Prior to his demise, American intelligence will have pin pointed his position. In doing so they maintain the prospect of either killing (or taking) bin Laden or harrying him.

Decapitating AQ through killing bin Laden and even al Zawahiri won't end AQ. Rather it will simply allow a new rank and form to graduate and take on the charge. By locating but not killing or taking bin Laden the US saves itself years of intelligence effort. If we know where bin Laden is we can monitor and perhaps dig our way into his hateful organizations modus.

Which way should we travel?


Cannoneer No. 4 said...

I think you overestimate the positive impact his "martyrdom" would have on the murderous nutjobs and underestimate the effect bin Laden's capture alive or acquistion of his corpse would have on morale, ours and theirs.

Captured alive, his trial and execution, along with all the efforts to spring him or trade him for hostages or defend him in court would be high psycho-political drama which would smoke many cockroaches out of the woodwork. His execution should be public. I recommend hanging, either in New York City or near the Pentagon. Guard his corpse until the birds of the air pick it clean, then present the skull to President Bush. It will look good next to Pancho Villa's. Divide his skeleton among the units deployed for OEF, for display when the colors are broken out. The eagle atop the color staff will have to be modified to hold a bone in his beak.

The question of who was the strong horse would be answered definitively.

Acquistion of his body would also answer the strong horse question, and provide a basis for a narrative of cowardice, misery, illness, weakness and incapacity.

Saddam hasn't made much of a martyr. Osama may do somewhat better, but not so well that his martyrdom should not be valiantly strived for by all means available in the time left to President Bush.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Thanks for stopping by, the post was about how very little has changed rather than it was better before the invasion.

Surely you would expect change for the better by now?

Jay@Soob said...

C4, thanks for the comment. My opinion is that it could go either way. Bin laden's popular not just with "nutjobs" but entire societies across the Muslim world. Hussein was a regional pariah by comparison.

I would add that from a strategic standpoint it would make more sense to keep Bin Laden alive and jailed than it would to stage the sensation you highlight above.

Jay@Soob said...

Hi Daniel,

Change in Afghanistan is going to have to happen from the bottom up and even given the best scenario (a stable war free and independent state) will be a long time coming.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Bottom-up change is overrated when it is not being pushed from the top-down.

The US seems to have forgotten to push.

And one of the whole points of going to war was the improvement of the situation in Afghanistan for its people, this is a long time coming.

Steve said...

The world would be better off if he were killed, by Americans, suddenly and not notably.

The Muslim world is lousy with martyrs (to quote Scheaur) and with the removal of bin Laden from the stage we no longer have to deal with his marketing appeal and organizational talent on the psychotic segment of the Muslim world.

Also, America has far, far too many plates spinning right now, way more than we can handle. If we close a few doors we can concentrate on what remains.

James said...


I'm with you in that either way works.

Spending the rest of his life in a cave like cell on death row or being trapped in a cell like cave on some remote mountain side while al Qaeda is further degraded and disenfranchised in the field provides similar final rewards for Osama, if he is still alive.

Jay@Soob said...

David, if you think any foreign presence is going to change centuries of tradition among the mostly rural Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan you've got another thing coming (as the great linguist, Judas Priest once advised.) The top down effect can only ensure (and this is dicey at best) a western friendly central government which will, one hopes, plant the seeds of global connectivity. As more "enlightened" culture and economic connectivity reaches the people of Afghanistan and the more they realize benefits in their own standard of living, the more they'll "evolve" out of the centuries of tribal and Islamic ideals that have defined them thus far. Neither the US nor NATO are going to deliver the vast majority of Afghani's to the 21st century and liberal democracy through tanks and bombs. That's a matter that will be left to both the Afghan government and the will of the people.

Jay@Soob said...


But as a martyr couldn't bin Laden be even more potent? I agree with the Historian that bin Laden caged is the most effective manner in ending him.

Steve said...


What is the marginal value of one more martyr in the world of radical Islam? There seem to be quite a few already.

Basically I think it's a matter of weighing that marginal "martyr value" against bin Laden's proven ability to organize, compel, lead and market. He's clearly off the charts in terms of his cultural impact in his world, I don't think he would be so easily replaced.

Steve said...

Addendum to my previous comment -

With bin Laden dead we could also consolidate our efforts in other areas, and reduce the amount of things our foreign policy machine and military are juggling.

Jay@Soob said...

Steve one more martyr in terms of Osama bin Laden is a far cry from the obligatory list of say, Palestinian martyrs. Bin Laden's message and method resonates in Islamic cultures the world around. As such bin Laden will hardly be "just another martyr" in the likes of an otherwise anonymous suicide bomber.

With bin Laden as a religious martyr in a global sense (from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia to Egypt) the next rank and file (even assuming Zawahiri is killed or captured as well) has as much if not more a platform for marketing Al Qaeda's extremism as now they have a conventional mythical figure to rally their cry.

I'm not acting the contrarian for the sake of argument, rather I'd suggest the US give a good deal of thought to how they'll deal with bin Laden should they find him within their grasp. In a sense I'm playing devil's advocate and hoping that our government is giving half as much thought to the situation as what is evident here in this commentary.

Dick Stanley said...

I'm not convinced he's alive. I think Osama bin dead since Tora Bora. Only the CIA needs to keep him "alive." Along with Barry, of course.

Jay@Soob said...

it's certainly not out of the question. Little evidence of bin Laden actually living and breathing has been put forth for years now. AQ and the CIA might well have strategic cause to play "Weekend at bin Laden's."

Cannoneer No. 4 said...

US officials: Al-Qaida unpopular and 'imploding'

WASHINGTON - Top U.S. counterterrorism officials Monday said al-Qaida is "imploding" and that its violent tactics have turned Muslims worldwide against the organization. "Absolutely it's imploding. It's imploding because it's not a message that resonates with a lot of Muslims," said Dell Dailey, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism.

Jay@Soob said...

Point well taken, C. Let's hope the trend continues. From this perspective eliminating bin Laden and al Zawahiri could present a preemptive measure to AQ shifting it's tactics away from stateless, wholly ideologically driven entity to one more along the lines of Hamas of Hezbollah.