Bin Laden's Death: Triumph or Tumult Ahead?
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There was a time, of course, when Bin Laden also had the support of the American intelligence community -- back when the U.S. was arming Afghan warlords and jihadis to take on the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan. Bin Laden used his fortune as the scion of a Saudi construction magnate to gather a force of foreign, mostly Arab, fighters to fight alongside the Afghans, and the CIA was only too happy to help Bin Laden's fighters get the arms they needed.
Pakistan was the conduit for the supply chain of rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs supplied by the U.S., and through its madrassahs, sustained by both the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence operation, young men were turned into fighters. However noble the cause of Afghans reclaiming their nation from the Soviet invaders, the U.S. was not in it for the nobility of the cause; America was fighting its own proxy war against the Soviets, and the devastation America's Cold War foe endured at the hands of the Afghans surely facilitated the Soviet Union's demise as a nation.
But after the Afghans all but won the Cold War for America, the U.S. turned tail and left, leaving stockpiles of arms in the hands of unscrupulous warlords. The Taliban was initially born as an antidote to rapaciousness of the warlords, only to become its own brand of oppression, aided and abetted by Osama Bin Laden, who, until yesterday, was more than a living, breathing symbol of extremism; he was a living, breathing creature of the blowback to America's first intervention in the region.
Now that he is gone, the question of blowback re-opens. While Bin Laden's death by U.S. bullets may not operationally change the function of al Qaeda, it changes dynamics around the world. Barack Obama will forever be the guy who got Bin Laden, surely a triumph for him at home. But in a part of the world where U.S. arms have killed children, and where U.S. history is too often the story of alliances with dictators, the outcome is far less certain.
*This sentence was updated. U.S. officials say that Pakistan was not notified before the raid on Bin Laden's compound.