08 May 2011

The Demise of Bin Laden: What Does it Mean?

This is not where I would have wanted to start, but it is as good a starting point as anything.

Most of the Western reactions to Bin Laden's death can be characterized as joyous. Especially in the US, his termination with extreme prejudice (as the Pentagon-speak goes) seems to have provided a rare moment of national unity with grudging congratulations extended by Republican leaders to President Obama. I assume those spontaneous celebrations reported by most media outlets were, unlike the tea party gatherings, bi-partisan in nature.

The rest of the world seemed a lot less concerned about his passing. According to Juan Cole, the reactions in the Muslim world were very subdued. Echoing his judgement, Turkish pundits, both on the left (secular) and on the right (Islamist) agreed that Bin Laden died during the Arab Spring.

Both of these sets of reactions are not unexpected but they do not say much about what bin Laden's demise means in terms of general picture.

Minor consequences will include the reelection of President Obama and a flurry of conspiracy theories that will question the veracity of the official narrative. The reelection part is now a foregone conclusion and barring some unforeseen scandals the death of bin Laden will prevent more serious Republican candidates from entering the fray. If the Republican challengers are limited to the current candidates, including unknowns like Pawlenty and unelectable people like Gingrich and Bachmann, the GOP does not stand a chance to topple the incumbent.

As for the conspiracy theorists, they will raise vacuous questions about his death and his burial at sea in the form of "isn't it curious that?..." This, in turn, will give unnamed administration sources the opportunity to release the long form -so to speak- narrative of the events which will include the video of his termination and dumping of the body to the sea. This will have the same effect the release of Obama's birth certificate had on birthers: some hard core believers will continue to hang on to their illusions by discovering "curious" edit marks but the majority will simply shut up and go away.

The more significant repercussions will take place in Pakistan and the Middle East. In Pakistan, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) will come under a lot of pressure to stop sponsoring Afghan Taliban. The United States might even force changes in the senior leadership by convincing the army that failure to comply might result in a review of America's subcontinent policies with less military aid to Pakistan and more friendly gestures towards India. This would be in line with the new American willingness to put their friends and allies in difficult spots to get them to agree to tough choices.

With bin Laden found several hundred yards away from the most prestigious military academy of Pakistan, it will be much harder for ISI and the army to deny their complicity in supporting the Taliban. Their choices consist of accepting their shameful incompetence or admit to their behind the scenes kingmaker role on terrorist facions.

If that happens, the US will be able to withdraw from Afghanistan. This will not be a full withdrawal as Afghanistan is likely to play a strategic role in the near future but it will be sufficiently significant to be hailed as a withdrawal.

This will free up large resources for what is likely to be the scene of the most critical changes in the next little while, that is, the Middle East. In that sense, the most important consequences of bin Laden's termination will be a heavy Western involvement and American influence in that region, which is sort of ironic, as foreign presence in these sacred lands was what turned him into a jihadist in the first place.

Which brings us to the so-called Arab Spring, Iran and Turkey.

And the likely emergence of Middle East 2.0 which will attempt to correct the bugs left behind by the British and French version of the region.

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