Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, September 23, 2006

If'n the Hellfire Don't Getcha....

News accounts abound regarding a secret French intelligence memo leaked to a Paris newspaper saying that Saudi sources feel pretty certain that Osama bin Laden is dead, of typhus. Equally, the blogosphere is now wondering if advance news of this has come to one Karl Rove in the White House, and that he is simply going to spring it on the public at an opportune time, as part of an "October Surprise" strategy to steer the elections toward Republicans.

Now, this begs the obvious question. If bin Laden dies of typhoid fever in some less-than-elegant surroundings in the mountains of Pakistan, what exactly does that have to do with the Republicans? Or Bush's "successes" in the "long war?" Or anything.

We don't get to bring him to justice. We don't get the opportunity to find out anything more about his organization, his sources of funding, his general rationale for wanting Americans dead.

Perhaps Republicans will take this as some great triumph of their own, perhaps giving tiny little Medals of Freedom to freedom-loving bacteria, but, I don't see how they can, logically. That bin Laden is dead may give them some satisfaction of revenge, but, it's a far, far cry from actively searching for him and succeeding in capturing him and bringing him to trial.

There's one more consideration in all this. The easiest way to get people to stop looking for you is to convince them, once and for all, that you're dead. This is not the first time we've heard rumors of his demise (e.g., how long can he last dragging around a dialysis machine in the unsterile conditions of Tora Bora--that dialysis machine may have been the equivalent of Abu al-Zarqawi's disappearing and reappearing leg).

Even if bin Laden has ceased to consume the planet's oxygen, there's probably enough accumulated videotape of a general nature that Ayman al-Zawahiri could keep the faithful (or the Americans) believing in his existence for years to come. That bin Laden is dead means that we're one terrorist down on the total count. It's not an end to terrorism, and it certainly doesn't mean the Republicans or the Bushies have won a great battle in that war. It most likely means, instead, that there will be someone to replace bin Laden in the not-too-distant future about whom nothing will be known. It will take six months to a year to figure out who he is, and several years to get a sense of his style and his movements. In the meantime, the debacle in Iraq will continue to provide more and more footsoldiers for the Islamists' cause.

If bin Laden is gone, his secrets have gone with him. That should be no cause for joy in the White House or on the Republican campaign trail.

In the meantime, there's every possibility that Osama bin Laden will become the Elvis Presley of the Muslim world for the next several decades. Or, its Jimmy Hoffa.


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