SYNDICATED COLUMN: Osama bin Laden’s Ultimate Victory

Culturally Clueless and Politically Tonedeaf, U.S. Gave Bin Laden the Martyrdom He Craved

The assassination of Osama bin Laden was masterfully orchestrated to appeal to American media consumers. But it will play poorly overseas.

President Obama’s Sunday evening announcement, timed to fill Monday’s papers with a sickening orgy of gleeful triumph but little information, prompted bipartisan high-fives and hoots all around. “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chanted a mob of drunken oafs in front of the White House. Blending the low satire of two Bush-era classic send-ups of a nation allergic to self-reflection, “Team America: World Police” and “Idiocracy,” they set the tone for a week or a month or whatever of troop-praising, God-blessing-America, frat-boy self-backslapping. “So that’s what success looks like,” wrote New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley in the paper’s special ten-page “The Death of Bin Laden” pull-out section.

Success for Obama, certainly. He’ll see a much-needed bump in the polls. But it won’t last. Eventually the unemployed will wonder why the president devotes so many resources to killing one man but so little to them.

On the geopolitical front, the CIA’s ballyhooed Bin Laden takedown operation couldn’t possibly have been handled any worse. The War on Terror, if it ever existed, is a war for the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims.


It’s about them. Not us.

“Bin Laden wanted to die as a martyr. In this sense, his wish was obliged,” notes Stephen Diamond in Psychology Today.

You betcha.

Nothing was more important to Osama than to be seen as a brave soldier in an epic clash of civilizations. Claims that he hardly saw combat during the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s hurt him. The soft son of a Saudi billionaire and a former mother’s boy, Osama wanted to prove himself.

This past weekend, thanks to Navy Seals, he did. He went out in a blaze of glory, like Scarface. His status as a martyr, as a legend of jihad, is assured.

Yet another screw-up for the U.S., which fell into Bin Laden’s trap after 9/11. To Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, the United States and the West is enemy #2. Their biggest foe is pro-American Muslim dictators and autocrats, and the apathy and indifference among Muslims that allows them to remain in power.

As with most actions carried out by small terrorist groups against enemies with superior manpower and weaponry, the operations attributed to Bin Laden—the bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and 9/11—were intended to provoke the U.S. into overreacting, thus exposing it as the monster he said it was. The invasions of two Muslim countries, Guantánamo, torture, Abu Ghraib, the secret prisons and disappearances and all the rest neatly fit into Osama Bin Laden’s narrative, proving his point more succinctly than a zillion fatwas faxed into Al Jazeera.

Everything about Bin Laden’s killing squares with the jihadi narrative.

The operation violated the sovereignty of a Muslim country, a constant complaint of radical jihadis. Armed commandos lawlessly invaded Pakistan. Infidel soldiers shot up a house and crashed a helicopter down the street from a military academy. Pakistanis see American drone planes buzzing around overhead, invading their airspace without the thinnest veneer of legality; American missiles blow up houses indiscriminately. Taking out Bin Laden without asking Pakistan’s government for permission is an act of war to which the country’s poverty permits no response. It’s yet another humiliation, another triumph of might over right.

Much will be made of the disrespectful treatment of Bin Laden’s body.

In an echo of Bush’s selection of Guantánamo as a extraterritorial not-U.S.-not-foreign no man’s land, the Obama Administration claimed that it buried Bin Laden at sea because it couldn’t find a country to accept his body within the required 24 hours after death, and to avoid the possibility that his grave would become a shrine for Muslim extremists. However, Bin Laden’s Wahhabi sect of Islam allows neither shrines nor burial at sea.

Of course, few Americans care about respecting Muslim religious sensibilities. So this decision went over well in the States. Countless editorial cartoons depicted sharks feasting on the carcass of the Bogeyman of the Twin Towers.

But it will inflame Muslim purists. Worse than that, dumping Osama into the Indian Ocean feeds an image the United States would be smart to shake, of a superpower hell-bent on occupying Muslim lands, stealing their oil and trashing their religion.

On the hearts-and-minds front, Americans’ chest-thumping is a PR disaster.

“Rot in Hell,” blared the headline of the New York Daily News. “Justice has been done,” pundits and politicians claimed—a strange endorsement of extrajudicial assassination by a nation based on the rule of law.

“Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order,” wrote Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post. “We got the son of a bitch.”


Islam teaches combatants to respect their enemies. The death of an opponent is tragic, sometimes a tragic necessity, but never trivial, never a subject for joking. A vanquished enemy should be dispatched quickly, presumably to be chastised by Allah for his wickedness in the afterlife, but he is never to be mocked. A Muslim should not enjoy war or combat, nor gloat when victorious. When the powerful crush the weak, as was the case with the U.S. killing of Bin Laden, dancing around like a beefy hunk of steroids spiking the football at the touchdown line makes one look small.

It also makes us look dumb. As anyone not drunk on bloodlust knows, the worst thing that could have happened to Osama Bin Laden would have been arrest followed by a fair trial.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is


30 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Osama bin Laden’s Ultimate Victory

  1. I think Osama lived somewhat like a miser. He chose to use some outdated technology, but when it comes down to it, he still had enough opportunity to get what he needed if he chose to. Sometimes luxury is knowing you have the option to do something even if you choose not to.

  2. OK, assuming it wasn’t a fake, the footage of UBL watching himself on a small crappy TV, shaking and with a very grey beard is by definition the opposite of luxury. Can we at least agree on that?

  3. I think a compound like that had to be some sort of luxury by definition, even living with other families. And of course he was a recluse, he was a wanted man. Lots of rich people become recluses for several reasons, if anything the fact that he could stay at the compound and get stuff at the snap at his finger by his followers sounds pretty damn luxurious.

    Despite your spinning, it wasn’t a hard knock life for Osama, at least until he was shot.

  4. Albert, from the footage I’ve seen and the reports I read, the compound was hardly luxurious. If anything, the guy was a recluse living in a multi-family compound. AFAIK, only Fox News addicts believed the version that UBL was living in a cave in Afghanistan and ready to send hordes of towelheads to commit atrocious acts that would kill thousands in Iowa at the snap oh his fingers. Strangely enough, MSNBC addicts are now ready to swallow that nonsense, now that the “good guys” run the DHS.
    Can anyone explain to me how do get away with this: UBL had to be whacked, ’cause bringing him home and try him, since that would be a “great state secuity risk.” Of course, now that he’s dead, the “security risk” has been greatly heightened. And, obviously, we had to dump him at sea, and can’t provide the pictures because his tomb and the pictures would incite the fanatics, thus increasing the “security risk.” Is there any way out of a total police state then?

  5. Ah, the Left…. in all it’s rock-throwing anti-American glory… if you’d found some way to incorporate dumpster burning in that comment you’d have the trifecta!

  6. I don’t know what planet you live on bucephalus, but Osama was living in luxury no matter how you spin it. I’m not an expert on housing prices, but I think it depends on how much someone is willing to pay for it. It might not be the most eloquent house in the city, but pretty much it is a fucking mansion. And it’s a hell of a lot more eloquent than a cave in the mountain that we’ve been propagandized to believe that he’s been living at all these years.

  7. I don’t understand what the celebration is all about. This mission was a failure in a ridiculous number of ways.

    1) Bin Laden should have been taken alive. If he’s the great “terrorist mastermind” we’re always being told he is, wouldn’t it have been more helpful to take him alive and pick his master-brain clean of any further terror plots that might have been in the pipeline? Wouldn’t anyone else have liked to hear / read his testimony about his involvement in the events of September 11th, 2001 — you know, the events that days afterward he denied having any connection to whatsoever? Would it have been too hard to get him to talk, too hard to get him to say what we wanted, or too hard to be sure he wouldn’t say too much?

    2) So, okay…we killed him, and apparently we’re so proud of the methods we used that we’re very comfortable now, after the fact, boasting every glorious detail of this HIGHLY SECRET OPERATION to the world media. This, coming from the country that imprisons a Private First Class for revealing such vital secrets as “Ambassador X, in Country Y, thinks his foreign counterpart is a real Z-head.”

    I guess it’s only classified if it doesn’t look “good” on your resume.

    Apparently they had the foresight to photograph his corpse for us skeptics. I can’t wait to see that. I’m sure all esponsible anchormen and women from CNN to FOX are practicing right now in front of a mirror:

    “The images you are about to see may disturb you…”

    I don’t watch the nightly news…was I too late, did they do it already?

    (P.S. Why don’t they say that before EVERY story? It couldn’t hurt…)

    3) So the body was dumped at sea. No autopsy. Bummer. I’d have liked to have known if the corpse-of-Bin-Laden had the same DNA, kidney disease, or even blood type as everyone’s favorite martyr. I’d have REALLY liked to have people outside of the US military as witnesses. Oh wait, members of his immediate family were there. Oh. Well. We all know what THEY look like. Sure…I mean, if you say it was them.

    Maybe if we’re lucky, one or two of our heroes kept one of Osama’s severed fingers as a trophy (Shush! Don’t tell me this DOESN’T happen!) and we can still check his fingerprints.

    That’s if he hasn’t sold it already on e-Bay.

    4) Just a thought: why didn’t our highly professional intelligence officials keep their mouths shut, and their ears and eyes open for…say…even 48 hours following this brilliant piece of work? You know…they could have just observed and listened to chatter and possibly learned a great deal about how this impressive terrorist network communicates with their multitudinous minions far and wide.

    Oh well. Thanks a lot, guys. I was looking forward to once again being able to finish drinking my McDonald’s Coke on the OTHER side of the airport TSA checkpoint. I guess that’ll have to wait. It’s for the greater good. (The greater good.)

    5) “Justice has been done.” Really? Was I asleep when Bush and Cheney were tried for war crimes? Is Guantanamo closed? Did the banks have a crisis of conscience and voluntarily, en masse, return the bailout money they received to our Treasury, and did the execs of each turn themselves in to the local precinct?

    Ten years, billions of dollars later, one man dead. Supposedly. If he ever existed. I guess the only thing we really can be sure of is our own experience as Americans these last ten years, and how they compare to the years before.

    “Everything changed after 9/11.”

    Boy, did it ever. Still cheering?

  8. Pakistanis see American drone planes buzzing around overhead, invading their airspace without the thinnest veneer of legality; American missiles blow up houses indiscriminately.

    Its more complicated than that. We want to extend the authority of our civilian elected government. Those drones help. As for who they damage, they actually do kill terrorists who kill Pakistani civilians. Apparently the people in Pakistan who call themselves “religious” are people with serious psychological problems.

    Taking out Bin Laden without asking Pakistan’s government for permission is an act of war to which the country’s poverty permits no response.

    Oh stop being reductionist. The civilian government is poor because the military has hogged all the money. Stop trying to be cutesily contrary.

    It’s yet another humiliation, another triumph of might over right.

    Its a humiliation for the Pakistan military. Who’s narrative you’re echoing.

    I realise that you hate the dominant narrative of the US media and are searching for alternative narratives Ted. However if the world is spammed by US narratives, it is also spammed by alternative government ones as well, such as Russian, Chinese, Pakistani, Islamist and Indian. This raid weakens the grip of the Pakistan military establishment over control of the Pakistani state. It demonstrates the necessity of bringing Pakistan`s armed forces under accountable democratic civilian control. They should be re-organised to stick to security and our borders rather than influencing domestic politics. As for you Ted, try next time when avoiding your domestic narrative, not to be caught in the web of a foreign one.

  9. Also…
    A sham show trial would have been the worst thing we could have done. The same goes for KSM. A sham show trial would amount to giving them a global megaphone to spew their hatred.

  10. You’re absolutely right…. if we were more respectful to radical Moslem troglodytes, they’d almost certainly decide to put jihad on the back burner.

    I see the radical death cult members as a population who’s thought processes are not unlike those of 1940 Japan… like the Japanese military they respect only one thing, and that thing is strength. Accomodation is perceived as weakness and nothing more.

    We were far kinder to Osama than he deserved. He suffered for only a matter of seconds… Lord knows he deserved far worse…

    The next time some sympathy for that jackass creeps into your mind, check out some videos of Americans jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Centers to avoid burning alive.

  11. I think Obama and his people just felt it would be too much of a pain in the ass to do it right. Trial, security, republicans, arguments… just all too much!!

    so just shoot him when you see him and drag him out. we take his body and get rid of it. only pics are for me and history.

  12. Once again Ys (Yanks & yids) have shown themselves as the barbarians they are.

    Many of you Ys are proud to be cartooned as Romans, where you should in fact be as Huns. And US Prez not as emperors but as Attila, where his horse(power) has trodden, no grass grows. In times when massacres and torture were the norm.

    But bucks were truly harvested, never to trickle down…

    Even the poorest fellah is far more cultivated -pun intended- than most Yanks are.

    Naturally, as a fish can’t even grasp the meaning of air, I don’t expect most of you understanding these lines to do otherwise than suffocate and -hopefully- burst some artery. It will be my contribution towards a greener world.

    For the survivors: I believe something fishier than usual is going on. Recently, the Ys have been wasting all their Middle East assets: Saddam, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafy, Bin Laden, …

    Any suggestions?

  13. Oh, one interesting sideshow in the aftermath of the gorefest is the “philosophical” tug-of-war between liberals and conservatives regarding the efficiency of torture in finding the location of the deceased (defended by Panetta and Holder, if I’m not mistaken). The liberals, who spouse utilitarianism as a bedrock principle of their politics are left in the uncomfortable position of trying to square their opposition to it with its supposed efficacy (the insufferable Nick Kristof is particularly amusing to read). The same goes for the vaunted conservative’s devotion to moral values, except when they conflict with their favorite latest war, but that isn’t even funny anymore.
    The idea that torture is wrong in principle, even though it might work occasionally, seems to be strictly verboten to these geniuses.

  14. Tyler,

    Unlike the saying goes, dead men tell lots of tales, if forensics have their way. Dead men sleeping with the fishes, now those certainly tell no tales. Bin Laden’s execution will join a slew of Uncle Sam related goings-on where (cough… Kenndys… cough…) the official truth is very difficult to swallow, but the keepers of allowable opinion will aver you’re just a paranoid “conspiracy theorist” if you don’t buy every shady crumb of detail they divulge.
    On the other hand, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: the US government will have no reason to doubt whatever lame the Pakistani government uses to explain their “ignorance” about Osama’s whereabouts.

  15. bucephalus,

    Since you apparently don’t buy the official version, might it be fun to indulge some conspiracy theories? I’m not saying the official version is wrong and one of these is correct. However, they do fit the facts of a hasty, unverifiable burial and a continuously changing account of a firefight which Obama supposedly watched, popcorn in hand, on live feed.

    1.) Bin Ladin wasn’t really killed and is being held at a CIA black site.

    2.) Bin Ladin was already dead of natural causes. Letting him die comfortably in a retirement villa is bad PR. We sent in the SEAL team to sieze the body before his death became public knowledge. The story of a swashbuckling raid was then concocted to cover up what was really the world’s most expensive mortuary service.

    3.) This was a hit. The SEALs were ordered not to take prisoners and shot him execution style, and his wounds bear that out. Do we really believe that a platoon of elite soldiers couldn’t drag an unarmed, frail man a few dozen yards to a helicopter? Bin Ladin in jail would be the best thing for the long term interests of the U.S., but it would make Obama’s job more difficult. Obama doesn’t have the balls to give KSM his day in court.

  16. Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am. Stuck in the middle with you. Actually, stuck in the way left, I suppose, if labels mean anything. Which they don’t. So fuck it.

    You should send Brandon Edgar, “Mr. E.”, a copy of the Constitution printed on toilet paper, because apparently that’s how he feels about the rule of law. Him, and Mr.’s Bush and Obama…

    Innocent until proven guilty, anyone? ANY ONE?

    Ted, why are you apparently the only one (or one of a VERY small minority – of bloggers/pundits/pick your title) who actually gets it? What the FUCK is going on in this country? How can so many people be so blind to reality?

    Osama did the gettin, and he got Obama. There’s your reality. This Empire’s history will be written by the sand dwellers.

    Maybe it is time to move to another country. Wish I knew of a better one.

  17. I would have loved to for Osama to be captured and tried, but I think that he would have rather committed before any trial would have happened. Either way Osama was going to be a martyr. But IMHO the image of Osama as a brave leader has been tarnished by the fact that instead of hiding in a cave, he hid at a compound in the middle of a rich neighborhood. At least Saddam hid in a hole in the ground when he was found, Osama wasn’t uncomfortable. Osama could never shake the image of being rich and elitist even as a wanted terrorist. Osama didn’t go down in a huge battle while being closed in on, he was caught by surprise. The dude was a coward, I don’t see how his death will help Al Qaeda.

  18. The burial at sea within a few hours is very peculiar. Wouldn’t the body of the world’s most wanted fugitive would merit a thorough autopsy? Bin Ladin had apparently been underground for nearly a decade. One would think we’d use every means at our disposal to try to reconstruct his life and track down more of his associates. Of course, that would presuppose that a large terrorist threat currently exists and that neutralizing it is a major goal of U.S. foreign policy. Both propositions are doubtful.

    I can’t argue with the decision to take him out. His death does bring a certain closure, and letting him live in retirement would be unimaginable. Still, the people celebrating are evidence of how pathetic we have become as a nation. 40 odd years ago we filled the streets cheering because we put a man on the moon. Now we cheer because we killed an old man in his bedroom.

  19. You don’t need me to tell you how right you are, but I’ll say it anyway: good god damn are you ever right. Thank you so much for saying this. No sane person can watch that DC celebration footage and see a society with a clear view of reality, or a benevolent purpose, or a future. We have lost, no matter how many bearded foreigners’ skulls we explode.

  20. Let me be clear I believe sincerely in religous tolerance and I do understand unlike many otheres who would cringe at the my state this simple reality that Christianity, Islam, and Judism all come from different perspectives of the smae god. The one tenet that runs through each faith is that of justice. By definition, the Judeo-Chrisitian (Islamic) understanding of God is a supreme, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent being who is just. The ‘smiting” of Osama bin Laden was a just act. Some how you sir have taken the viewpoint that we (American) should care about what the jihadist think because we would not want them to become even more extreme than they already are. We would not want others to rally to their cuase, and we would not want retalliation. Let us be honest here American is every bit as much an empire as that of Ancient Rome. In spite of our economic troubles and political infighting , we remain a economic and military power that is unparalleled in the history of the world. Yet we do not embrace the mantle and implications of such a distinction because of the negative connotations that it carries. Deep down inside, any American and nearly every individual in the world know this to be the truth. The raid on Bin Laden’s compound just veriied this truth for better or worse. With our cards on the table, maybe it is time to say this to the jihandist, “it is okay to hate us, to dispise us, burn us in effigy, desecrate our flag, and say of us what you will. but if you attack us, harm us, or disrupt us without cause, we will kill any and all without quarter or pause, and yes until our empire falls,there is no one, no where that can stop us.” LIke it or not, right or wrong that is also a reality. Osama may be a martyr, but that is okay as long as there are those who wish to follow his example, the “empire” most certainly will oblige and sent them on their way. What most seem to forget the United State did not get to where it is because of lack of resolve. Let the jihadist hate, recruit, and act they may find themselves in where they most want to be–with Osama Bin Laden without the 72 virgins.

  21. Can I assume from this commentary that you’re buying the official line about this hit job, hook, line and sinker? I understand that it’s against liberal’s “religion” to doubt official truth, but I though real leftists had no such compunctions.
    Other than that, it strikes me as odd to read such indignation at the admittedly sickening gloating and “bloodlust” coming from someone who regularly editorializes about summary “justice” to the evil rich and advocates violent revolution.

  22. Quoting from your blog: “Taking out Bin Laden without asking Pakistan’s government for permission is an act of war to which the country’s poverty permits no response. It’s yet another humiliation . . .”
    I’ll be honest, Teddy, I’ve got several issues with your tone and information in this blog but I’ll limit my comments to only this one instance.
    Are you suggesting we should have told Pakistan what we knew and then asked (Pretty please!) for permission to take him out ? Do you not remember the lesson of Tora Bora when bin Laden ‘escaped’ across the border into Pakistan when the US stepped aside to let Paki forces (our “allies”) engage bin Laden near the end of Operation Anaconda? Remember how they seemingly stepped aside with a “Welcome to Pakistan, Emir bin Laden” greeting for him and his entourage? That was a humiliation and exposed the Pakis for what they are: two-faced opportunists who take American dollars and shelter / harbor / protect bin Laden.
    Accept this: the US did the right thing in going after bin Laden, killing him and burying him and in so doing showed more compassion and respect than he showed nearly 3,000 victims on a September morning. bin Laden WANTED jihad, his holy war, and he got it!

  23. I have to hand it to you, Ted. You may be a contrarian weirdo, but, most importantly, you are a DEDICATED contrarian weirdo.
    Please don’t be offended–I actually enjoy reading your work just to see the workings of the “Anti-Mind”–the direct polar opposite of conventional wisdom if you will.
    Sorry, but you might really be alone on this one. I’d guess about 93% of the country is on a pretty good high right now. Let’s face it, muslims make easy caricatures to hate and Bin Laden was the one we all wanted dead–and now he is (yay!)

    As far as how it wil all play overseas….well, I’m afraid that ship has already sailed. They don’t like us and they aren’t going to start liking us anytime soon. America’s relationship with most of the world is like a bad marriage. If they were a couple I would advise them to go ahead and get a divorce (no point in dragging it out).

  24. Ted,
    Shortly after 9/11, I wrote the same thing (in an editorial at the paper where I worked) with which you ended this excellent column. An arrest and a trial — such as at Nuremberg — would have unmasked bin Laden before the world. Instead, we have fallen once more into one of his traps. And now will come “their” revenge, and “our” revenge…and so on and on. Thanks, as always, for your perceptive work.

  25. Saddam Hussein had far more deaths on his hands than bin Laden and yet we happily watched him get a kangaroo court trial in Iraq. We couldn’t allow the same thing to happen in Pakistan? Is it because we can’t trust anyone in Pakistan?

    Details are still shaky in regards to the bin Laden ‘capture’ on basic questions such as was he even armed when he was shot. If shooting an unarmed man after over 9 years of pursuit is really what the US thinks is the best solution to this problem, then I guess we’d better get ready for front-page news stories our triumphant murder of a new terrorist mastermind every few years.

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