Osama is killed. A historical footnote or a turning point?

Osama bin Laden (not Obama bin Laden, or even President Obama as a few people have accidentally named) is dead. Reportedly killed by US military in a late-night operation in the middle of Pakistan. For any of you who have yet to find out this little piece of news, you are either taking IB exams (in which I wish you the best of luck), or you are simply living in outer space. But what comes of this news, will the world stop spinning? Will his killing be nothing more than a historical footnote, or will it be remembered as a turning point in our history?

The reason I was ‘reportedly’ is because doubts still remain. I don’t entirely believe the whole conspiracy theory of Osama being a CIA agent, killed many years ago, or even that he wasn’t actually killed and the US simply dumped a random body in the Ocean so no-one could identify him. For one, it seems unlikely, whatever the political benefits, that the US would announce Osama’s killing unless they were fairly certain. Secondly, unless Osama for reasons unclear wishes for his Al Qaeda movement to suffer a massive psychological shock, he would most certainly have found a way to reveal his existence once such an announcement came out. Nevertheless, I have not personally seen his body or have any personal means of confirming his death. So while I believe it is true, I will retain the use of ‘repotedly’ as a caveat.

As to whether his photograph should be released I hold mixed feelings. Such a release would indeed put to rest many questions and go a long way to confirm his death. Perhaps, in light of all the recent political memes, Obama should release ‘Osama’s Long Form Death Certificate’. Jokes aside, I think such a photograph could be very useful to confirming the event. The majority of civilians, me included, wouldn’t be too bothered about it not being released. Obama’s aides should take care, because any photo that is in some-way ambiguous will not only fail to smother existing questions, it will only cause unnecessary confusion.

VERDICT: If photo is obvious and unambiguous, release it. Otherwise, leave it for the national archives.

The first thing to remember, is that this news has been out for just a few days. It’s full effects, consequences and repercussions will take many years and many events to see full. As is the case with any bit of history, one can never know in the eye of the storm what the effect will be. We can only speculate as we wait for the storm to pass.

In this sense, I think that many in the media have overblown the effect that the death of Osama will have in the short-term. It is part of the splintered, non-centered nature of organizations like Al Qaeda that operate in cells which will limit the effect of Osama’s death. Al Qaeda won’t cease to be of any relevance, nor will it slowly whittle into the ground as some seem to assume. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq is unlikely to end as a result of Osama’s death either. Sadly for many war hawks, the war is not only about capturing Osama. I do concur however, that Osama’s death will make it easier to withdraw troops and lessen the pressure for an extended US presence in Afghanistan. I doubt that it would force Obama to speed up the withdrawal though.

Politically, it will be a boost for Obama and help bolster his foreign policy credentials. I don’t think that Osama’s death will single handedly create the conditions for Obama’s re-elections. After all, the economy and domestic issues still play a significant role, and with more than a year to go and an unraveling Middle Eastern situation, Obama will need to keep his head clear and his mind focused to prevent other problems from occurring. Nevertheless, this will be a political win for Obama, and make it a lot harder for his opponents to launch foreign policy attacks. With Biden beside him, a man with considerable foreign policy experience, Obama seems to be on firmer ground on this issue. I personally think that Obama is on course to win re-election. I do support him politically, Osama’s death will help remove foreign policy as an issue of contention and I find the current Republican field just too weak to launch a substantial threat.

VERDICT: Osama’s death will have some, but limited effect in the geo-political scene in the short term.

Before you accuse me of diminishing the importance of Osama’s killing, let me clarify. I don’t think Osama’s killing has an substantial, direct and immediate effect on the geo-political scene. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important, in-fact I believe that this will come to be seen as a symbolic turning point.

It marks the end of a decade long search, the beginning of the US’s departure from Afghanistan and a winding down of the ‘Global War on Terror’ that Bush so loved. It also represents a time when the threat of terrorism is still present, but some-what diminished. Politically, it is a turning point for Obama, his first significant foreign-policy victory. It will probably create the conditions for his re-election and propel him to a much stronger political position.

VERDICT: Osama’s death is likely to become a symbolic turning point in the long term.