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Bin Laden's Real Legacy

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As Stalin used to say, "no man, no problem." So will the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Force Seals in Abbotabad, Pakistan last Sunday night end America's long ordeal with extremist groups from the Muslim world?

The joint mission between CIA and Special Forces was mounted from a US-controlled air base in Afghanistan near Jalalabad -- without the advance knowledge of Pakistan's feeble government.

It seems likely bin Laden was executed with two bullets to the head -- what is known in US military argot as "double tapping." There does not seem to have been an effort to capture America's most wanted man. A son and two women were also killed.

Bin Laden's body was photographed, flown to Afghanistan, then onto a US carrier in the Indian Ocean, from where it was dumped into the sea. Washington claims this was done to properly observe Muslim funeral rites calling for almost immediate burial. This sounds preposterous.

The real reason was almost certainly to prevent bin Laden's burial site from becoming a shrine and as a final humiliation. Expect endless claims that a bin Laden double was killed while the real McCoy still haunts Pakistan's badlands. Various fakes videotapes used to depict bin Laden as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks used doubles.

Gleeful Americans are rejoicing that the man credited with the monstrous crime of 9/11 has been killed after a ten year search. More thoughtful ones may stop to ponder the remarkable quixotic drama of a single man who set out to overturn the mighty American Mideast Imperium.

To people of the Muslim world, where many once hailed bin Laden as a hero and liberator from Western domination, his killing in Pakistan is already being compared to American gangland rub-outs and bodies dumped in New Jersey's waters and swamps. Particularly so after NATO warplanes killed Muammar Gadaffi's youngest son and three grandchildren in Libya.

Already acid US-Pakistan relations to yet worsen as Americans accuse Pakistan of sheltering bin Laden for a decade.

This writer has long maintained that Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, and likely with at least some knowledge of ISI, Pakistani intelligence, though its able former Director General, Hamid Gul, whose word I respect, disputes this claim.

In my view, Pakistan was keeping bin Laden "on ice" for possible use in Afghanistan when and if the Americans withdrew. The Saudi firebrand still commanded great popularity and respect among Afghanistan's Pashtun.

It is most unfortunate that bin Laden was literally rubbed out. If he could have been taken alive, the co-founder of al-Qaeda should have been brought to the United States to stand trial in New York City, or, failing that, on a military base -- but with lawyers and a civilian jury under full US law.

Or, most desirable of all, taken to the International Court of Justice at the Hague, where he could have been impartially tried before the world's eyes, as have been Balkan war criminals and accused mass killers from Africa. Instead of international justice, we saw frontier justice.

One point I want to set to rest: based on my long experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan and with jihadi groups and bin Laden's mentor and guide, Sheik Azzam, I can say with a high level of assurance that bin Laden never worked for or with CIA, as has been often claimed. They were merely on the same side during the anti-Soviet struggle. The only possible involvement between CIA and bin Laden was in his training of Uighur jihadis who were destined to fight China for a Uighur homeland in West Turkestan.

A big question now is what justification will Washington come up with to keep 150,000 Western troops in Afghanistan?

Hunting down bin Laden was, remember, the primary reason for sending US troops to that remote nation. No doubt the Taliban and its leader Mullah Omar will be morphed by the US media machine into a bin Laden stand-ins.

What of al-Qaeda? This extremist group, as I have been writing since 1999, was always tiny. It was never more than 300 men in 2001. Today, the core al-Qaeda in Pakistan consists of a handful of hunted men. CIA chief Leon Panetta recently stated that there were something less than 50 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. There may be a hundred in Pakistan -- all on the run.

North America's media and the Bush administration wildly exaggerated the menace, strength and reach of al-Qaeda, panicking Americans into believing, as the respected political analyst Kevin Phillips wrote, that suburban soccer moms in the deepest Midwest were petrified Osama bin Laden was coming for their kids.

The specter of al-Qaeda provided a handy reason to invade Afghanistan to secure strategic territory next to Central Asian oil, keep China out of that region, and to double spending on arms. The invasion of oil-rich Iraq was also justified by patently false White House claims Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden over 9/11.

Al-Qaeda "affiliates" in North Africa, Arabia, and south Asia are simply small groups of local militants who have taken the al-Qaeda brand name without having any organic or communications links to the remnants of the core al-Qaeda in Pakistan. They are more a dangerous nuisance than a deadly threat.

Osama bin Laden appears to be well and truly dead. He predicted long ago he would die a martyr in a gunfight with US forces.

Bin Laden has been more or less retired for the past 8-10 years, spending his time and energies in staying alive with a $25 million price on his head. He had become irrelevant. Al-Qaeda had barely functioned since 2002.

Al-Qaeda's number two, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains at large and is now titular head of what remains of the organization of which he has been operations chief for many years. Dr. Zawahiri, who was brutally tortured in Egypt, is a dangerous extremist with much blood on his hands and a lust for revenge, but he has neither jihadist charisma nor a following in the Muslim world.

Bin Laden is dead, but bin-Ladenism lives on. We must remember that Osama's primary goal was to end Western domination of the Muslim world, and exploitation of its resources, which he claimed were being plundered. The Western-backed dictators, generals and kings that ruled the Muslim world as overseers for foreign interests had to be overthrown, proclaimed bin Laden.

The Muslim world totally rejected bin Laden's bloody-mindedness and his utopian calls for a reborn Islamic caliphate, but many of its people, particularly so younger ones, embraced his calls for revolutions to liberate the region from brutal dictatorships that were Western lackeys, spread corruption, and betrayed the cause of Palestine. Hosni Mubarak's Egypt perfectly fit this description.

Osama bin Laden lived long enough to see the revolutions that he had helped ignite among young people burst into towering flames. In this sense, bin Ladenism will prosper and spread, enhanced by the image of Osama the martyr. But in many other ways, the revolution now sweeping the Arab world -- and eventually larger Muslim world -- will leave bin Laden's narrow, outdated Wahabist worldview behind and develop new directions and philosophies.

The Saudi revolutionary leaves another major legacy. He repeatedly stated that the only way to drive the US from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing the United States into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt it. The United States under President George W. Bush and then Barack Obama rushed right into bin Laden's carefully laid trap.

Today, the nearly bankrupt United States is spending hundreds of billions annually waging small wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and the Sahara.

The Congressional Budget office reports the US has already spent an astounding $1.283 trillion on the so-called "war on terror" since 9/11.

Grotesquely overblown military spending and debt addiction are crippling United States. That may be the most pernicious legacy of the man who thought he could defeat the United States.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011