The Alternative Osama

05/03/2011 05:04 pm ET | Updated Jul 03, 2011
  • Roderick Spencer Screenwriter, producer, comedian, teacher and social activist

He's dead. Mission accomplished. Capture or Kill. Done and done.

The consequences of failure were dire, and the mission was very dangerous. Our soldiers and their civilian support had to get him, and they did. Congratulations, gratitude and respect to them.

But I don't agree with our president, that it's a "great day for America."

His inauguration was a great day for America.
The moon landing was a great day for America.
The signing of the Civil Rights Act was a great day for America.

The death of bin Laden is something other than great.
It surely beats the alternatives.
Had he continued to elude us and died of natural causes, or himself become a suicide bomber (as if he'd ever consider it!), that would have been a victory for the forces of intolerance and violence.
Had he been captured alive and then put on trial (an option for talking points only, I reckon), the real, and imagined, dangers of that process would have been extraordinarily explosive.
So, in that sense, it's good that he's dead at our hands. But it's likely that history won't judge May 1st, 2011 as a great day for America, because in truth Bin Laden is one more casualty in going on ten years of continuous war(s) that didn't have to happen. If he was going to die, it is good that it was at our hands, but these wars were not inevitable and Bin Laden might have been caught sooner, if the mission not changed.

For a short while, the number one goal, the only stated goal, was to find him and bring him to justice. A relatively small force of Americans went looking for him and they almost got him, but he slipped away. Then the mission changed.

What if it hadn't? What if the United States -- which, post 9/11 had more allies and sympathy than at any time in our history -- had treated Osama bin Laden as what he was; a mass murderer with a bizarre world view, hundreds of millions of dollars, and a small, equally bizarre network of supporters who helped him perpetrate this terrible crime against thousands of our citizens? What if to capture or kill Bin Laden had remained the only mission?

Any answer to this question is completely speculative but since undeclared speculation by people who call themselves journalists is now what passes for news, I feel old-fashioned even mentioning it. So here goes:


  1. It would have been simpler. Look for him, find him, deal with the consequences.
  2. It would have cost fewer lives. No manhunt in history has cost as many lives as one day of modern warfare.
  3. It would have cost less money. Billions less.
  4. It would have been over by now. Like I said, speculation. But if the mission had remained 'find this one guy whom the vast majority of people know is a mass murderer', rather than 'find that guy while we also use him as an excuse to invade Iraq' I speculate that we'd have had more cooperation.
  5. Far fewer people would equate Islam with Terrorism. He'd have remained a mass murderer with a preposterous take on his own faith, not an 'Islamist' with some kind of legitimate standing in one of the world's great religions. Tim McVeigh wasn't a 'Christian extremist', he was a nut with a half baked grievance.
  6. We'd have made fewer enemies. How many people, given a choice between Saudi Arabian Billionaire Murder Suspect and Very Powerful Country looking for Billionaire Murder Suspect, are going to go all in with the murder suspect, unless he's come to symbolize something else?
  7. The Arab Spring might have included Iraq.

And Iraq might have descended into civil war, which brings us to...


  1. Saddam Hussein might still be in power. Bad news for the region, but would things be any more or less combustible with him in the mix?
  2. Barack Obama might not have become president, because if the U.S. doesn't go to war with Iraq, and John Kerry wins after George W. Bush's first term, and then John McCain still gets the Republican nomination four years later and runs against John Kerry, we'd have had two candidates who actually know a thing or two about war and quagmire and if Bin Laden had already been found and dealt with because we didn't take our eye off the ball then... speculation can make one feel sad.
  3. The Hurt Locker wouldn't have won the Oscar. A war movie about a war that didn't happen isn't going to happen either.
  4. John Stewart would have had a LOT less time to perfect his George W. Bush impersonation... but he'd probably have been equally good at spoofing John Kerry.
  5. Minuses are harder to come up with than pluses.