Friday, May 06, 2011

The Murder of Bin Laden in Political Context

High-ranking US officials watch the drama unfold
The US murder of Al Qaeda figurehead Osama bin Laden is undoubtedly a momentous event. But bin Laden's compound had reportedly been under surveillance for some time, so it makes sense to consider what factors might have compelled Obama to finally make the decisive move.
It's not insignificant that this is taking place just four months before the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001. If the world's most wanted man had still been at large a decade after he supposedly ordered the death of thousands, many Americans and others would have been asking why. This might have raised further serious doubts about US military intelligence. However, bin Laden's killing removes that possibility, and the US ruling class is now free to promote rampant patriotism and militarism on that date.

Indeed, as the US elite deepen their assault on working class living standards at home and abroad, the reported execution provides an ideal opportunity to project the media focus onto an outside common enemy. Just like Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four, bin Laden popped up from time to time with a new video or tape, which the corporate media gleefully screened on a loop. The Obama administration must hope that the materially divided States will briefly be united in hatred of the old bogeyman one more time.

After all, there is gathering evidence that the broad masses are shifting way to the left of the ruling political consensus, in the US as much as anywhere else. Though Obama postures as a 'left' opponent of the Republicans, and for now 'only' proposes a $3 trillion cut in government spending over the next decade, polls are showing that a large majority support tax rises for the rich over living standards cuts for the poor. With Wisconsin leading the way in February, opposition is emerging in state after state to the American austerity agenda demanded by the financial institutions, and dutifully enacted by politicians after the parliamentary puppet show.

The are also historically remarkable levels of domestic opposition to the US-led war on the Gaddafi regime. Despite the cradle to grave brainwashing that comes from living in the world's leading imperialist nation, many Americans no longer seem to believe that America's mission to 'civilise' the world should continue, at the cost of blood and treasure. Ten years of body bags coming home has no doubt made a big impact, as must people's own financial concerns when they see their tax dollars going up in smoke once more. Though this anger has yet to find political expression, government strategists surely fear anti-imperial sentiment linking up with the inevitable class backlash. From now on, Obama will want to use bin Laden's reported demise to 'reassure' the population that their sacrifice will always be worth it in the end.

Furthermore, the show of strength is also aimed at US imperialism's opponents amongst the Arab and Middle Eastern working class, whose forces are continuing to realise their own power. From Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen to Bahrain, the region's toiling masses are rising up to confront their dictators, and behind them the American empire. While bullets and bombs have long been the only visible signs of desperate Middle Eastern resistance, strikes, mass protests and direct action are now coming to the fore. As I commented just last week, the US is scrambling to shore up the wealth of Big Oil and the big banks, applying different strategies in each nation. The idea of even the enormously wealthy bin Laden full of bullet holes is a potent one.

Finally, now bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes, there is no possibility of him being tried for his role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The events leading up to the atrocity are still shrouded in mystery, and the US ruling class has many questions to answer. Not least amongst these are its ties to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, a network which developed out of fighters trained by the CIA to combat the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As we have seen over the past decade, the US elite have reaped the rewards of its supposed incompetence on that fateful day, and had the unarmed bin Laden been captured alive, he might well have undermined the official story.

Right now, wall to wall media coverage almost forces us to witness the repugnant spectacle of George W Bush and Tony Blair - two of the biggest 9/11 beneficiaries - crawling from their gilded retirement sewers to bathe themselves in unearned glory over the death of their supposed nemesis. But material facts are ultimately more powerful than any propaganda, and the material fact is that working people around the world have now reached the point of no return, and are drawing a line in the sand. Ruling class victory tales will not distract them for long.
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