Our friend Archie in New Rochelle, New York, takes issue with part of yesterday’s post  on the killing of Osama bin Laden. The points Archie makes about bin Laden’s pre-9/11 relationship to the United States—or the U.S.’s to bin Laden—are factually correct (and see Further Reading list below). Whether you agree with his argument or not, we regard Archie as one of the most knowledgeable writers and editors we’ve ever known: thoughtful, sober, and principled. And a good friend whose views we respect.
Re: “Mission Accomplished. Now Focus on Threats Closer to Home”:
I’m with you on the second part of your message, which I read as that we need to deal with the problems we have created. I’m not with you on the idea that killing bin Laden is “a good thing.” I think a good thing would have been capturing him and, with the cooperation of others (who were not prejudicially involved), making him confront the things he did.
You may say, he and a lot of others can’t be expected to be held accountable because they are either (model A:) evil; or (model B:) mentally ill. I think that if these are the standards we’re “upholding,” we need to be clear that we are applying them to others when we’re unwilling to apply them to ourselves. To a large degree, we made bin Laden: he was our Golden Boy when he was anti-Soviet, just as Saddam Hussein was our Golden Boy when he was anti-Iranian. Bin Laden hid out in our client state Afghanistan, and then in our client state Pakistan. His family had gotten rich in our client state Saudi Arabia. The main difference between the client states is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are leftovers from the days when we had to support anyone who opposed our enemies—that is, anyone who was opposed to the Soviet Union or to a state (India) that was friendly with the Soviet Union—while Saudi Arabia’s main attraction—is there any other?—is oil (hello, Libya!). Pakistan illustrates the proposition, I forget at the moment whose, that we were so morally dominated by the Soviet Union (by “Communism”) that we signed up with any crook or tyrant who announced that he was opposed to it—Franco, the Diem brothers, you name ’em. Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s least democratic states, represents the proposition, so clearly seen here in the Slave Trade, as in more recent endeavors, that Money Talks. That we’re so worked up about the acts of a “twisted” member of the power structure of either of these countries speaks volumes.
Let’s deal with our own criminals.
Books, mostly, about Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan, and the War on Terror—and bin Laden’s own declaration of war against the United States.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001  (3rd ed., 2002). His research on international terrorism was used by the 9/11 Commission .
Osama bin Laden, Declaration of War (Jihad) Against the United States  (1996)
Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam  (2004), and On the Road to Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict in the Islamic World  (2007). An award-winning correspondent for The Observer (U.K.)
Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror  (2004) by the former national coordinator for counterterrorism under presidents Bush, Clinton, and Bush.
Dexter Filkins, The Forever War  (2008). By a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times correspondent covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran.
The New Yorker’s archive  of writings on bin Laden and al Qaeda
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia  (2nd ed. 2010)
Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden  (2011), by the former section chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Also author of Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America  (Revised Edition) (2006).
Paul Thompson and Peter Lance, The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11—and America’s Response  (2004)
Top photograph (1989) from the New York Times obituary, “Osama bin Laden: The Most Wanted Face of Terrorism ”; bottom photo (1989) from the Guardian (U.K.), “Osama bin Laden: His Life in Pictures .”