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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Mission Accomplished: Bin Laden Is Dead.
Now Focus on Threats Closer to Home.



[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Last September, Levees Not War raised the question whether Hurricane Katrina was a more significant catastrophe than 9/11, more emblematic in terms of chronic ills afflicting the United States. Now the question is raised whether the nation faces internal political and economic dangers more pernicious and destructive than Osama bin Laden, lethal as he was, ever posed.


Well, this ought to change the subject from royal weddings and birth certificates for a few days.

It is a good thing that Osama bin Laden is dead, and good that it was U.S. forces that killed him. There is a certain (long-delayed) revenge satisfied in that, shared pretty much equally across the nation.* It is also good for this president—politically and for his standing within the military and foreign policy establishment—that his promise to bring bin Laden to justice—to death, that is—has been fulfilled. (Click here for public reaction photos; here for newspaper front pages; and here for bin Laden’s life in pictures—including a shot of him as a mujahedin wearing a very American-looking uniform in the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s.)

Much will be said and written by better-informed and deeper-thinking authorities, but on this important occasion we wanted in our own modest way to offer a few observations we think worth keeping in mind.

First, Americans must not gloat about the killing of this enemy. It’s done. It’s good that it’s done. Any loud grandstanding or other exploitation of this event for political or commercial self-promotion should be avoided. It should not be an occasion to further insult Arabs and Muslims. There was and is an enormous sense of injustice, impoverishment, and wounded pride among Muslims that bin Laden was able to exploit for his own purposes against the West, the U.S. in particular. No good will come from any further demonization of Arabs and Muslims. Instead we should hope that the independence movements in the Middle East will succeed, as peacefully as possible, in the Egyptian model. (The photo at right shows Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, cheering the death of bin Laden.)

Next, we hope that this “mission accomplished” will energize the anti-war movement (such as it is) and hasten the de-escalation of the wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and in Iraq and Libya. Much of the justification—the figurehead or “poster child” of the terrorist enemy—is now removed. Can we get back to rebuilding the United States?

No, of course not. The war machine, we fear, will grind on. (Defense appropriations are higher than they ever were during the Cold War against the Soviet Union.) There will be calls from the likes of John McCain and other neocon “security” promoters to identify new threats that call for ever-expanding aggressions overseas. Verily, with only a few exceptions, we tend to see these forces as greater threats to peace and national security than anything outside our borders.

The personal attacks on this president and demonization of new enemies will go on. We expect that within days—on Fox News it’s probably already under way—fresh insults and unfounded accusations and outright foolishness will prevail. Sometimes it seems the United States—or the far right, so-called conservative dimension of the national psyche—cannot exist without an enemy, whether in the form of despised immigrants, anarchists, communists, socialists, minorities, etc.

Pardon our pessimism, but aside from the brave working people’s resistance movement in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Midwest where labor rights are under assault, there’s been little to inspire confidence in improvements. The long-awaited killing of bin Laden is not going to change agenda of Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, FreedomWorks, or Americans for Prosperity—nor will it infuse fresh adrenaline into the hearts of Democrats. The far-right corporatists of the Republican party will continue slashing away at the social safety net, insulting workers and the unemployed alike. And, very likely—unless the public forcefully demands that they stand up and fight—the timid centrist-corporatists known as congressional Democrats will continue to allow the savaging of Medicare, Social Security, and any semblance of health care reform and financial regulation. (We use the word “corporatist” because the radical extremists running amok in Washington and statehouses across the nation have nothing to do with conserving.)

What About the “Inside Job” Enemies?

(No, this does not refer to 9/11 as an inside job.)

One last thought: We recall a scene from a certain well-publicized film released in 2004 in which a man describes to the film’s narrator his desolate, eviscerated neighborhood in a former industrial town in the Midwest. Street after street of abandoned homes, shut-down restaurants and barbershops, broken windows, torn screens flapping in the wind. There’s no one around. The man says, “You want to talk about terrorism? Osama bin Laden didn’t do this to us.”

Every year, more Americans die from lack of access to doctors and medication than died on September 11, 2001. In 2010, New Jersey governor Chris Christie killed 6,000 direct jobs in a swipe when he pulled his state out of the Trans-Hudson Passenger Rail Tunnel (ARC) project designed to link New Jersey and Manhattan—6,000 jobs when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. Other assaults on the American people are going on all the time, day by day, under the guise of “balancing budgets” and “reforming a broken system” and other euphemisms. We could also point to the catastrophic damage done worldwide by the 2008 financial meltdown ignited by greedy and careless insiders.

Now, we’re not claiming that Christie’s killing of contracting workers’ jobs is exactly equivalent to the horrible death by burning and crushing of 3,000 lives in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But we do definitely assert that Osama bin Laden was only one enemy. Focusing on this one “evildoer” has distracted our national attention for too long. Who has been “brought to justice” for the 2008 financial crisis? Who has paid a price for the 1999 act of Congress that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and deregulated the banking industry? (See Robert Scheer, The Great American Stickup.) Who has been brought to justice for BP’s infamous “Earth Day” blowout and three-month pollution of the Gulf of Mexico by the Macondo well, or for the Department of the Interior and Minerals Management Service’s lax oversight of offshore drilling?

There are other enemies among us who seek to dismantle some of the best parts of America: the social services that protect the very young, the elderly, the sick and the very poor. Rather than make up for the revenue deficit caused by undertaxation of the wealthy and corporations, elected officials are seeking to shut down the agencies that protect the public from tainted food, unsafe working conditions, from mechanical failures on airplanes. These and a million other aspects of civilized living conditions are under assault by highly paid lobbyists and corporatist politicians, mainly of one major party but with “bipartisan” assistance from the other.

Osama bin Laden did terrible damage and it’s good he’s gone, but pernicious threats remain—often with much lighter skin clothed in $1,000 suits and covered by premium health insurance funded by the taxpayers. And while they are well paid on a regular basis from the public treasury they are voting to cut unemployment benefits, insulting the jobless as lazy, scheming to eviscerate the social safety net, to shut down schools, to let bridges crumble and levees erode—whatever it takes to cut budgets without letting a single tax increase even be proposed, much less voted upon and enacted. All of this after pushing like hell to extend a high-end tax cut that will add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, and pushing for a war of choice that will ultimately cost the U.S. around $3 trillion.

Well, these are a few of our thoughts on this day after the killing of Osama bin Laden. See why we’re not much relieved by the elimination of this one particular evildoer? We were not among the crowds shouting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”, though we can understand why many thousands were.

As ever, there’s a bit more work to be done. And we’re not talking about second amendment remedies, but by concerted democratic action—like the kind admirably acted out in Cairo and in Madison. We believe in the people. And we hold this truth to be self-evident: national security begins at home.


*  The satisfaction is pretty much shared across the social and political spectrum in the United States, but right-wingers will continue to smear liberals by making such evidence-free claims as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough does here, that “Obama’s base” never wanted to get bin Laden, and American Muslims will get no credit for their own support of the killing of bin Laden.


And finally . . . just for fun,

Imagine a Democratic President Getting Away with Saying This:

“I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”  —George W. Bush, March 13, 2002


Photo credits: Top photo of firefighters in Times Square by Michael Appleton for the New York Times. Photo of Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Mich., by Carlos Osorio for the New York Times. Film still from Fahrenheit 9/11, produced and directed by Michael Moore.

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