tip off

Bin Laden was executed, that much is obvious

Late at night, on the outskirts of a big city, they slipped in and got him. It was illegal, a breach of sovereignty, and the host country would later scream blue murder. But it was so compromised by its associations that little attention was paid. When news of the raid got out, and the result was seen for what it was, any cavils about international law were put to one side as the world rejoiced.

The operation of which I speak is, of course, the kidnap of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina by an Israeli squad in 1961 — an event whose initial audacity was quickly consumed by an even more extraordinary act, that of putting Eichmann on trial in Israel, complete with a defence counsel, and a process that many criticised at the time as achingly slow, overly deferential to a man whose identity and guilt was unquestionable, and whose accordance of the notion of possible innocence was a traumatic affront to survivors.

The trial was certainly no favour to Eichmann himself, who must have wished many times in that interminable process, that he had been, in the current ling, “taken out” with a “double tap”. Nor was it a favour to his reputation or to that of Nazism — for he was revealed to embody the unconscious of Nazism, its wheedling narcissism and self-pity, its overwhelming focus on wounds — wounded pride, wounded wholeness.

Though it now seems that Hannah Arendt overstated the degree to which Eichmann was simply an amoral functionary without personal anti-Semitism, it is true that he was neither a fervent philosophical Nazi such as  Alfred Rosenberg, nor deranged like Hitler, nor an insouciant gangster such as Goering, whose guards at Nuremburg found, to their horror, to be a man they could not help but like.

So Israel did Eichmann no favours by granting him full legal right, allowing him ample time to contemplate his past acts and imminent future extinction. But nor did it do it for the purpose of making him contemplate his own death, for revenge. The meaning of Eichmann’s trial was neither justice nor revenge; it was not about Eichmann at all. It was a determination that the victor should not allow themselves to be defined by its relationship to the enemy in any way.

Eichmann’s trial may have looked like due process, but it wasn’t. Had it been so, Eichmann should have been handed over to the United Nations — for crimes against humanity — or East or West Germany, as a common criminal. Israel, founded in 1948, could not claim that its citizens had been wronged by Eichmann, because there weren’t any; the country’s role as global representative of the Jewish people was a non-legal claim, an act of political belief. Nor was it acceded to by diaspora Jews, in the way it was later.

So the question remains: on whose behalf was Eichmann being tried, and by whom? The answer is, by Israel as a representative of humanity. In doing so, the primary purpose of the trial was to recognise Eichmann as a human being, and not as a mere enemy. To thus raise him up, was to negate the meaning of the radically evil movement he so haphazardly represented, and to define one’s own movement, one’s political meaning and being as an expression of humanity and the universal, not as an exception to it.

Whether Israel, even in 1961, was living up to that in other aspects (its Arab indigenous population, like the Australian indigenous, did not have voting rights until 1967) is another question. No state does. But with Eichmann’s trial, it uncoupled itself from being defined by the one movement of modernity whose radical evil was grounded in defining itself against humanity.

The distance we have gone in dealing with the problem of Eichmann to the problem of bin Laden is a measure of the profound shift in the West in relation to everything — to the West’s idea of itself, to its confidence in its own project, to its sense of bodying forth an expression of the universal, of the human in its doings.

Those empires, movements, parties that have a belief in themselves as an expression of humanity, of the good — of a particular expression of a general aspiration — exercise it by trying to reach towards the universal in their doings. Those whose project, and/or their faith in it, has collapsed, themselves collapse back to the particular, to paranoia, persecution and resentment.

To win, to triumph, is to defeat an enemy, and the most important part of that victory is to no longer be defined by them. Essential to that victory, is the extension of respect to the vanquished. That may involve mercy, but does not need to. But look at any victor, and you will find some mechanism by which that respect and recognition could be established. The Mongols slaughtered their enemies — and then named their children after them. The Romans tortured rebels as public entertainment — and then extended the Pax Romana to their followers.

Conversely, any victor that cannot manage such a gesture is in deep trouble, because they cannot free themselves from a fight they have already won. And if victory itself cannot free them, what will? Those forces caught in such a loop cannot get out of it, because their own identity is more strongly defined by the way their enemy regards them, than it is by the way they regard themselves. The inability to grant either mercy, or legal formalism, or respect, or to simply move on is an expression of a fatal lack of confidence at the core of the project, a lack of political being.

That, more than anything, is why the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the outpouring of emotion that followed it, is so strange and revealing. For it is the conduct of an empire that cannot believe in itself to such a degree, that any attempt to deal with its enemies from a position of self-respect cannot be countenanced. For the Obama administration it would be too risky, politically — any residual desire they might have to prosecute their case according to international law cannot be acted on given the demands of the US public, and the commentariat that feeds it.

Nor can whole sections of the US public see any way to mark the death of bin Laden, save to continue reliving it in pseudo-triumphant discussion, empty imperial swagger. The same applies perforce to the right abroad, for whom the defeat and derangement of the US has been an experience of fundamental disarray. They can’t see a way to talk about the US from a position of strength, because really, they can feel none.

That bin Laden was executed now seems to be the obvious truth about the mission. As an individual act by an imperial state, it’s something I can’t see any reason to be, per se, outraged about, since to do so would be to somehow suggest that there’s a moral way to run a lethal drone-bombing war in a country whose sovereignty you’ve traduced for a decade.

Bin Laden’s residency in a Pakistani elite garrison town made a drone attack impossible, and in any case the US clearly wanted as much information as it could take in the operation; execution was what would otherwise have been done by drone. There is presumably a legal argument that, if you can grab someone alive you should; but it seems in this case that many are reacting more to the intimacy of the killing — which drones depersonalise nicely — than to the act itself.

The decision to kill bin Laden differed from the Eichmann case in one obvious respect — there was no neo-Nazi global movement to treat Eichmann as a martyr, and use his ongoing existence as a rallying point. Nevertheless that is clearly not the only reason bin Laden was killed. For while Israel’s capture of Eichmann had involved only one discreet act of lawlessness, the abduction itself, to take bin Laden alive would be to draw him into the whole vast web of American lawlessness and exception created over the past decade, and to undertake a nightmare process by which any simple conception of war, right, justice, on the part of the nation would fully unravel.

Like everything else associated with 9/11 and what followed — Ground Zero, Afghanistan, Iraq, the non-mosque at Ground Zero — it is America’s enemies whose acts are full of simplicity, assuredness and resolve, while the country itself is drawn down into chaos by the slightest act of intent. Well, was drawn down. For the principal fact about the bin Laden operation and execution was that it was the first well-planned and successfully undertaken operation that the US has performed in a decade. The part-withdrawal from Iraq was, well, just that, and the “surge” largely involved bribing Iraqi warlords to switch sides. Hardly guts and glory.

That simplicity is the source of the renewed swagger — the USA! chant may as well be translated as “for once, we acted with standard competence” — but it is also the source of relentless and compulsive recitative of it. For no sooner had America been reminded of bin Laden’s existence than he was gone from them. With no ongoing operation, or siege, no photos or witnesses — merely an announcement by the President and pix of a place looking like a scruffy Malibu beach house, slated for demolition. Bin Laden was killed in the President’s words, and nowhere else.

Even that minimal treatment of the matter began to come apart with the telling of it. White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, staggering, bemedalled and grey crewcut, out of a Dr Strangelove remake, said that bin Laden had used his wife as a shield in his million-dollar mansion. The words seemed to speak themselves, as when, during the Iraq war a US commander accused Iraqi units who had got a rare jump on his own troops, of employing “terrorist tactics”.

Following Brennan’s announcement, the reaction to bin Laden’s death went into three phases: first, there were spontaneous gatherings and sports-style cheerleading about it, followed by growing reservations about the manner of the operation, which then produced renewed and redoubled exhortation of American glory, and increasing insistence that that glory was expressed in the compulsive desire to heap further ritual abuse on someone already dead.

The universal allegation for this sort of behaviour — which a lot of people found odd, without actually being repelled or disturbed by it — was “frat boy”, as in “fraternity”, the closed societies that American college students join. The mark of the frat boy is that it’s a licensed period not merely of irrational loyalty to an arbitrary group ranged against other arbitrary groups, but also of the surrender of individual selfhood to it. The “frat boy” has one last chance to be totally dissolved into the group before graduation and adulthood supervene. The appeal of it is that it’s not a loyalty to anything that matters: like supporting a football team, the pleasure comes from putting all your energy into hating someone you don’t really hate, the other team.

So it’s strange that the form of celebration of bin Laden’s death should resemble that sort of energy so exactly. Both the public celebrations and much of the subsequent comment had the pile-on quality of two-for-one night at a sports bar. The comments appeared to become more outlandish as the week went on, and the event disappeared from view.

The New York Post’s editorial for May 5 pretty much summed it up:

President Obama lays a wreath at Ground Zero today to mark the accelerated demise of the arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden.  All Americans of good will — especially New Yorkers — will note the event with satisfaction.
So shout it loud: Osama’s dead and we’re proud!
… there is a larger message, too, worth shouting from the top of the rapidly rising towers at Ground Zero: Osama bin Laden, you thought you could destroy us. Well, you failed.
The Long War is far from over — but, not to tempt the fates, this victory is so very, very sweet.

Such an editorial would appear merely try-hard in most circumstances. Here it verges on the self-parodic. For it is obvious that bin Laden didn’t think that al-Qaeda, by itself, could destroy the US, which is why the piece sounds like a Seinfeld excerpt: “Newwwwwwmannnnnnn! Binnnnnnnn Ladennnnnnnnn!”). Since 9/11 was agreed to as a high-risk strategy that would draw America into wars from which it could not disentangle, but that might destroy al-Qaeda, you’d have to say he succeeded by failing. Victory, far from being sweet, has next to no content, which is why the manner of celebrating it resembles a sports occasion.

Sport is fun because, while all the emotion of conflict can be recreated, there is no real enemy – if by enemy we mean a potentially annihilating other. But a culture that cannot face its enemy – even in capture – and can only celebrate victory through the medium of unreal conflict, will tend to inflate adversaries to many times their normal size, like a geopolitical Macy’s Day Parade. The Israelis of 1961 could face Eichman, but they were part of an era when an enemy could be faced. The US could not stand to face Osama bin Laden in the flesh, answering questions, advancing his world view in open court.

But nor could it face him in image. One of the signal moments of the past decade was the manner in which Time magazine ducked bin Laden as “person of the year” in 2001. The magazine had chosen Hitler in 1938, Stalin in 1939, and Khomeini in 1979, living up to the idea of “whoever has made the most influence for good or ill” by their lights. Bin Laden was the obvious choice for 2001, and in deciding instead for Rudolph Giuliani — whose undoubted valour was purely in reaction to something bin Laden (or Mohammed Atta) had done — they acknowledged the changed nature of the American public, and exacerbated it.

There was insufficient resilience there to face one’s enemy, even on the news-stand. Bin Laden in the flesh would have caused an extended nervous breakdown, a taster of which was offered in The Drum by Melody Ayres-Griffiths, a formerly US-based Canadian with the self-parodic headline “Osama Bin Laden r-ped our souls”, and the equally mad bio tag ‘Melody Ayres-Griffiths still cries when she thinks of that day.

The full gaak of this piece is worth an excerpt:

Even adults, who could only but break out in spontaneous tears on lonely, mournful nights in the weeks that followed were haunted by this man in a way that perhaps has no equal in Western history.

I acquired a mobile phone. For the sake of my family. Because of Osama bin Laden.

This man r-ped our souls, and when he did so he was no longer a man, but an enemy. THE enemy.”

Yes among Osama bin Laden’s many crimes, a roll-over monthly contract. What makes such a piece of writing, from someone directly unaffected by 9/11, so compelling is the desire to join to the event, not in solidarity, but in shared victimhood, which is its opposite. If you feel irrevocably, individually wounded, and if such a state has come to define you, then of course you can never move on. The only alternative to victimhood, its mirror really, is a fantasy triumphalism. Last time I looked both moods had spread through the conservative Australian press. The lingering over the death, the chiding of anyone who suggests that moral issues might get in the way of the exercise of will becomes a recapitulation at the political level of what has become a theme of American popular culture: the centrality of torture as an expression of life.

The torture obsession predates 9/11 and Iraq, but each fed into the other. From Tarantino’s first films in the ’90s, through to the Saw franchise, the s-x and violence of the ’70s films that had so disturbed conservatives was replaced with a grim obsession with what an active body could do to a passive one. S-x is intimacy combined with power, in such a way that power may eventually dissolve to genuine reciprocity. Torture is intimacy that can only occur through the exercise of power.

It was no coincidence that in the ’90s and through the 2000s, explicit s-ex moved out of the realm of mass popular culture and into a specialist delivery system — legitimised hard-core p-rn — while torture came to be the central mode of expression, a means of communication between people, a suggestion that there was only power, and that power was only measured in pain. Torture, the victim’s fantasy of revenge, is the ultimate subjugation of self to the other, to the enemy, because it means that the enemy determines even your dreams. It was thus inevitable that it would bleed back out into the real world, in the depredations of Abu Ghraib, and the centrality of Jack Bauer and “24” to the 2004 presidential debates. Even presidential candidates it seemed, would rather live in a fantasy chamber of horror and heroism, than face the real world.

The failure of self-belief in a Western project had spread throughout the West for several decades before 9/11 came along. But that event and the reaction to it, accelerated the process greatly, a sort of final recapitulation of it in a single decade. One response to this inability to project power and will — because there is no great consensus behind the meaning of such power, or its purpose — has been an outsourcing of it to Israel. And that, to a degree, is where the ends tie together. For after Eichmann was found guilty and sentenced to death, there was a powerful campaign in aid of him, to show clemency — a campaign in Israel. Twenty years earlier, the terrorist wing of Zionism had defended mass civilian terror as an expression of Mosaic law. Now, in 1961, many in the country sought to go beyond the legal principles of Nuremburg, to a conception of height that abjured any notion of justice that might have even a hint of retribution about it. Now instead of that, we have this, from Ted Lapkin, one of ultra-Zionism’s shrillest supporters:

So there’s something quite condign about, not only the demise of the al-Qaeda leader, but about the manner in which he met it. His wasn’t a remote-control death by Hellfire missile fired from an unseen drone hovering in the heavens. Such a scenario would have provided the American people with a less than complete sense of satisfaction.

But as it turned out, there was real poetic justice to the way bin Laden was finally delivered into the clutches of the grim reaper. In the end, the death visited upon him by the United States was up close and personal. A team of Navy SEALs found him, fixed him and killed him in a face-to-face. In a flawlessly implemented special operations raid, the world’s best finally settled the score with the world’s worst.”

To write such a thing is to be a prisoner of your own obsessions, your own needs, and to take your movement down with you. It is the neo-con voice moving from Narcissus to echo, sounds unattached to any speaking. It has run on endlessly this week, from a thousand different directions, it cannot stop itself, cannot resolve itself, and the only one who could is at the bottom of the ocean, beyond the realm of torture, no longer able to answer the question as to why we have gone down there with him, scorning the aspiration to a higher calling, content to dwell in the kingdom of the underworld, the permanent exception, in the night outside the city walls.

  • 1
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    A bloody good piece today Guy. Well worth the price of admission.

  • 2
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Rundle, without meaning to sound condescending, the first half of this is some beautiful work. If it is all you (the vision I mean rather than the words) you are on a truly higher plane at the moment. And this one: “It was a determination that the victor should not allow themselves to be defined by its relationship to the enemy in any way” is an absolute corker.

  • 3
    Grover Jones
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    A damn fine piece of writing, Guy. Thanks.

  • 4
    Gederts Skerstens
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    What a tangled spaghetti-bowl of causes, reasons, explanations, precedents, legalities and personal outrage.
    Okay, so Osama got killed. Sorry. It won’t happen again, Okay?
    His replacement gets to be killed now.
    The Caliphate Project has less chance of success than even The Workers Paradise Project did.
    At some point the Western Left’s support for assorted fantasies has to tip them from Idealists to Demented. Making a case for Osama’s right to continue as a visible front for mass-murder for any length of time should do it.

  • 5
    Anthony Dale
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Surely a good piece, but it would have been much better if it were half as long.

    The conclusion I come to is that we should slacken –– most certainly not break –– our ties to USA. It is a very troubled country in its leadership and broke as well!

  • 6
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I see the USA as a society increasingly detached from reality. So many seem to see the world like a Dale Brown novel. Walter Mitty multiplied. Oz seems to be going the same way?

  • 7
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I should add that the bin Ladens death and its manner bothers me not one whit.

  • 8
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Nice writing Guy but boy have you taken liberties with lines such as this - “The only alternative to victimhood, its mirror really, is a fantasy triumphalism”, and “There was insufficient resilience there to face one’s enemy, even on the news-stand.” I didn’t like the ridiculous U.S.A. type chanting etc and found it a bit distasteful - but then I’m not so close to what happened in 9/11 and afterwards. Who are we to judge their actions?
    I have no doubt that the raid objective was assasination but tend to think their is a simpler explanation of why he was wanted dead rather than alive. The last thing America wanted was a show trial that would last for years and act as a further rallying point for his followers. Was there any doubt as to guilt? I’d say no (he was a self-confessed killer after all). Those who say he has not been proven guilty in a court of law are correct - but living in fantasy land. That he ended up quietly slipping into the sea without a final resting place to lay a wreathe, or bomb, is a fitting end.

  • 9
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Ian, don’t want to get off Rundle’s topic but yeah, I sort of agree. The US is a weird place to be. Its not even about consumption and materialism, there a other countries far more materialistic, its about introversion, as Rundle says about a lack of conviction, and I think probably even a spiritual vacancy.

    They are so Constitutionally focused – everything follows the Constitution to the letter of the law – that there’s a ‘forest for the trees’ scenario where culturally (led politically) they seem to have forgotten what the Founding Fathers were actually harping on about and what good living is and can be. None of this is helped by a divisive media and a system of government that is often more about point scoring than achieving.

  • 10
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Was there any doubt as to guilt? I’d say no (he was a self-confessed killer after all).”

    Did you miss the comparison to the Eichmann trial?

  • 11
    John Reidy
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    At great point - the argument that Osama should have been captured and brought to trial - has been weakened by the debasement of the US legal procedure since 9/11.
    What credibility would there be to have brought him back lock him up on Guantanmo and then after several years put up in a military trial.

  • 12
    Michael James
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Rundle states: “For the principal fact about the bin Laden operation and execution was that it was the first well-planned and successfully undertaken operation that the US has performed in a decade”.

    The United States is remarkably successful at combat operations. The initial invasion of Iraq post 9/11 was a text book case of military operations, as was the ousting of the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan.

    In straight combat operations, the US military is one of the best combat organisations on the planet, standing and fighting against them in straight combat operations is a declaration of suicide.

    Which is why their opponents have resorted to suicide operations and strikes against civilians, many of whom are their co-religionists.

    The insurgents realised that even if they tried to go small unit on small unit against the US, they lose, as the US troops are better trained, better led and better equipped than the insurgents.

    Eeryone who has challenged the US in open warfare combat for the last two decades has lost decisively. Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, all have seen military victories. The exceptions, such as Somalia, have come when the military has ceased to be a combat force and tried to be a police force.

    Soldiers make poor police. The mindset and training required is totally different, which is why the US military, superbly trained and equipped to defeat a conventional foe, struggles against an insurgent foe.

    Rundle’s polemic screeds should stick to things he knows something about, military operations and capabilities are most definitely things he does not.

  • 13
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    The U.S was so successful in ousting the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan that they’re still there eleven years later - trying to oust the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan.

  • 14
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Michael James you live in fantasy land. The US have a great big killing machine but they cannot win any wars.

  • 15
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Eeryone who has challenged the US in open warfare combat for the last two decades has lost decisively. Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, all have seen military victories. “

    Yes, and I went into a pre-school and punched some toddlers in the face. I’m the goddamn UFC heavyweight champion now.

  • 16
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    What sort of “hit-squad” hits the helicopters, gets to the target’s compound, shoots at everything that moves, and forgets the tape-measure, to measure the length of the corpse to make sure it’s about the same length as bin Laden - so has to get one of the chaps to lay down next to it, because he’s about “6’4” - to make (sort of) sure they’re at the right house and killed the right bloke?

  • 17
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    ……. yeah, but besides this one.

  • 18
    Moving to Paraguay
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink


  • 19
    Gederts Skerstens
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Ianj… “I should add that the bin Ladens death and its manner bothers me not one whit.”

    Or Jot.

  • 20
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Posted across to http://www.metafilter.com/103229/What-is-the-meaning-of-the-assassination-of-OBL

  • 21
    Jack Robertson
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    League of his own, as usual. Writing to make you spitefully jealous. C**t.

  • 22
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    New Yorker here. Working in Manhattan on 9/11. Watched the smoke from the pit drift lazily over my apartment for weeks afterwards. Picked memos blown by the wind off my roof.

    This article captures everything I feel about the killing of Osama, the state of my country, and the glorification of this war. Statements like this:

    At some point the Western Left’s support for assorted fantasies has to tip them from Idealists to Demented. Making a case for Osama’s right to continue as a visible front for mass-murder for any length of time should do it.”

    only convince me that people are entirely missing the point. Putting this piece of turd on trial is not giving him the right to continue as a front for mass-murder. Putting him on trial would be a triumphant statement that his ideology is too nihilistic to hurt our own ideals, regardless of how emotionally wounded we may be. THAT would be victory for me. Not this rah-rah flag waving shit. What’s ‘left’ about that? How is that ‘support’? Not a single one of my ‘western liberal’, new york city friends ever uttered anything but contempt for the man himself and his ideologies. The issue is not HIS ideology, it is OURS. By making the entire thing about HIS ideology, we are weakened and we lose.

    As to this:

    “I should add that the bin Ladens death and its manner bothers me not one whit.”

    well, bully for you. But death and its manner are two entirely different issues. I shed not a tear for the scoundrel himself, but the manner of the entire thing makes me feel dirtier and less proud. So again, bully for you and your sparkling conscious.

  • 23
    Jack Robertson
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Eagle teater, nice of you to drop by…isn’t it remarkable how thoroughly we’ve lost confidence in the robust durability of our own liberal democratic legacy? Once upon a time comments like yours - and Guy’s article - would have been entirely orthodox. Now it feels almost like blasphemy. Good wishes to you and your fellow thinkers over there, at what must be a fairly bittersweet time.

    PS: we’re really really really really sorry about Rupert. But technically he is one of yours now anyway. Bloody Americans…

  • 24
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Nah! Sorry. I tried, I did try to trawl through this waffley long drawl out dirge. I could not.

    For crying out loud the Emperor IS buck naked! Rundle struts around with this elongated look at moie! look at moieeeee!! style that needs a plate of sarnies at the side to sustain oneself whilst waiting for him to get to the bloody point! And it isn’t the first time.

    Is this a justification of the tactics used? Is it a denigration of same? I gave up. It’s all about the writing, not the sodding message!

    This bull.ocks boll.ocks tends to suggest the former:

    Eeryone who has challenged the US in open warfare combat for the last two decades has lost decisively. Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, all have seen military victories. The exceptions, such as Somalia, have come when the military has ceased to be a combat force and tried to be a police force.”

    You remind me of Bruce Willis on 42 Minutes defiantly asserting that the US won the Vietnam War!!

    Again: when we have the courage to define a terrorist more honestly than we do now, then we can make the judgment on what is to be done with them. What we automatically assume is that WE are good; THEY are bad. THEY are thus a ‘terrorist’, and deserve whatever treatment we mete out.

    When we define terrorism as the killing of so many innocent people -in pursuance of an ideology which is either a religious ideal…OR a seek out mission then we will have the right: to be right.

    Then we can make a judgment. And not until then.

  • 25
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Nicely put E_T.

    The difference between us I suspect, is that there are quite a few ‘pieces of turd’ that I would like to put on trial.

    A President for one. And two Prime Ministers. I see that as a good start only.

  • 26
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    @ELAN - Indeed! The upshot is, that we’ve lost any right to claim how wonderful we are; how we comply by all the crap we reckon we, us mighty wonderful peoples adopt in our dealings with the rest of the world blah blah! Imagine if Pakistan did that in our country? OR the US? Don’t they call that terrorism? Nah! We’re different! The 3000 people who died on 9/11 are just as dead as the 3000 killed by the US & its allies after a couple of days in Afghanistan! I find this sickening and I feel muddied and shamed by it! I couldn’t read the whole lot either!

    Wasn’t it Bush who made the presidential decree that the US could kill anyone anywhere in the world? Sounds just like the US doesn’t it?

  • 27
    Captain Planet
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    @ Michael James,

    Daniel has a point. The U.S.A. going up against, for example, China would probably be a completely different kettle of fish - as we saw in Vietnam, where the U.S.A. was effectively fighting against Mother Russia through her proxy, North Vietnam. If I recall correctly the U.S.A. got handed it’s own backside on that one.

    However Michael James also has a point - coordinated formal opposition to the U.S.A. in third world countries tends to melt away in a matter of days, bluster about “The Mother of All Battles” notwithstanding. The U.S. Military is extremely well versed in how to conduct warfare.

    As I conceded to an American friend when I was in the States recently (after an argument in which I criticised American foreign policy and militarism) - When the world needs or wants its problems solved by force of arms, by and large, there is only one country they turn to. My Friend (an ex marine, like astonishingly high numbers of Americans) simply nodded and drawled, “that’s right.”

    We should remember that before advocating too enthusiastically for winding down bilateral relations with the U.S.A.

    With 200 million people living in third world conditions in the world’s largest Moslem country only a few hundred kilometres off our mostly empty northern coastline, It might yet prove imprudent to cast off the friendship of the U.S.A. because we perceive that their economy is failing, and we don’t think we need them right now.

    As signatories to the ANZUS treaty we have been happy to shelter in the umbrella of the American’s might for the last few decades. We are kind of obligated to stand by them. I think our energies would be better spent in challenging the status quo whilst remaining within that friendship, and encouraging the U.S.A. to undertake a more morally sound basis for its foreign policy, instead of our current toadying mimicry of American propoganda.

  • 28
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    As signatories to the ANZUS treaty we have been happy to shelter in the umbrella of the American’s might for the last few decades. We are kind of obligated to stand by them. I think our energies would be better spent in challenging the status quo whilst remaining within that friendship, and encouraging the U.S.A. to undertake a more morally sound basis for its foreign policy, instead of our current toadying mimicry of American propoganda.”

    Notwithstanding that it is my personal belief that the current administration is at least trying to undertake a more morally sound basis for its foreign policy, I say to Captain Planet - Amen and hallelujah.

  • 29
    Gederts Skerstens
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    ” The issue is not HIS ideology, it is OURS. By making the entire thing about HIS ideology, we are weakened and we lose.”

    Knock it off, New Yorker.
    We’ll kill characters that want to kill us.
    Same as Indians, Chinese, Sumerians, Greeks, Aztecs, Patagonians have done in the past, are doing now or will in the future.
    You can bet on it.

  • 30
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    E-T we will not agree on all things I suspect, but I feel the need to reiterate that your point is valid.

    Sheesh! I say to CP that the problem is the mindset. The problems that are multiplying is in allowing ANY single country to set itself up as a global saviour.

    This orb is made up of so many different nations. A coalition of these nations acting altruistically (NOT idealistically), rather that politically and for ‘business expediency’ as a so-called ‘superpower’ seems to believe it has the right to do-is the far far better option.

    The bloody mindset!! We HAVE to stop the dangers of allowing one country to see itself as the parent of the world-and thus its judge and jury.

    God Almighty! Look at the obsequious comment such a concept engenders: ‘Amen and hallelujah?? WHAT?

    The USA is but one country. It is not a damn Guru FFS! The fervour and zeal of ‘we’re the global policeman’ is no damn different to any other fundamentalism!

  • 31
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Bravo, Guy. I terrific piece. And the last sentence is a killer.

  • 32
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    The last sentence is indeed a killer.

  • 33
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    What is a remarkable victory, although prolonged in its creation, was the ability of the West to completely obscure the real reason for the 9-11 attacks (and those previous attackes organized by Bin-Laden. The reason, clearly stated by the man himself in the days following the attacks, was to do with the way the West in general and the US in particular supports Israel to the cost of Palestinian men, women and children (over 600 children at last count). Doubtless other imperialist acts pissed him off as well. But from the moment Bush denied this motive for the attacks, replacing it with “They did it becasue they hate freedom”. And from this nebulous absurdity sprang the cloud of obfuscation that resulted in the virtual censorship of any discussion about the real motive. Put Bin-Laden on trial and that censorship is destroyed, and focus is unavoidably applied to the devastatingly misdirected response of a school bully who got his nose bloodied by a sneak attack out of nowhere.

    The Eichmann issue was black and white. The more shades of grey, the greater the requirement that the offender not be heard. The solution, like the (now matured) Israeli state reaction to the 1972 Munich Olympics attackers: get in, shoot them twice in the head, get out.

  • 34
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    And one irony related to the motive for the 9-11 attacks is that Bin-Laden’s story, surely one of the most compelling real-life adventures of modern times, is unlikely ever be made into a movie by Hollywood. At least not with Bin-Laden as the central character.

  • 35
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Rundle raises some interesting questions, particularly with regard to distasteful celebrations of the assassination. He uses a false analogy however, and largely misunderstands the problem. Eichmann’s case is a false analogy, not because of who he was, or who Israel was, or how he was gotten. In these cases the comparison is interesting, but misleading.

    The analogy is false because of what Eichmann was, namely a State actor. Eichmann was a part of a bureaucratic entity, accountable to it, a participant in it. His role was not as a revolutionary or religious leader, his role was bureaucratic. This is a context in which law exists.

    Bin Laden was beyond the law, a man without a country, without civilization. This is no small thing. Legalism is a privilege of civilization. Civilization was what bin Laden wanted to destroy, in favor of a religious Armageddon. Americans often make the mistake of thinking of the whole world as a civilized place, regardless of what the news tells them, as if Egypt, Libya, Syria, Burma, or Tibet were just troubled extensions of Europe. As if there is Law there.

    The false analogy leads us down a garden path to the idea that the law extends everywhere, even into the soul of bin Laden himself. But it has no scope there. Neither is the law useful when a person is attacked in his or her own home. There, where we are all unprotected by law, it is man versus man in a base context. Laws are for people who use them, surrounded by people who want to enforce them, and so submit themselves to them. There is a real question as to whether bin Laden cared to understand the Koran, let alone any system of law. His particular brand of insanity and his international followers put him out of the reach of law, out of relevance to it. What would he have said in his defense? What laws would he agree applied to him? No. We had no social contract, could have no contract with bin Laden. Just as if he had broken into our house in the dead of night, we responded out of a desire to protect ourselves, our families.

    A more reliable analogy would have been to the execution of Che Guevara, but I’m not sure where that goes, which might be why it is so readily overlooked. Or perhaps, in a darker hour, the shooting of Billy the Kid. Not Saddam Hussein, and not Eichmann.

  • 36
    James Burke
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    A good article Guy – shot through with apt ambivalence. The fact that Bin Laden wasn’t brought to trial is a shame though it’s hard to imagine how the US in its current state could have pulled it off (we need a more effective international criminal court, hello Washington.)
    But … your comments about people desperate to leap into shared victimhood reflect a common idea that this is a war about US imperialism and we could just keep out of it. In reality it long ago became a genocidal campaign against all non-Muslims, indeed all non-Wahhabist Muslims as well, carried out piecemeal and for shock value in the wider world, but with dedication in areas controlled by the Wahhabists (at various times in bits of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Somalia etc). You may refuse to take sides, but Bin Laden and his mates have you marked for death or conversion anyway. Whoops, that’s right, I need to use the past tense for OBL now. Happy dance.

  • 37
    Roquefort Muckraker
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    The difference between Eichmann and bin Laden was NOT the absence of a neo-Nazi movement. Eichmann was in hiding, an official of a militarily defeated state who was being pursued for war crimes. bin Laden was the head of a terrorist group still actively pursuing its goals that included death and mayhem. And what’s the key difference? Eichmann was not actively pursuing his objectives for which he earned the ire of Israel. Whereas bin Laden continued to pursue his goals and was in no way ‘retired’.

    So, I cannot accept that bin Laden was a criminal who needed to have his day in the dock. (Saddam Hussein had his day in the dock and his Shia gaolers ended up torturing him.) bin Laden was the leader of military cabal, in bed with the Taliban (and maybe Pakistan). As leader he was as much a legitimate target of military action as a lowly al Qaeda soldier.

  • 38
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    A war against US imperialism and we should just keep out of it’.

    ….a genocidal campaign against all non Muslims/……..bin Laden and his mates have you marked for death or conversion anyway’.

    Interesting comments.

    You could say that I was in a war against US imperialism…what does that make me?

  • 39
    Roquefort Muckraker
    Posted Friday, 6 May 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    A critique of the New York Post (owned by that pesky Australian pain in the arse) is like shooting fish in a barrel, or bin Laden’s in a barrel if you like. Anyway, Rundle, it’s crap.

  • 40
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    In a flawlessly implemented special operations raid

    Not sure I can agree with the flawless bit. They did have to abandon that helicopter which apparently stalled and could not be restarted, and it looks as though the incomplete destruction of it has revealed that the USA has a new stealth-type aircraft.

  • 41
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

  • 42
    scot mcphee
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    A cracker of an article. Thanks Guy for the top-notch read.

  • 43
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I am with commenter Gederts Skerstens (Friday, 6 May 2011 at 2:12 pm) on this article by Guy Rundle. It is a huge plate of half-cooked spaghetti with precious little meat, and a sauce consisting of poorly concealed assumptions. Rundle’s main concern is to condemn the US overall response to 9/11 and to assert that it should have been something else, with the Eichmann case cited as a model of what might have been: something perhaps tending to be possibly a bit more preferable. Maybe.

    Despite the pseudo-profundidy of its last paragraph, or perhaps because he was leading the reader up to that point all along, Rundle violated the first principle of good writing: do not say in ten paragraphs what you can say in two.

    The result is that in his obsession to clobber the US for moral turpitude, international outlawry, and of defining itself according to its enemies’ standards, Rundle missed the real seam of pay dirt that he could have followed from that first nugget: the Eichmann comparison.

    After WW2, Eichmann moved to Buenos Aires, capital of a country with a government not overly concerned about resident ex-Nazis or what they may have done. He also changed his name (to Rudolf Klement). Nazism was terminated and anonymity was the better part.

    After 9/11 Bin Laden began releasing his videos and promising further Al-Quaeda attacks, which were duly delivered, with the Madrid, Bali, and London bombings getting the greatest coverage in Western media - out of the total of about 40+ attacks to date (google ‘bomb plots, al quaeda’ and see what comes up). There had been demonstrations of approval in major Islamic capitals, and not a single Islamic voice of condemnation. It was only after the US operation began in Afghanistan, and Bin Laden came close to capture, that he cleared out and went to ground: in Pakistan. That was it its way comparable to what Eichmann did in Argentina. But until then, bin Laden was making his bid to become one of Islamic history’s greatest holy warriors, and even while he was in hiding, his personality cult grew amongst Islamic youth troubled by the problems of their civilisation. Today, we also have promises of revenge attacks for his death.

    Eichmann never attempted any such heroics on behalf of Nazism. It is safe to assume that he accepted that Nazism was finished. Not so for bin Laden’s Islamism after 9/11. Until the democratic revolutions began in the ME, Islamists could entertain hope for an eventual global caliphate. But now that hope is accelerating over the horizon.

    Rundle assumes also that capture of bin Laden and his being brought to trial would have been as easy as that of Eichmann, and of course dismisses any notion that the US is involved in a war with terrorism analogous to the war the Jews and the state of Israel continued for years to fight with the remnants of Nazism.

    But where Eichmann was captured on a street by undercover officers of the Israeli Mossad (in 1960) Bin Laden was killed by uniformed soldiers of the US defence forces, in a straight-out wartime operation, and on the territory of a shaky and dodgy ally in their war. Clearly, the US Navy Seals had to achieve their principal objective of removing bin Laden dead or alive, while not getting into hostilities with the Pakistani police or defence forces, and not losing any of their own men (or the sniffer dog). The fact that bin Laden had chosen to live close to a major Pakistani army facility would indicate that he saw his security enhanced by that rather than compromised.

    Bin Laden was not the head of state or government of a country with defined geography with which the US was in a formally declared war. Yet he was. Yet the US is. It is just that Islamism knows no borders and respects no international legalities. Islamism is a cloud country.

    Hannah Arendt, in a view later more critically scrutinised, saw Eichmann as the personified ‘banality of evil’: a methodical bureaucrat concerned mainly with doing his job and satisfying his superiors. Bin Laden on the other hand dressed as a prophet might, and cultivated the image of a heroic fighter for pure Islam. But how far the later reality (of the fugitive living like a rat in a hole) differed from the image earlier (of the prophet coming down from the mountain) we will find out in more detail, in days to come.

    But in final confrontation with their enemy, both men must have swiftly arrived at the same conclusion: they were gone. Checkmate. Game, set and match. As good as dead and buried.


  • 44
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink


    Stylistic-very familiar! But succinct. The message is thus clear.

    And true.

  • 45
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I love your work, I started thinking it was a bit long and then I realised that I have been conditioned to take information in bites so any criticism in that direction is self criticism of attention span.

  • 46
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Attention span my rrrr’s!!

    Gawd! Is Guy Rundle a journalist or a diva? The fan club thing is overkill!! Opinions differ. Get used to it.

  • 47
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    @Davoid - 6 May, 6:51 pm (which has only just passed through Mods I think).

    You make really interesting points - and I agree that motivation had/has much to do with US foreign policy in the Middle East and that it should be exposed/discussed/brought into the light etc.

    But this is fundamentalism, religious extremism, and at its core is a fierce and violent disagreement about ways of life. The is no multi-cultural in fundamentalism, no pluralism. There is only strict adherence to an interpretation of Islamic Law, and those who do not subscribe to the law must be punished through death.

    Yes, OBL was a very clever, wealthy and connected man - he knew how to play the game as well as any President, and I doubt he really even believed the fundamentalist crap he preached. But the rest of his followers do and that aint no GW Bush PR spin.

  • 48
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    ‎”To win, to triumph, is to defeat an enemy, and the most important part of that victory is to no longer be defined by them.” Because our democratic access to information makes the actions of our security bureaucracy transparent it is the moral basis for such action that has necessarily become completely obscured. With a lack of contending principles we have tacitly accepted realpolitik as our guide. We jingoistically assert our perceived victories because they are the only justification we have for our violence. We cannot examine our motives and justification for this conflict any more than we can face the consequences of our history of violent colonial conquest.

  • 49
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink


  • 50
    Posted Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I would love to know what was so offensive re the comment I wrote. Not so much as moderated as obliterated.