Aftermath of bin Laden killing unknown: Local experts

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011
— Sunday’s death of America’s most wanted man was a momentous occasion for the U.S., but how much it will change lives is unknown.

Two local experts in the Middle East said they don’t expect U.S. vigilance against terrorism to ease. In fact, terrorists could ramp up activities in response to the killing.

Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization, is a franchise now, and the groups have their own money and agendas.

The next few days will tell how the world, especially the Middle East, reacts to the death of bin Laden, said Beth Dougherty, a professor of political science at Beloit College who specializes in the Middle East.

“Anything is highly speculative right now,” Dougherty said.

The silence coming from the Middle East is “weird,” she said.

Dougherty and Susan Johnson, department chair in political science and associate professor at UW-Whitewater, said many in the U.S. had come to think bin Laden never would be brought to justice.

Bin Laden was a source of humiliation for America because we couldn’t find him with all our military might, Dougherty said.

“He committed the worst attack on American soil, and we couldn’t do anything about it. This puts a period on the end of a very long journey,” she said.

Johnson said bin Laden’s death in the short term will unify Americans.

“I think that he was one of the singular people that all of America would identify as a common enemy,” Johnson said. “It will perhaps bring some closure to 9/11, although the operations mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is still in Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial.

“I think that anyone who suffered from terrorism—be it in Europe or in the Middle East—will have a sense of relief that this has finally come to an end,” Johnson said. “So far, we haven’t seen a lot of negative reaction at all … In general, I think that the world is happy that this is over.”

Said Dougherty: “The most interesting reactions are going to come from Pakistan, and I think those are the ones we know the least about.

“It still isn’t clear who in Pakistan knew where he was or how widespread that (knowledge) was.”

Some in the Pakistani government share bin Laden’s ideologies but also saw the Taliban as a way for Pakistan to control Afghanistan, Dougherty said.

Bin Laden’s isolated lifestyle—cut off from the world with no telephone or Internet—makes Dougherty wonder whether he was living freely in Pakistan or was more of a “guest.”

Dougherty said the aftermath of the attack could go several ways. It could embolden the Pakistanis to go after the Pakistani Taliban, and that would have a tremendous impact on Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida today is more of a franchise than a centrally directed organization. Those local groups take care of themselves and don’t depend on bin Laden’s money, Dougherty said.

They also have localized concerns different from bin Laden’s, Johnson said. For instance, al-Qaida in Yemen is more concerned with overthrowing the monarchy. Bin Laden’s major concerns were U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia and U.S. support of Israel.

“It’s more a question of the morale, of the global jihad, Dougherty said. “(Bin Laden) almost became legendary because he had escaped the reach of the United States.”

Security has continued to evolve in the decade since 9/11, and Johnson doesn’t expect that to change with bin Laden’s death.

“He had become much more of a symbolic figurehead,” Johnson said. “In terms of the operations aspect, he didn’t have much of a role.”

Both women lauded the U.S. military and the precision of the attack. Burying bin Laden’s body at sea was brilliant because it followed Islamic law but avoided creating a burial site that could become a shrine.

The mission was an “extraordinary political chance” for President Barack Obama, and she recalled President Jimmy Carter apologizing for a similar but ill-fated military operation.

The timing is “fitting” with what has happened in the Arab world in the last two months, Dougherty said.

Those in Arab countries are protesting for greater rights, not more social restrictions.

“It’s clear that the vision of global jihad wasn’t being accepted by the populations,” Dougherty said.

She is looking forward to future memoirs explaining how the decisions were made.

“There’s so many things I want to know,” Dougherty said.

“Now, we wait and see what will happen.”

Last updated: 5:18 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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