by now this is old news.
i must confess incredulity when first hearing of it until they mentioned having his body in possession. i still feel slightly skeptical – i have trouble believing good news from any source, particularly when the source is a beneficiary to the news. so we’ll see.
but it does make me wonder about something.
i just went and reread the wikipedia summary of the window in time between the sept 11 attacks and the invasion of afghanistan. it’s interesting reading it – remembering what i knew of what was going on at the time (14 years old and caught up in my own petty dramas), comparing that to the bigger picture. i knew the US demanded that the taliban give bin laden over to US custody. i had no real picture of anything else:
- Deliver to the U.S. all of the leaders of Al-Qaeda
- Release all foreign nationals that have been “unjustly imprisoned”
- Protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers
- Close immediately every terrorist training camp
- Hand over every terrorist and their supporters to appropriate authorities
- Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps for inspection
… On September 21, the Taliban responded to the ultimatum, promising that if the U.S. could bring evidence that bin Laden was guilty, they would hand him over, stating that they had no evidence linking him to the September 11 attacks.
… On October 7, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan offered to detain bin Laden and try him under Islamic law if the U.S. made a formal request and presented the Taliban with evidence. A Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the Taliban offer, and stated that the U.S. would not negotiate their demands.
US-led bombing of al qaeda/ taliban camps began later october 7.
what i wondered was, if the taliban had acquiesced to US demands without insisting on evidence (or if the US had complied with the taliban’s terms), would that actually have prevented the subsequent wars in afghanistan and iraq from taking place? keeping in mind the president that we had in office at the time. keeping in mind the mood of the nation, that shouted down any of the voices pointing out that decades of US foreign policy had done much of the work in creating the monster that we now faced, that this attack did not come from a clear sky, that the attackers themselves were not cowards or people who merely hated freedom. keeping in mind that we now have some evidence of the administration planning an invasion or at least interference in iraq for some time before then. is there a chance that anyone could have acted otherwise from how they did?
can we say honestly that the policy of evangelical aggression supported by the bush administration came into being merely after the attacks and the taliban’s refusal to hand bin laden over without unequivocal evidence? that it did not exist beforehand, or that after the attacks that it did not already have the momentum to seek a regime change in afghanistan even if our demands had been met?
was that period actually a watershed moment? could things have been changed?
it is tempting to think that there are moments of history upon which wide-ranging events hinge. that there is a single decision, or coincidence, or otherwise a moment in time where, if it transpired otherwise, the web of what came after would collapse. a lock holding a chain together that could have been unlocked; a knot that if untied would undo the whole system. in which case, ww1 would not have happened without the shot that killed archduke franz ferdinand, etc etc. the entire affair pivots upon that moment, and if that moment was undone, the rest of it would be too.
this view is tempting in its simplicity, and because it is both simple and tempting i do not think it reflects reality. it’s possible that simply the momentum of a million coincidences and choices, the racing compiled weight of them, could not have gone in any other direction. that a certain critical mass was achieved that made any other future impossible. not fate, because fate is still too simple and too neat… but in short, it is obvious to everyone that bin laden’s death right now makes no difference to the wars we are currently fighting. the question is if it would have made any difference at all occurring at any point following the attacks, or if we would have always found fairly similar reasons for going in anyway. the insurgency would still have happened without question once we made the decision to invade. there’s too much history for anything otherwise to happen.
is that true for everything?
and yet, so tempting – the idea that somehow a switch would have been flipped. history reversed, the weight lifted, the bombs sucked neatly back into the bellies of the plane that dropped them, the dead rising from graves, severed limbs reunited with their owners with not even a scar to show for it, and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. everybody’s sins (and they are heavy on all sides) absolved. everything fixed.
i remember, observing that window of time in the moment, the vast disappointment i felt when we went to war. the feeling so strong in me that this was our chance, our one chance to change the way the world worked. we had international support in that time like we had never had before or since. the things we could have done that would have redefined everything!
i can’t tell you what i thought those things were. but it wasn’t following the same groove we have worn through history of going to war, the same tired solution. it would have been something that made us into really what we said we were, and not what we had so often ended up being. i doubt that any such action would have been possible.
but still. the temptation of there being a moment when all if this could have not happened.
if only we could be otherwise.