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Beinhart’s Body Politic: What Now? After Bin Laden 

click to enlarge DION OGUST

Given the choice between pleading incompetence or complicity in bin Laden’s years-long stay in the garrison city of Abbottabad, Pakistani authorities have opted for the former. It is an explanation that strains credulity for many international observers, including US policymakers, who have demanded an investigation into whether Pakistan sheltered the al-Qaeda leader.

—Karin Brulliard,, May 4

The United States gives Pakistan lots of money, nearly $12 billion in military aid, and over $6 billion in economic aid since 2002. This is “understood” to be payment for Pakistan being on our side in the War on Terror.

A week since Osama Bin Laden’s discovery, living under the noses of the Pakistani intelligence services and some US lawmakers are threatening to suspend billions of dollars in annual aid.
—Andrew North, BBC News, May 11

Since we’re spending so much, we have a right to ask: incompetence or complicity? As long as we think we should ask based on the fact that we’re paying, who is it we should be asking about? Them or Us?

The US government spent $2 trillion combating bin Laden over the past decade, more than 20 percent of the nation’s $9.68 trillion public debt. That money paid for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as additional military, intelligence and homeland security spending above pre-Sept. 11 trends, according to a Bloomberg analysis.
—Bloomberg News, May 12

We spend somewhere between $40 billion a year (best guestimate, 2008) and $80 billion a year (official statement, 2010) on intelligence. We have the CIA, NSA, FBI, DIA, the military intelligence services, Homeland Security, State Department, Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and presumably agencies so secret they’re not even listed on

The Bloomberg study looks back 10 years. Actually, the intelligence services have been looking for bin Laden in order to capture or kill him for at least 13 years.

Bin Laden was indicted for murder in American courts in 1998. By August of that year he was on the “Wanted: Dead or Alive” exclusive list.

There is a certain amount of debate as to whether Bill Clinton issued an order that said “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges,” or one that said, “Try to arrest, only kill him if there’s a problem.” However, on August 20, US Navy ships launched 66 cruise missiles at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in the belief that bin Laden was there.

In 1999, the CIA organized a team of 60 Pakistani commandos who were supposed to go into Afghanistan to “capture or kill” bin Laden. But Musharraf’s coup that year put a stop to it.

In May 2001, four of bin Laden’s associates were sentenced to life in prison in US Federal Court in New York. After 9/11, the FBI and the intelligence services knew instantly that bin Laden and Al Qaeda had been behind it. And they said so.

If we follow the logic of the critiques of the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service), then we have to say that our intelligence services were protecting bin Laden, while taking trillions in US government money, or they are the most inept intelligence services on earth.

If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you will happily take choice number one.

The evidence is as follows. When Afghanistan was invaded, our best intelligence believed that bin Laden was cornered in the Tora Bora mountains. The Bush administration refused to send in enough troops to seal him off.

Was there ever any intention to get bin Laden? The invasion of Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001. Just five months later, in March 2002, George W. Bush said, “I don’t know where [bin Laden] is … I truly am not concerned about him.”

Instead, the Bush administration was actually going after regime change. Then they moved to Iraq, with trumped up stories about WMDs and false connections to Al Qaeda, to institute regime change there.

In 2005, the year that bin Laden built the compound that he moved to in Abbottabad, George Bush shut down Alec Station, the team that had been hunting bin Laden for 10 years.

Double, triple conspiracy theorists will say the response to 9/11 was part of the Republican plan to destroy the New Deal, Great Society, socialist, Marxist government of the United States by going to war while cutting taxes and running up debts to a level that would turn our nation’s fiscal structure into a house of cards.

Bloomberg News points out that not only does the War on Terror (and its affiliated wars) account for 20 percent of our national debt, but we are also paying $45 billion a year in interest on the money we borrowed for it.

It’s also worth noting that 70 percent of our classified intelligence spending goes to private contractors, part of the campaign to privatize government and to do so in ways that are beyond accountability.

Nonconspiracy theorists are sadly silent. This is tragic because ineptitude is probably the right answer.

It’s a little bit complicated, because there are two flavors of f**k up wrapped on one stick, like a creamsicle. There’s the plain vanilla institutional problem. How can a set of intelligence services with satellites, predator drones, worldwide wire-tapping, supersoldiers, and essentially limitless funds fail to find one man in 13 years? That’s a question that needs to be asked by serious people in a serious way. Unfortunately, serious people in a position to get serious answers don’t exist.

Then there’s the special bright-orange incompetence of the Bush administration. Is it fair to place special blame there? Results count. Actions do speak louder than words. The Bush administration took seven years not to get bin Laden. The Obama administration did get it done in two years.

Yet, when we turn on the television or read the news, we are greeted by a parade of failed Bush administration officials taking credit for what they didn’t do. And, while they were at it, claiming the invasion of Iraq was necessary and justified, and that this justifies torture!


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