By Pepe Escobar · 4 May 2011
The Sheikh he drove his Cadillac
He went a-cruisin' down the ville
The Muezzin was a-standin'
On the radiator grill
The Clash, Rock the Casbah
It's irrelevant. It may be a rockin' Hollywood thriller - an Osama/Obama double bill (directed by Kathryn "Hurt Locker" Bigelow). But the targeted assassination - allegedly with an iconic American bullet to the head - of Osama bin Laden on Monday in fact only matches the irrelevancy the larger than life jihadi Godfather had sunk into.
United States President Barack Obama may have turned the boogie sound on his 2012 re-election - bookmakers are giving him 1.75 - way beyond the reach of a circus freak show featuring specimens such as mama grizzly Sarah Palin and billionaire bully (with a fox in his head) Donald Trump.
But was it "justice" - as Obama claimed? Justice - up to the age of the drone - implied a crime scene, evidence, courts, due process, a jury, a judge and a sentence. Former President George "war on terror" W Bush, in his bluntness, was closer to the mark: this was more like "US revenge".
Fundamentally He Can't Take It
At first sight, Bin Laden was not a casualty of war. He was a casualty of an irresistible push for democracy and social equity - the great 2011 Arab revolt. Bin Laden, the proponent of a restored caliphate, shunned parliamentary democracy. History had made him irrelevant as much as al-Qaeda had been made irrelevant even before the Arab revolt - in geographic, political, cultural and social terms.
American exceptionalism and Western hysteria notwithstanding - the in crowd say it's cool/to dig this chanting thing - al-Qaeda and its declination of affiliates, off-shots and copycats are condemned to remain dwelling like ghosts in the periphery of the Muslim world, with a new generation of leaders directing the odd shoe or underwear bomber.
What's spookier is how the al-Qaeda narrative has been resuscitated as a specter hovering over the collective unconscious of the West. With the dangerous poetic metaphor of Bin Laden's body now rockin' an aquatic Casbah at the bottom of the Arabian Sea. The White House/Pentagon/CIA did not want a "shrine"; the shrine now happens to be diluted in waters patrolled by the US and not far from those shores where the House of Saud is conducting a harsh counter-revolution against the yearning for a better life.
It's as if the carefully staged, too good to be true, non-martyrdom of bin Laden was in fact opening the doors to a new breed of hell - with Washington and the West betting on their self-fulfilling prophecy; al-Qaeda will react "with a vengeance" (American style?), there will be blood, a lot more blood, and the Arab world will revert to barbarism instead of dreaming of democracy, as in the crowd caught a whiff/of that crazy Casbah jive.
Welcome to the resurrection of al-Qaeda as a death blow to the great 2011 Arab revolt.
We Ban That Boogie Sound
There are plenty of reasons not to take at face value what may eventually be revealed as one of the most sophisticated psy-ops of the young 21st century.
A 14-member, four-helicopter, elite navy SEALs team, under the command of Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta, may have taken Bin Laden out. But the Pentagon narrative of an American golden bullet is as wobbly as the King telling the boogie man/you have to let that raga drop. Bin Laden had always said he would die as a shaheed - a martyr, fighting for his cause, and he would not surrender. One of his bodyguards would have come up with the bullet, under his command, when Bin Laden concluded that by order of the Prophet he would have to ban that boogie sound.
Spinning crossfire in Washington in the early hours led to the usual "US officials" stressing the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was kept out of the loop - as they would certainly tip Bin Laden about the operation, while Pentagon types insisted Bin Laden was killed a week ago in a drone strike (the jet pilots tuned/to the cockpit radio blare). Others spun that leads from the ISI itself led US Special Forces to the site - and then Washington used its own sources to confirm, "receive clearance to strike from Pakistan" and well, rock the Casbah.
GEO TV in Pakistan played a completely different mix. ISI types spun that the operation was in fact Pakistani - conducted after an army helicopter was shot down (Pentagon types also mentioned it) and a search party then got involved in a firefight. Pakistani troops helped cordon off the compound. They arrested a few Arab women, kids and armed Arabs who then confessed Bin Laden was there; that led to another firefight in which Bin Laden was killed. Two US helicopters then flew to the site and carried away the body of Bin Laden. According to this version, the fire in the compound was caused by the crashed helicopter.
The US "firefight" account is also murky. According to Obama's description, there were no US casualties; that doesn't sound like much of a "firefight". This may have been a heavily defended compound, or just a compound where US forces were holding Bin Laden.
The CIA is spinning this was a kill operation. That's also shaky. Capturing Bin Laden alive - just as with Saddam Hussein - would have been the ultimate minaret of humiliation, and a much juicier public relations coup for the White House. That may explain Washington's zeal to dispose of his body in the Arabian Sea as soon as possible - to the despair of many a sharia law specialist.
The compound was burned to the ground. Conveniently - just as in 9/11 - there is no crime scene, and no body. This would be rejected in any CSI script conference. The whole world awaits an incontrovertible photo of the body as well as the results of the DNA test.
And sooner rather than later - as with Saddam - some informant will reveal there was nothing Hollywood about the kill; it all came about as an enterprising individual decided to finally bag the $50 million reward. There's only one destination this almighty leak may have come from: the Pakistani ISI. And if that is the case, army chief General Ashfaq Kiani - a Pentagon darling - had to issue the final imprimatur. His "reward" will be the stuff legends are made of.
Degenerate the Faithful
Bin Laden was the quintessential product of Cold War US foreign policy; the unholy alliance of Washington, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was never charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as guilty of perpetrating 9/11; there was never any direct evidence. Even uber-neoconservative Dick Cheney, former vice president, over the years admitted on and off that Bin Laden was not connected to 9/11.
Talk about on the ground "intelligence". It took Washington no less than 3,519 days since 9/11 to find Bin Laden "dead or alive", as John Wayne Bush promised, only 240 kilometers east of the mountains of Tora Bora, his last confirmed location in December 2001. Bin Laden would have been a really otherworldly entity if suffering from kidney disease, diabetes and low blood pressure, and in need of dialysis, he had managed to survive in a musty cave for almost a decade.
Abbottabad, a two-hour drive north of Islamabad, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is a hill station in a valley very close to Azad ("free") Kashmir. It's a sort of mini-Colorado Springs, complete with a cinema (the Taj) and, more crucially, the Pakistani equivalent of West Point. No caves around it, and, also crucially, no raucous tribal areas - where the CIA drone campaign is spraying a lot of "collateral damage" under the pretext of fighting "al-Qaeda".
The capture of Bin Laden could have happened in fact as early as August 2001. At the time, back from Afghanistan, I had heard in Peshawar that a US commando was ready to go inside Afghanistan and snatch Bin Laden in his compound in Kandahar. As much as Bush lobbied for it, then-president Pervez Musharraf vetoed it, saying he would not want to be responsible for a civil war in Pakistan.
Then, after 9/11, Washington practically ordered the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden. As the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad told us at the time, Mullah Omar asked for proof of Bin Laden's guilt. Bush refused - after all, as the FBI knew, there was no concrete evidence. Subsequent Bin Laden videos "accepting" responsibility for 9/11 were revealed to be fakes.
The Taliban even agreed to hand over Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia - one of the three Taliban sponsors alongside Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). King Abdullah refused. It's in fact Khalid Sheikh Muhammad - arrested by Pakistani intelligence, and who will spend the rest of his life in Guantanamo - who has claimed total responsibility for 9/11; and he never accused Bin Laden of anything.
That Crazy Casbah Sound
The more we look at it, the targeted assassination of Bin Laden shows facets of that famous children's toy, the jack-in-the-box.
Major powers playing this game - the US and Saudi Arabia - have finally decided they no longer needed a bogeyman conveniently resurfaced on and off to justify anything, from lack of democracy to brutal crackdowns or even drone attacks gone wrong. But why right now?
Let's start with the power vacuum in Pakistan. There's a serious split inside the ISI, between the ISI and part of the army, and between the army and the government. That can only mean chaos. What the Pentagon might dub Operation Osama Sunset marks the crucial shift of the top "war on terror" theater from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The "war on terror" goes on, ramped up, bound to rock all Casbahs. A bewildered Islamabad doesn't seem to know how to profit from it, especially now that it burned the precious Bin Laden card.
Then there's the House of Saud. Bin Laden was taken out just as Saudi Arabia was bending the uplifting narrative of the great 2011 Arab revolt to profit a counter-revolution narrative of a Sunni/Shi'ite sectarian war, a de facto renewed Cold War between "good" Saudi Arabia and "evil" Iran. Washington was playing all along with the House of Saud.
This House of Saud diversionist tactic is a serious attempt to shift the focus from the fact that the great 2011 Arab revolt threatens exactly medieval regimes such as Bahrain's and the House of Saud's. The corrupt, Western lackey House of Saud was the key motivator of Bin Laden's anger and outrage that shaped his ideology.
Yet under the current Bin Laden hysteria, the House of Saud can easily sing The King called up his jet fighters/he said you better earn your pay/drop your bombs between the minarets/down the Casbah way, ramping up its hardcore repression in the eastern provinces and in Bahrain and lavishly bribing tribal leaders in Yemen to form a next pro-Saudi government.
Washington for its part also used the diversionist tactic to distract/puzzle Arab popular opinion as an Anglo-French-American intervention, marketed as "humanitarian", struck yet another oil-rich Muslim country, Libya. Besides, Washington also applied new polish to the old tactic of isolating/containing Iran.
As for the pathetic CIA-infested, al-Qaeda-linked Libyan "rebels" who have hijacked Cyrenaica's legitimate protests - and who welcome North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing of their own country - they now want the US to take out Muammar Gaddafi (NATO is already working on it). Rock the Casbah is the way to go.
Pious Saudi Arabian millionaires have always been a key source of bundles of cash for al-Qaeda. No wonder there may be a horde of new breed Bin Ladens ready to rock the Casbah in Saudi Arabia - and they will, hopefully inside the kingdom.
Al-Qaeda's ideology is based on two pillars; the current governments in Muslim lands are un-Islamic and oppressive; and they are pro-American (correct on both counts). Where al-Qaeda got it wrong was the method to reverse this situation; thus its strategic defeat by the great 2011 Arab revolt.
General David Petraeus, who was the Pentagon supremo in Afghanistan, is about to become CIA supremo - with Bin Laden's head as trophy and his hands free to rock multiple Casbahs via all-out targeted assassinations and assorted black ops. The whole reason for the US to invade Afghanistan in 2001 was to get Bin Laden "dead or alive". He's now dead and in the bottom of the Arabian Sea.
Yet the US won't leave Afghanistan. US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton is already monopolizing the narrative saying the war on al-Qaeda, as in "war on terror", goes on forever. Official US policy as the best jihadi recruiter Bin Laden could have hoped for goes on unabated - as in the same panoply of soldiers, mercenaries, CIA killer teams, killer drones, contractors and "diplomats" costing trillions of dollars.
There would be only one realistic way of possibly bringing this madness to a close, as in the oil in the desert way/has been shaken to the top; killer drones or targeted assassinations of the whole House of Saud. Pity that unlike bin Laden, who went rogue, the sheikhs will always take cover by posing as "our" fanatic bastards.
Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at [email protected].
This article was originally published by Asia Times Online. It is republished by SACSIS with the author's permission. For reprinting rights, please contact the author.