The Costs of Finding Osama

In the play Doctor Faustus, author Christopher Marlowe described Helen of Troy as the “face that launched a thousand ships.” Marlowe used the phrase to describe the manner in which Helen’s beauty supposedly motivated the Greek armies to attack Troy. Taking a page from this Elizabethan play, we might describe the now deceased Osama Bin-Laden as “the face that launched a million military budget requests.”

Though civilians throughout the world were left to deal with the consequences, the figure of Osama was always a useful one for the American Empire. This was just as true when he received direct financial and military aid from the US in the 1980s as when he was presented as an arch nemesis used to justify the escalating military adventures of the 21st century. No surprise then, if his death yields more benefits for the military industrial complex and even greater hazards to peace loving people everywhere.

While Communism was still being presented as the great global enemy, as the rationale for maintaining a bloated military industrial complex in the 80s, Osama Bin-Laden proved a useful ally. His brand of Islamic fundamentalism received support and funding from the US government, despite the deeply reactionary politics it carried with it. In Afghanistan Bin-Laden was able to establish an international movement trained in the tactics of guerrilla warfare and imbued with a backwards looking philosophy of Islamic jihad. All while being funded by the American taxpayer.

After the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Osama was able to claim the credentials of an Empire-killer. In the new post-Soviet world, the US was the sole imperial force, wielding unchallenged military power in the service of US-based corporations who aimed to be the masters of the globe. Many in the underdeveloped world experienced this globalization and looked to radical Islam as an alternative. Enough support was organized to launch a series of terrorist attacks such as those on September 11th, the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi and the attack on the United Nations complex in Iraq. Each of these acts proved that the ethics of Bin Laden mirrored the ethics of the Empire – no civilian life was precious enough to prevent an attack made in the name of your cause.

The September 11th attacks made Osama even more useful to an assortment of political hawks, weapons manufacturers and military service companies like Halliburton and Blackwater. In the tragic carnage of that day, they saw an opportunity to create a post-Cold War rationale to claim billions in public funds. The subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the endless drone bombings in Pakistan that were designed by the administration of former President George W. Bush and are now operated by current President Barack Obama, were done in the name of “finding Osama.” A traumatized American public went along, as Bin-Laden enticed the US military to indiscriminately kill civilians, set up torture camps and occupy countries with large Muslim populations. All along fattening corporate bottom lines and justifying the US war machine.

As always, it was civilians who suffered the consequences. The families of the 911 victims, the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and all of the millions who became entangled in the post-911 security state were trapped between two shades of reactionary politics. By conservative estimates more than 130,000 civilians were killed from 2003 until 2008 in Iraq as a result of the US invasion. Thousands more have perished in Afghanistan as well as nearly 6,000 US military personnel. The hunt for Osama became a brutal blood letting which taught millions of people throughout the world that they could expect no justice from the US.

In addition to the destruction of human lives, the Osama inspired US military adventures allowed for a looting of public funds. At last count, almost $1.2 trillion has been spent on invading Iraq and Afghanistan. These public funds could have been used to provide 55 million children with healthcare. Or to give out 13 million one-year university scholarships. Or to add 1.6 million elementary teachers per year to our schools. Unfortunately in this moment of economic crisis and budget cutting, the military budget and the war profiteering it produces remain significant drains on public funds. Nearly half of the entire Federal Budget is now spent on the military industrial complex. This only serves to deepen the economic inequalities in American society and poison relations between Americans and people throughout the world.

What the death of Osama Bin-Laden should prove is that the Empire cannot deliver justice. Socialists will certainly shed no tears for Osama. Nor, however, will we celebrate his assassination at the hands of the US military. Instead, we understand clearly that the US military is a destroyer of human lives, a drain on public budgets and is a chain hung around the neck of democracy. No justice will come from it.

If there is anything positive to take from this moment, let it be that the American people now begin to build a movement to dismantle the post-911 war machine, to cry out for the restoration of our civil liberties and to press for an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and an end to the drone bombings in Pakistan.

Simultaneously, voters should consider withdrawing their support from President Obama when re-election time comes. Obama has time and time again proven willing to use the war machine in a way that is every bit as ruthless as his predecessor. A Socialist Party USA candidate for the White House will place the dismantlement of the military industrial complex on the top of their campaign agenda. We will present a real candidate of peace.

Let us now build a world based on solidarity, peace and freedom – a world that was so violently opposed by people like Bin-Laden and one that is so deeply feared by those at the controls of the military industrial complex here in the US.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.