Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Bin Laden's Legacies

Amid excitement about Anthony Weiner’s Twittering comes a reminder of something less trivial--what Osama bin Laden’s death did not solve for America and the Arab world.

“Bin Laden,” Thomas Friedman writes, “really did a number on all of us...the Arab states, America and Israel--all of whom have deeper holes than ever to dig out of thanks to the Bin Laden decade, 2001 to 2011, and all of whom have less political authority than ever to make the hard decisions needed to get out of the holes.”

Friedman cites a 2002 UN report by Arab experts that said “the Arab states suffered from three huge deficits: a deficit of freedom and respect for human rights as the bases of good governance, a deficit of knowledge in the form of decent schooling and a deficit of women’s empowerment.”

But in the wake of 9/11, that agenda was ignored, and “Washington basically gave the Arab dictators a free pass to tighten their vise grip on their people--as long as these Arab leaders arrested, interrogated and held the Islamic militants in their societies and eliminated them as a threat to us.”

Now bin Laden is gone, but as the Arab Spring draws us deeper into Libya and other eruptions of the pent-up desire for good governance, the price now is higher than it would have been a decade ago to dislodge brutal and corrupt leaders who have flourished since then, mostly on American taxpayers’ money.

But his legacy goes deeper than Friedman describes. The Weiner to-do is only the latest trivial eruption of what has been happening in American politics on a broad scale--the shift from governing by trust to concentrating on fear to demonize and destroy opposition.

By taking down the Twin Towers and striking the Pentagon, Osama bin Laden changed the American psyche in a lasting way--weakening trust that their daily world was a safe place and making them susceptible to fears that their own leaders were plotting to undermine traditional values.

That used to be called paranoia, but now it goes by the name of Tea Party patriotism, and Osama bin Laden has left us that, along with his other murderous legacies.

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