By Wendell P. Simpson
Last weekend was one for the books, yo.
Over here in the UK, we had the royal nuptials. Kate and William got hitched amongst all the fanfare, pomp and circumstances the English can muster, a soothing, releasing balm for a people and a country challenged by the recent austerity measures enacted by a Tory/Lib Dem coalition government still looking for its legs.
As spectacle, it was going to be a hard act for anybody to follow—at least I thought so.
On Saturday evening, America exploded into an ecstatic celebration of it’s own when it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been assassinated by a squadron of US Navy SEALS.
President Barack Obama managed to upstage the future king of England and his new bride when he called in the order to ‘off’ the world’s most wanted man, the mastermind behind the attacks on the World Trade Center that crumbled American pride and prestige into concrete dust on a sparkling September 11, 2001 morning.
After 10 years of ‘The War on Terror’, one of the most economically and politically expensive conflicts in American history, Obama finally bagged the Big Bad Wolf. “Obama 1, Osama 0,” screamed a placard carried aloft by one of the spontaneous revelers who packed Times Square that night. It was the fait accompli that the arrogant Right wing warmongers, dizzy from their dreams of manifest destiny, could not bring about despite lobbing bomb after incendiary bomb—and billions and billions of borrowed dollars—into Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya.
But the jubilation is a temporary stay for an embattled Commander-In-Chief who can’t seem to get his just due—or blame—because of a hypersensitive and polarized political and social montage, each side with its own set of expectations, all couched in history, aspiration, legacy, and ideals, that won’t allow him to be anything but the ‘Head Ni**er In Charge’.
In the meantime, the issues—and the questions—remain: Are we any safer now that bin Laden’s dead? What does it all mean for the war on terror that has cost us—and everybody else—so much? Has Obama finally redeemed himself in the eyes of a skeptical and disaffected white American electorate? And will this victory finally enable Obama to leap frog the ideological roadblocks that have hampered his ability to deal with pressing domestic issues—like an imploding economy that threatens to do more harm to the American way of life that any plot dreamed up in the mind of a hounded jihadist tucked away in a tacky, overblown Abbottabad duplex?
That bin Laden got ‘got’ on Obama’s watch is more than a feather in the president’s cap; it’s the whole friggin’ eagles nest. And I’ve got to give the brother some dap for how he went about gettin’ it done: he didn’t say jack to NOBODY, he got in, did the deed, got the heck out and worried about all the explanations after the fact. It was a brilliantly ‘Black’ strategic moment.
Now, in some of the more widely radical Right wing circles, that bit of ethno-genius went completely unappreciated. Some were ambivalent; others—with the notable and shocking exceptions of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who publicly congratulated the president for his triumph—suggested that Obama was the beneficiary of the groundwork that Bush had already laid in the war on terror. Others, like Tea Bagger gruppenfuhrer Judson Phillips, hypocritically and cynically accused Obama of blithely relishing in the glow of the glaring light of political capital that dusting off bin Laden cast upon him—as if ANY politician wouldn’t exploit such a game-changing political coup d’tat.
For sure, bin Laden’s death has martyred him. Like the iconography of ‘Goldstein’ in Orwell’s 1984, it is the symbolism that may very well incite and inspire the masses of disenfranchised young Muslims to further acts of retribution and destruction. To suggest that the demise of bin Laden will have any effect on the operational capacity of Al-Qaeda is foolishly naïve and negligent. Cut off the head? So what? Terrorist groups are an amorphic entity, a loose confederate of cadres designed to plan and work independent of a centralized command structure. The combination of inspiration and independence still makes Al-Qaeda a fearful and formidable enemy. We are definitely not any safer in the aftermath.
We’re also not any safer because we continue to antagonize the Muslim world. Obama promised to close down the torture chambers at Guantanamo; he did not. He promised to de-escalate the war; he has not. In fact, much in the mode of his predecessor, he escalated it when he sent an additional 30, 000 troops to Afghanistan in a ‘surge’ effort. The American intelligence community has known for several years that any significant Al-Qaeda leadership long ago abandoned the rock-strewn plains of Afghanistan for the safety of Pakistan and its complicit government. Now, there’s only the Taliban and the US-led coalition forces, a situation that really doesn’t offer Obama much domestic political capital since the obsession of the American people has been with Al-Qaeda and NOT the plight of the Afghan people. With part of the pretext for war having moved house and the other part lying dead at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, can we continue to justify the occupation of an unassailable country (see the British, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun—who took it but couldn’t hold it for long—and Alexander the Great) that sent Russia’s modern army scrambling for the other side of the mountains and to the precipice of insolvency?
And finally, there’s a more pressing threat to American security than that of an outside aggressor—and that’s the fiscal crisis that has gutted the American economy. Despite warnings from economics experts like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Ha Joon Chang and George Soros, Obama has continued on the disastrous fiscal path laid out by his predecessors, a laissez faire, trickle down model of free market economics that has proven to be a dismal failure. The unregulated banks and Wall Street continue to work their risky, voodoo-like parlor tricks with impunity, without caveat, and with the subsidy of the American taxpayer. It’s endless borrowing—a habit we may soon have to kick cold turkey if Standard and Poor decides to rescind our ‘AAA’ credit standing; no one will want our then useless dollars, and the bonds that China, our biggest creditor, holds will be completely worthless—and its ‘cash-for-trash’ economics. We are headed for the abyss, and this, too, is happening on Obama’s watch.
I suppose that life is a victory party here, a loss and a lament there, and we have to manage to survive in the spaces in between. Metaphysics and philosophy aside, however, I still have to feel a little sorry for the brother because, despite his magnificent play over the weekend, he’s still holding a questionable hand—and after all, what good is a poker face when you have very little to play? The jury is still out on the president’s various gambits, but this weekend he showed some pluck. I know he’s in a Catch-22 situation, being the first and all, but, hopefully, this is a harbinger of more victories to come. The alternative is quite scary—right now, we all sink or swim with Barack Obama.