Live Clown in a Cave, Dead Schmuck on a T-Shirt
The other day I was debating somebody in the comments section of a blog
about the conduct of the war. They brought up the old chestnut of Osama Bin Laden's lack of expiration, as if failure to have his hide tacked to the wall of the West Wing was some kind of national disgrace. I don't like stale chestnuts, especially ones that are so morally vacuous and strategically bankrupt.
A lot of this rolls back to the Che Guevara threat of the 1960s. After 1959, Earnesto "Che" Guevara was an embarrassment to his friends while he lived. Apart from casual apparel iconography, can you think of any significant contribution the Argentine mastermind made? What are his revolutionary successes? Was he more valuable to his friends alive than dead?
There is a persistent rumor that the US Army Special Forces, having lost some of their own to Earnesto's tender mercies, decided to make him their special friend. Rather than just kill him, they kept him a live failure. Pissing off the Green Berets is actually a bad idea, they are smart and have a mean sense of humor and will milk a joke for everything they can. Allegedly, they ran all over him in the Congo, getting him to waste millions of Castro's seized dollars and hundreds of his loyal followers. In Bolivia, they could only keep the government from killing him so long and couldn't capture his arrogant ass themselves without tipping their hands. Regrettably, self-described revolutionary heroes don't survive catch and release programs with their ego intact.
Fast forward thirty-five years to Afghanistan where we have another iconographic hero with a weak grasp of strategy. Regardless of his value as an adornment to the White House, Bin Laden was surely setting himself up as a martyr for quite some time. He has repeatedly indicated his readiness for martyrdom, and that is a winning end-game for him. As long as he is dead, he cannot surrender his cause or grow old and become fearful. There is little left for him to accomplish in life, and probably he doesn't really have the imagination to conceive of a greater victory than he achieved on 9/11. The rest of his life is a succession of squalid victories and repeated defeats; soaking up resources while locked into a doctrine he must defend while he still draws breath.
The strategic thinkers who surround the President are probably perfectly willing to extend Osama's sorry decline as long as possible. As long as he is alive and failing, he is a strategic resource for the US. The leaders of Al Queda have to listen to him, because he can still excite their followers, but he must be supported in isolation at substantial cost. Only the most proven and loyal can guard him, draining potential leaders from the movement. All of his information is dated and all of his pronouncements are late; and there can be little of either to prevent their transmission being tracked. While he lives, Osama Bin Laden is a disaster for his movement, and they know it.
None of this mattered to the person I was debating. They wanted Osama dead because they were not interested in winning a war; they wanted to pursue a vendetta. Bin Laden had scared them once and killing him would give them a sense of security or completion or the feeling of accomplishment. They didn't care about the cost, the strategic consequences, or the value of the action; what matters are their feelings. Thankfully, our government is not constitutionally required to answer every tantrum. They are required to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and emotionally underdeveloped. It is in our national interest to keep this clown alive in a cave rather than put another dead schmuck on t-shirts everywhere.