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“We are the champions”… and now? On Osama bin Ladin and Mexico

1 May 2011

WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden, the Saudi extremist whose al-Qaida terrorist organization killed more than 3,000 people in coordinated attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, is dead following a military operation in Pakistan and the U.S. has recovered his body, U.S. President Barack Obama announced Sunday night.

“Justice has been done,” the president declared as crowds formed outside the White House to celebrate, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “We Are the Champions,” NBC News reported…

(10 PM, Mazatlan time):

There is nothing wrong with cheering the death of Osama bin Ladin, but for us here, there’s something out of tune about the celebrations in Washington.

A few observations from Mexico.  The government here, at the behest of the United States, targeted — and killed — any number of supposedly indispensable men in generic evil-doing business.  While there’s a tendency to give these groups inappropriate names like “cartels”, or ridiculously inflated bureaucratic terms like “Transnational Criminal Organizations”, the Mexican fight has been against a known — and not all that complicated — an enemy:  gangsters.

Every time some “drug king-pin” has been blown away we’re told it’s an incredible victory for the government and the “war on drugs” … and the result is more violence, more mayhem.   Osama bin Ladin was a lot more sophisticated a businessman than our Sinaloan hillbillies, and Al Qaida — having an ideological underpinning to its criminal activities — a hell of a lot more sophisticated than our so-called “cartels.”  It’s absurd to think that Al Qaida doesn’t have a transition plan in place, if it hasn’t transitioned to a new management structure already.   Richard Engle (MSNBC) is probably right in saying that this is a “significant blow” to Al Qaida, but that the group is going to have to prove it is still relevant.

The U.S. has been supposedly waging not a war on Al Qaida, but a “war on terror” — the abstract noun that may have one referred specifically to bin Ladin’s organization, and by extension to similar armed ideological movements, but has proven elastic enough to cover nearly any organized violent resistance to the status quo; or, as with those who want to redefine Mexican gangsters as “terrorists”… any violent group without official state sanction; or… as with those who loosely define any objectionable group as “terrorist” (I’ve seen undocumented aliens referred to this way) … it can mean anything at all.

Or nothing.  What many worry about here in Mexico is that the “war” on organized crime (or drugs or “TCOs” or cartels or …) — like the U.S. “war on terror” — may have had identifiable targets on one time, but as the wars drag on inconclusively, and as they escalate, the targets become more nebulous, or the focus of the “war” becomes irrelevant.  Not completely dismissive of the suggestion that the Mexican government favors the Sinaloa “cartel” (or rather, the organized drug smuggling organizations allied with Chapo Guzmán), I can understand perfectly those in the U.S. who suggested that the “war on terror” was not about Osama bin Ladin, but about other things.  It’s to Mexico’s credit that while the United States was able to sell a war against Iraq as somehow related to the war on bin Ladin, no one here bought it, nor the Mexican government’s an attempt to tie harassment of the ELZN to narcotics smugglers.

In Mexico, the “war on drugs” — perhaps a reasonable way to deal with various criminal gangs — is morphing into a call for our own “PATRIOT Act”, that would give the President the discretion to define what constituted the type of unrest that called for military intervention.  I may not like it, but I accept the reasoning that those in regions where the criminal gangs operate, who want the military in control of  law enforcement (for now).  But, our “justice reform” proposals would not make the military a temporary law enforcement tool, but — by legitimizing military actions against civilians — also makes them the dispenser of justice.  And, from a bullet in the head, there is no appeal.

What frankly scares quite a number of people here is not that the criminals might “win”, but that the state will lose legitimacy.  Or, that in its infinite expansion of the “war on terror”, the United States will drop the pretense of “cooperation” and simply intervene directly in this country.  Which, of course, would lead to resistance, which would be labeled “terrorism”, which would require more intervention…

In the “War on Terror” the United States, by losing focus on its original goal, and by making “reforms” that justify its actions, has lost legitimacy as a just society in the eyes of many around the planet.  People in the U.S. tend to think in terms of win and loss… as if life is a game.  It’s not.   No one is keeping score, and if there ever was a goal in the hunt for Osama bin Ladin, it hasn’t been all that important in a very long time.  To claim “we are the champions of the world” is extremely short-sighted.

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