Osama bin Laden is dead. Now what?

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

By now everyone has heard the news: US military forces killed Osama bin Laden and buried his body at sea.

The reason the war in Afghanistan started.

People are celebrating, and rightly or wrongly giving the President credit. By why does it matter?

 

Why does bin Laden’s killing matter? Operationally, it doesn’t at all–he wasn’t any kind of a tactical or strategic mastermind and wasn’t behind ongoing attacks by the Taliban. And yet, his death does matter to people. People are celebrating.

The word thrown around is “closure.” Bin Laden is dead, so now we can move on. That’s what closure means. But what is closed? What is ended? Whether you are on the right or the left, whether you consider the 9-11 attacks as a fundamentalist reaction to American freedom, Western civilization, American colonialism/imperialism, or globalism, you have to acknowledge that bin Laden’s death actually addresses none of those things (or the reaction in the Islamic world to them). If those sentiments have cooled somewhat, it’s only because the center of the global economy since 2001 has shifted to China, and because American capitalism since 2008 is not the juggernaut it once was.

This is why it matters: on September 12, 2001, we started telling ourselves a story, a revenge fantasy, about killing the people who attacked us. The war was never explained this way. It was always justified as a being about democracy or anti-terrorism generally, but that vengeance is what drove us collectively on, and why so many feel “closure” today. Bin Laden had to die so the war could end. In fact, his death literally defines the end. The 9-11 dead have been avenged.

Politically, we now have the political/rhetorical cover to end the war in Afghanistan that costs over $70 billion a year and has cost $345 billion since it started. We needed something to declare victory over, and now we have it. That’s also the significance of announcing this on the 8-year anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech. But we ask yourself this: was it worth the price? Was it worth 1400+ US casualties, $345 billion, and the loss of prestige and influence in world affairs, all to kill one asshole?

And do you really think the war will end? People fight wars for all kinds of emotional reasons, it’s easy for governments and leaders to spin people up over religion or culture or revenge to support a war on someone else.

But nation states do not fight wars for these reasons, or they don’t exist as states for very long. States fight wars over resources. I will even go so far as to say that all wars in the post-Cold War era are fought over scarce resources. States go to war because according to some economic and material calculus, war is necessary to maintain not their survival but the status quo.

The reason the war in Afghanistan will continue. Click to enlarge.

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves.

 

All wars are fought over scarce resources, and this one has been no different. The conduct of the war can change, we can even stop calling it a war and call it something else (“a continuing presence”), but the war will continue. There is simply too much money at stake.



Why don’t you believe bin Laden is dead?
 

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50 Responses to Osama bin Laden is dead. Now what?

  1. JohnJ says:

    Well, I really disagree. First of all, we didn’t invade Afghanistan primarily to get bin Laden, but to destroy the Taliban stronghold that was protecting him and al Qaeda. The reason that we stayed was to protect the innocent people of Afghanistan. We’d have liked to have gotten Osama, sure. You simply cannot attribute all that money and those lives to that one goal of getting OBL. The idea that America invaded Afghanistan for natural resources is preposterous. When we leave Afghanistan, as we eventually will, those natural resources will be in the hands of the Afghani people.

    Secondly, America didn’t hunt down bin Laden for “vengeance”, but for justice. It should be self-evident that Osama’s intentional murder of thousands of innocent civilians was unjust, as was his continued freedom after destroying so many lives. We do not respond to murders by shrugging our shoulders and letting the murderers just continue on with their lives as though nothing happened. People are celebrating a partial amelioration of the injustice of this mass murderer going free while his victims are dead and their families continue to suffer from the loss. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. And Adam Smith pointed out that “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.”

    Justice matters.

    • ThomasR says:

      “First of all, we didn’t invade Afghanistan primarily to get bin Laden, but to destroy the Taliban stronghold that was protecting him and al Qaeda. The reason that we stayed was to protect the innocent people of Afghanistan.”

      Although I agree with you more than I agree with Pastabagel, I’m not sure this is completely accurate. The reason we invaded was to get bin Laden and the Taliban, yes. But I’m not sure that the reason we stayed was simply to protect innocent afghanistanis. It was/is part of it, absolutely. But probably not the whole story. The whole story may or may not include resources. I think it probably does.

      Regarding this issue, both Pastabagel and you seem to see it as a black/white question. I’m not convinced. I just can’t be as idealistic as you two. I don’t believe nation-states are as Good as you seem to think, and I don’t think they’re nearly as Rational as Pastabagel seems to think.

  2. towle says:

    Tangent:

    Not that it matters (if you know what I mean) but how skeptical is everybody?

  3. Pops says:

    JohnJ… “When we leave Afghanistan, as we eventually will, those natural resources will be in the hands of the Afghani people. ”

    The problem is there is no real Afghanistan State and the current government is so corrupt that nothing will ever be in the hands of “Afghani” people.

    “We do not respond to murders by shrugging our shoulders and letting the murderers just continue on with their lives as though nothing happened. ”

    Sometime we do, sometimes we don’t. I guess it all depends on who the murders happen to be. But when we go after people, we used to have a trial and prove their guilt. Osama was not wanted by the FBI for 9/11. http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten

    We already caught the guys who didn’t die in the attack. one of them is sitting in Gitmo.
    The mastermind of those attacks, according to the US government, is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – who was arrested for them in 2003, and is still in Gitmo being illegally held without trial.

    But you’re right about one thing – justice matters. It’s all about how it’s done.

    • JohnJ says:

      Trials are, of course, just a human invention. They’re not the end-all, be-all of justice. Many trials end in injustice, unfortunately. (And, of course, our Constitution guarantees trials only for American citizens.)

      Justice is not “all about how it’s done.” I agree that we want to do it using the best methodology we can. And I think we can agree that this was not the absolute best end result. But why let perfection be the enemy of the good? It’s good that Osama was delivered some amount of justice, even if imperfectly. This is, I have no doubt whatsoever, better than doing nothing.

      Civilization, unfortunately, is just a social construct. Any form of justice we attempt to impose will be imperfect. Progress is a struggle, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. America isn’t perfect, but compared to most other countries, we’re doing pretty good. We should be adult enough recognize that we have flaws without condemning us as worse than, say, China.

      • Comus says:

        Justice, you might also note, is a human invention as well, and rather subjective at that. And you might also argue that every human is a social construct in and of itself, as without the presence of other people tend to die.

        Anywho, on the point and back to subjectivity. I am quite appalled at the images of dancing and cheering people, as it alludes quite strongly to the images portrayed after 9/11, where some people were dancing on the streets. In the US it appeared to raise hatred and strengthen negative stereotypes. Wonder what will these images evoke in people who perceive, for example, US military operations in a foreign country (say, Pakistan), as oppression? Hopefully not much. Happy that it took 10 years, as Osama the Symbol has faded nicely, and the reactions will probably be quite minimal.

        I just wonder who will be the next nemesis. If history is anything to go by it is some former US accomplish, from usually about 15 or so years before (Vietkong [against the French], Saddam, Osama etc.).

        I’m still happy this nonsense is over with, and the overall gene pool is a bin Laden shorter. Not the best option (which would be a trial), but bearable. It started to remind of a situation where there’s an irritating fly in your room, and you end up knocking over the tv, spilling coffee on the sofa, injuring the golden retriever and braking your spouses heritage vase, just to get that one nonchalantly buzzing fly dead before it perishes of kidney and liver diseases.

        • JohnJ says:

          I don’t agree that justice is a human invention. Humans invent methods to create/support/encourage/apply justice. But it is my belief that justice exists as an objective reality, and we just try to discover what it is, as opposed to merely inventing it. (And I also don’t agree that humans are social constructs. Humans die whether they are in society or not. The reasons why they join society is because society offers benefits, but I don’t believe this means that humans are fictional constructs of society. But maybe this isn’t what you meant.)

  4. CubaLibre says:

    I think the celebrations are mostly about relief in a reinvigorated sense of American exceptionalism. Since 9/11 we’ve faced military embarrassment after embarrassment, a tough pill to swallow for generations raised on the stories of old Uncle Sam riding in on a white horse to save Europe, and the world, from fascism. We’ve taken pride in a lot of things, but none more than our military – we habitually regard the militaries of lesser countries as a joke. And yet we’ve faced so much failure it seemed like that habit was on the wane.

    The post-assassination celebration is a collective sigh and forehead-wipe. Whew! When we really need to, we actually CAN reach out and touch someone. USA #1! That it took ten years and ended with a brief firefight in an overblown mansion should actually be a sign of our imperial decline, but the overwhelming feeling of WE GOT HIM drowns out that bit of rationality.

  5. robotslave says:

    This would be quite a bit better if you hadn’t tacked on the unnecessary claim that modern wars are fought for resources, backed by a press release issued by the pentagon (let that sink in for a minute).

    The “newly discovered” mineral deposits weren’t new at all, and more importantly, they’re not the kind that are worth fighting over– instead they’re the expensive-to-extract kind, and would still be even in an imaginary Afghanistan that had the roads, rail, water supply systems, and other infrastructure needed for large-scale mining operations.

    • CarbonCopy says:

      The “newly discovered” mineral deposits weren’t new at all, and more importantly, they’re not the kind that are worth fighting over– instead they’re the expensive-to-extract kind, and would still be even in an imaginary Afghanistan that had the roads, rail, water supply systems, and other infrastructure needed for large-scale mining operations.

      You mean like oil? Because no one fights over that either.

    • lemmycaution says:

      We are certainly more likely to invade other countries because of they have oil. (see Iraq) But those mineral deposits in Afghanistan are not a big deal and are not the reason we are at war in Afghanistan.

      The Taliban allowed Al Quiada to freely operate in Afghanistan. We invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban. We probably should have just got the Taliban to hand over Osama.

    • Pastabagel says:

      Expensive-to-extract is relative to the value of the resource extracted. The price of copper increased 40% and the price of gold 30% since the chart accompanying the map I included were published in the Times. That means that at the margin, copper that was too expensive to extract in 2010 may no longer be so under current price conditions.

      And these are the prices in a global recession. Minerals aren’t going to be less expensive if there’s a global economy boom.

      Finally, the longer the information about the minerals has been around, the stronger my point becomes. But relative to the information in the map I provided, yes, the USGS knew about that (publicly) since about 2007: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2007/3063/fs2007-3063.pdf

      • claudius says:

        Minerals aren’t going to be less expensive if there’s a global economy boom.

        Depends. If a government uses fiat currency and the economy is booming then the price of precious metals will tank.

        E.g., tech boom.
        Gold: http://www.kitco.com/scripts/hist_charts/yearly_graphs.plx
        Silver: http://www.kitco.com/scripts/hist_charts/yearly_graphs.plx

        It’s actually quite incredible how low gold dropped during the late 90’s/tech boom.

        Observe that since then there has been a significant upward trend with all of the precious metals…e.g., gold increased by about 5x since 2000.

        But there is “no inflation.” Hah. We’re on the verge of a worldwide economic meltdown.

        Side note: there’s a rumor going around the precious metals traders blogosphere that the US sold China salted bricks (gold plated tungsten) during the peak of the tech boom. If this is true, this means that there’s significantly less gold being stored in banks….lack of supply => explosion in price

        Anyway, I think you’re 100% correct about those resources. They are not going down in price anytime soon, in fact, quite the contrary. We are coming up on a supercycle for the price of precious metals because of the Fed’s policies. The reason why it’s a supercycle is because our economies are so interconnected now, and the dollar is the currency of the world. And the dollar is tanking.

        It won’t surprise me if we go back to some sort of precious metals backed currency, either in the US or on the global scale. If this happens, there will be an even lower supply of PMs.

        If the breast of Gaia is torn asunder, we will go to pillage new worlds.

  6. sleeper says:

    “I will even go so far as to say that all wars in the post-Cold War era are fought over scarce resources. States go to war because according to some economic and material calculus, war is necessary to maintain not their survival but the status quo.”
    I wonder how would you fit the Balkan wars, and the US engagement in them, into this straitjacket.

    • Pastabagel says:

      Yes I would. This is a map of gas pipelines into Europe. Notice Europe’s dependence on Russia for natural gas, and the possibility of extending pipelines into Europe from the oil producing countries of the middle east through the Balkans.

      I leave it to you to figure out Russia’s interests, and the US’s interests given Russia’s. Notice also the routes that run through Georgia and South Ossetia, and then recall the abortive uprisings there a few years ago.

      This isn’t a conclusion I came to casually this morning. Countries don’t spend $345 billion of money they don’t have on ideology. (And that figure doesn’t even include Iraq.)

      • JohnJ says:

        Wars not fought for natural resources: the American Civil War, World War 2, Vietnam, Korea, etc. There are many others, but these are ones where most people recognize the absence of the desire for natural resources, I think. But I don’t think that will convince you, because it sounds like your concerns are deeper than that.

        There’s no evidence that Afghanistan was fought for natural resources. America invaded Afghanistan to dismantle a regime that was coddling the planners of the 9/11 attacks. Given that that was the primary point of discussion in the lead-up to the invasion (and not natural resources), it seems to me to be pretty clear.

        Unless you’re saying that natural resources should never even be considered, which I think would be unwise. Strategy demands that actions which will have their costs reimbursed are much more likely to be engaged in than actions that come at a great cost. If we’re debating whether justice requires a given action, an argument that the proposed course of action is cost-prohibitive is perfectly valid. “It may be just, but we can’t afford it,” is a reasonable objection. And whenever someone does make that objection, the counter-argument would be that the cost would be reimbursed somehow. That’s perfectly reasonable too.

        I can completely understand if the objection is that there is no just basis for war, that it is being fought solely for the acquisition of treasure. But if the war is otherwise just, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that the wrongdoer should pay for the administration of justice against him.

        Similarly, people who confess and cooperate have shorter sentences.

        So it seems to me that if you’re arguing that the war was fought solely on the basis of the desire for natural resources, you have to make the argument that it was otherwise unjust.

        I don’t think you can make a reasonable argument for that regarding Afghanistan.

        • blithelyunaware says:

          “I will even go so far as to say that all wars in the post-Cold War era are fought over scarce resources.”

          “Wars not fought for natural resources: the American Civil War, World War 2, Vietnam, Korea, etc.”

          A case could be made that a war is unjust if its stated intention is not its actual intention, even if its stated intention would make it just.

          • JohnJ says:

            Sure, a process can be so corrupted as to delegitimatize what would otherwise be a just result. However, there’s no evidence that that’s the case with Afghanistan. Pastabagel’s entire argument rests on the fact that Afghanistan has some natural resources and the false premise that all wars are fought for natural resources. The mere fact that Afghanistan has natural resources does not prove that America invaded them to acquire those resources. I guess I just don’t understand how that argument can be justified when it’s so clear that we invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11. Once we found out that the Taliban was harboring al Qaeda, we invaded to destroy that network,and we stayed to prevent it (or a worse) from returning. I just don’t get how this can not be blindingly obvious to anyone.

            Maybe it’s just me.

          • Comus says:

            A case could also be made that a war is unjust if it breaks the UN Charter, but that debate has already been won many times over, and would be probably too heated to digest.

            Maybe not all wars are being fought strictly for resources, some are fought also for the system surrounding the resources, such as privatized railways, processing, mining, housing etc. The US fears China will come and share the mineral loot, so it has to quickly install a system that leans westward (especially after the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline vs the trans-Afghansitan pipeline disaster). Also one might ponder on the Opium trade that has exploded after the Taleban rule (which banned it) to over 50% of the nations GDP.

            And thank you blithelyunaware on pointing ot those quotes.

          • blithelyunaware says:

            If we had only invaded Afghanistan then I might agree that we were only looking to flush out al Qaeda and OBL, but to the consternation of me and many others we also invaded Iraq.

            I think Pastabagel hit the nail on the head with his(?) implication that countries don’t spend hundreds of billions just to depose religious zealots, even very evil ones.

          • Pastabagel says:

            First, I said all wars in the post-Cold War era. Let’s arbitrarily begin that era with the Berlin wall.

            Second, every country on earth has some natural resources. Afghanistan has a lot of valuable natural resources, upwards of $1 trillion at current prices.

            JohnJ, you are conflating proximate and underlying causes. Obviously the 9-11 attacks and bin Laden’s affiliation with the Afghanistan government were proximate causes of the war. But bin laden and the taliban haven’t been in control in Afghanistan for years. And bin Laden was ultimately found in Pakistan! And now that he’s dead, and the Taliban are out of power, do you hear any statements from credible politicians in either party suggesting withdrawal from Afghanistan?

          • JohnJ says:

            “First, I said all wars in the post-Cold War era. Let’s arbitrarily begin that era with the Berlin wall.”

            I just don’t get why you make this distinction (let’s just say “modern”). Do you believe that something happened that caused people to change from fighting over honor and ideology? Why is it unreasonable to think that America would go to war after an attack that killed thousands of us? (Note: I actually think that classical wars were more often fought over land and resources, and modern wars have more often been fought over honor and ideology. But I believe that has been a gradual change due to the global rise in prosperity. As people all over the world have become more prosperous, they fight less over resources. Poorer nations have more conflict. Richer nations have fewer, but more devastating, conflicts.)

            “Second, every country on earth has some natural resources. Afghanistan has a lot of valuable natural resources, upwards of $1 trillion at current prices.”

            Doesn’t this actually undermine your point? Isn’t this a bit like saying that, since everyone we go to war against breathes oxygen, it must be true that we go to war against people to stop them from using oxygen? Are we supposed to only go to war against countries that don’t have natural resources? But that would rule all of them out! And then how would we defend ourselves from aggressors if we announce that we will no longer go to war, even if attacked?

            “JohnJ, you are conflating proximate and underlying causes. Obviously the 9-11 attacks and bin Laden’s affiliation with the Afghanistan government were proximate causes of the war. But bin laden and the taliban haven’t been in control in Afghanistan for years.”

            We went into Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power, but we stayed to protect the innocent people from aggressors (since we removed the defending power), to prevent a “power vacuum”, and to prevent al Qaeda from re-establishing a base there. This makes perfect sense to me. It seems to me to be way more reasonable than believing that we used the attack as an excuse to invade Afghanistan and… do what with it again? How are we stripping this country of its natural resources? I just don’t get it.

            “And bin Laden was ultimately found in Pakistan! And now that he’s dead, and the Taliban are out of power, do you hear any statements from credible politicians in either party suggesting withdrawal from Afghanistan?”

            Are you predicting that we’ll be in Afghanistan forever? Is there some testable hypothesis here? When we leave, which we will eventually, is there any outcome which would disprove your theory?

          • Pastabagel says:

            JohnJ,

            Let’s be clear. We, meaning the people who vote and the soldiers and troops, may be motivated by honor or ideology. The state isn’t. It is motivated by economics because that determines its level of existence if not its survival.

            So, sure, maybe some of the reason people endorsed, perhaps even demanded, the invasion of Afghanistan were for the ideological reasons you mention. But didn’t those ideological reasons exist in Rawanda? Don’t they currently exist in Nigeria and the Sudan? Dishonor and injustice are everywhere, but we don’t everywhere. In fact, we fight quite rarely.

            My distinction over the post-Cold War era is deliberate. First, that is the era in which market capitalism emerged as the only functional organizing economic principle in the world. Even communist China embraced it.

            So in the era where free market capitalism dominates, when are countries going to expend vast economic resources to fight a war? When the numbers work out.

            My point is that Afghanistan is an outlier when it comes to resources. It has unexpectedly reserves (according to the USGS in 2007) and absolutely no ability to exploit them. I am not suggesting that we are there to seize thenm for our own. We are there simply to ensure that they (1)make it onto the global commodities market; and (2) US companies participate in the profits.

            And let me be clear: I’m not necessarily criticizing this either. It would be the epitome of lunacy to commit $345 billion we don’t have to kill this guy and at the end not have anything to show for it.

            Finally, recall that when asked if he knew where bin Laden was, then President Bush responded that he didn’t know or care, and that bin laden wasn’t a priority. So what was the priority?

          • JohnJ says:

            “We, meaning the people who vote and the soldiers and troops, may be motivated by honor or ideology. The state isn’t. It is motivated by economics because that determines its level of existence if not its survival.”

            Lestat, c’est nous. “The state” is no more motivated by economics than we as a people are. Just looking at the horrifying economic decisions that the state is making convinces me that the state does what the people want it to do, right or wrong, good or bad. The state responds to the demands of the people. Another way of putting it is that if President Bush hadn’t invaded Afghanistan, President Kerry would have. (Yes, I do caveat this with politicians doing their best to push us in the direction they think we should go. But they can only do so much.)

            “So, sure, maybe some of the reason people endorsed, perhaps even demanded, the invasion of Afghanistan were for the ideological reasons you mention. But didn’t those ideological reasons exist in Rawanda? Don’t they currently exist in Nigeria and the Sudan? Dishonor and injustice are everywhere, but we don’t everywhere. In fact, we fight quite rarely.”

            I said, “America invaded Afghanistan to dismantle a regime that was coddling the planners of the 9/11 attacks.” You’re right that injustice is everywhere, but the 9/11 attacks were against us. (And even if we did invade Rwanda, the Balkans, or, say, Libya, conspiracy mongers would still claim it was just for the natural resources. As the President has noted more than once, there’s no proof sufficient to persuade some people.) Natural resources, honor, and justice are, of course, not the only reasons countries go to war. There are a lot of factors, some good, some not so good. And when those factors align, as they did for Afghanistan, we act. In the case of Afghanistan, we were clearly in the right. Does that mean that every single American had absolutely pure motives? No, but I don’t think that should be the standard. It was the right thing to do.

            “Finally, recall that when asked if he knew where bin Laden was, then President Bush responded that he didn’t know or care, and that bin laden wasn’t a priority. So what was the priority?”

            See above.

            It’s been almost ten years. If the plan were to invade Afghanistan for its natural resources, it didn’t work out very well. In general, of course, a peaceful country will develop a market for what it can offer.

          • Pastabagel says:

            I think we are getting down to the central argument here. I think you are arguing that the state acts on behalf of the people who constitute it, and when those people what to fight for justice, honor, and other ideological reasons, then the state acts. In this particular case, the 9/11 attacks make that injustice qualitatively different than the injustice in Rwanda, etc, so our response in Afghanistan is different. (is this a fair assessment?)

            My point is that states always only act out of economic self-interest, and that in this particular phase of history that means conflicts over natural resources. Not markets, not territory, but resources, specifically energy, metals, and water.

            What your analysis is ignoring is the role of corporations, who spend untold billions on lobbying, and backing candidates, and whose influence in government dwarfs that of individuals. If the state is us, then where do corporations fit, and what do you think they are spending all that money on lobbying and influence for.

            But let’s say you are completely right about Afghanistan. So how do you explain invading Iraq, but not Iran? How do you explain that we committed 7-10 times more troops to Iraq than Afghanistan annually from 2003-2008? For democracy? What about democracy in Iran? Or Russia, for that matter?

            I agree with you 100% that the communication from leadership to people is entirely ideological, and reasons and justifications are explained in those terms. But the ideology is inconsistent from situation to situation. What is consistent is the cold calculus involved in fighting over resources. Rwanda has nothing of value, so they get words. Iraq has tremendous of value, and a government that is easy to topple relative to say, Iran, so we invade.

            Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know how to answer that. Right for who?

          • JohnJ says:

            “I think you are arguing that the state acts on behalf of the people who constitute it, and when those people what to fight for justice, honor, and other ideological reasons, then the state acts. In this particular case, the 9/11 attacks make that injustice qualitatively different than the injustice in Rwanda, etc, so our response in Afghanistan is different. (is this a fair assessment?)”

            The American ruling power is, I think, more beholden to the will of the people than in most other countries. There is certainly room to argue argue about whether or not this is a good thing. The 9/11 attacks were against Americans,
            so it was only natural for Americans to respond more to it than to attacks against non-Americans (for better or worse, this is the way people are). I think it is true that the decision to invade Afghanistan was supported and encouraged by an overwhelming majority of Americans. Even if the ruling class had thought it to be a bad idea, they really had little choice. The only way the ruling class stays the ruling class is by not denying the people too much of what they want. (Certainly there are many issues where the ruling class disagrees with the people about what is good for America, and I do believe the ruling class does as much as it can to retain power for itself first, and then do what is best for America. I think this includes manipulating the people. However, I do believe there are limits to this power. Politicians can’t even keep their affairs secret.)

            “My point is that states always only act out of economic self-interest, and that in this particular phase of history that means conflicts over natural resources. Not markets, not territory, but resources, specifically energy, metals, and water.”

            I understand this point, but I don’t think this is “always” true. I’m sure we could have a long, thorough discussion about what constitutes “natural resources” and “self-interest”. Machiavelli says that what is good for the state is good for the people. Rousseau says that what’s good for the people is good for the state. Much of the problem is in simply defining these terms. What is good? Who is the state? In America, to a higher degree than in most any other country, the people are the ruling class. The idea behind voting is that the people could throw out the ruling class if they misbehaved. This, supposedly, makes the people the sovereign, which makes them responsible for the decisions of the state. (Although many argue that the bourgeoisie has more power than the proletariat. In my opinion, these two are more equal than in most any other country, therefore the proletariat as (almost) as responsible as the bourgeoisie for the state’s actions. My emphasis here is that these two don’t have to be exactly equal for them to be more equal than in other places.)

            And I know there is a huge gap between theory and reality. But it is still true to a large degree that the people rule. The reality is that the two parties are more alike than they are different. That’s a source of frustration to a lot of people. But I don’t think that is (entirely) because the politicians are manipulating us. I think it’s because they’re responding to us. In other words, the fact that they’re so similar is a result of the people having so much power, not a sign that they’re in conspiracy against us.

            “What your analysis is ignoring is the role of corporations, who spend untold billions on lobbying, and backing candidates, and whose influence in government dwarfs that of individuals. If the state is us, then where do corporations fit, and what do you think they are spending all that money on lobbying and influence for.”

            Corporations are creations of the state. Laws control what corporations are allowed and required to do. And the people create the laws. I think what you’re asking here is really about the corruption in the system. Politicians give (taxpayer) money to corporations, who give money to politicians. Some people argue that all government is corruption (Mao made the point that all political power arises from the barrel of a gun). America’s political system has certainly become more corrupted over time, greatly insulating the ruling class from accountability. (Relatively speaking. Again, our ruling class is one of the most accountable in the world.) Our corporate law system is a complete disaster. The really odd thing, though, is that the system has actually been improving in the last couple of decades. Corporations have been losing many of the liability protections that are their basis for existence, even though the amount of money they’ve been sucking from the system has grown exponentially. If you want to totally abolish the corporate system, I and two others of my graduating class are with you. Unfortunately, nearly everybody else, conservatives and liberals alike, want to maintain it.

            But the system is giving people what they want, whether it’s good for them or not.

            “But let’s say you are completely right about Afghanistan. So how do you explain invading Iraq, but not Iran? How do you explain that we committed 7-10 times more troops to Iraq than Afghanistan annually from 2003-2008? For democracy? What about democracy in Iran? Or Russia, for that matter?”

            To avoid getting bogged down in the details, I’ll agree that “Iraq has tremendous of value, and a government that is easy to topple relative to say, Iran, so we invade. ” Essentially, this is a cost/benefit analysis, which is what I think we use, generally speaking. I just think people include things other than “natural resources” in the analysis. Certainly we include the risk of a future attack (as best as we can estimate it with available intelligence), and we include the direct cost to us (“easy to topple”), and we include everything of value (including honor, to the degree we value it), and we add everything up and weigh the cost against the benefit, relative to other possible courses of action. I think this is a good formula, though I’m certainly open to the argument that it may be calculated incorrectly from time to time.

            “Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know how to answer that. Right for who?”

            Granted, we all have different beliefs about what makes something good. I believe that the invasion of Afghanistan was good for all of humanity for several reasons: we eliminated one safe harbor for terrorists, we brought the Afghani people more freedom, prosperity, and enlightenment than they had ever had, we destabilized a part of the world that was becoming worse, and, with luck, will bring that area forward with us. Did we pay a cost? Yes, some Americans more than others. Was the benefit worth it? I think so, and I think that we will see more benefits in the future.

            I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted now.

      • xylokopos says:

        You are embarrassing yourself, PB.

        Look, look, natural gas pipelines between England and Scotland! Maybe that’s why Mel Gibson was so pissed on in Braveheart.

        • xylokopos says:

          But forgetting all the other stuff for a while – copper prices and the balkan wars and the weather in mindanao and all that – we have the fact that OBL is dead. [ I take it as a fact, even though the narrative about how it came to be can be anything from factually correct to utter rubbish, because I cannot see how they would have announced this if it were not verified, the fallout of that fuckup would be immense]
          Now what? Asks PB.
          Well, even though the world is still messed up and atrocities ranging from genocide to boy bands still persist, the world is marginally better off because a massive prick that devoted life, money, skill and willpower to making things worse off for everyone is dead.

  7. ThomasR says:

    This argument has been made before, sometimes convincingly. However, I think approaching the question in such a binary fashion is, ah, stupid (apologies for the strong language, am tired and can’t think of appropriate word). For one thing, it supposes that people are completely rational. Really?

    I think it is clear that the US invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11. If you want to argue that resources were a consideration pre-invasion, I think that’s probably incorrect. If you want to argue that resources are a/the reason that we’re still there, I think you have a stronger argument.

    The interesting thing about arguing that Afghanistan was invaded because of resources is that it supposes that the US anticipated 9/11, planned 9/11, or that the military/politicians are a LOT more cynical than even the most radical hippie ever dreamed.

    • operator says:

      I think it is clear that the US invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11.

      The idea that America would only go to war in response to a real threat is strikingly naive in light of past reprisals from decorated generals like Smedley Butler and Dwight Eisenhower.

      Are you familiar with the work of the Project for the New American Century?

      Absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—a twenty-first century Pearl Harbor—the process of transformation is likely to be a long one.

      Preserving Pax Americana [January, 2001]

      It would be stupid to ignore the plans (what, exactly, did they hope to transform America into? …take a look around…) of an organization backed by recognizable names in DC like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John McCain, and even Dan Quayle… wouldn’t it?

      • JohnJ says:

        “The idea that America would only go to war in response to a real threat is strikingly naive in light of past reprisals from decorated generals like Smedley Butler and Dwight Eisenhower.”

        I don’t disagree. But the idea that America won’t go to war in response to a real threat is just silly.

        Why do people believe strange things? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T_jwq9ph8k

        As Michael Shermer points out, people believe in conspiracies because they think they see a pattern, and they begin to interpret all new evidence in terms of the pattern as they see it, and disregarding evidence that contradicts it. And then they begin to believe in bizarre conspiracy theories because they have to continuously stretch the available data to fit their beliefs, rather than abandoning beliefs that don’t fit the data.

        For example, if Dan Quayle’s organization ran the world, wouldn’t he be president? No, because Barack Obama is part of the same organization!

        Of course, all people (including people in organizations) advocate to promote their beliefs about what will make the world better. But advocacy is not a conspiracy. Keeping track of where the data points fail will help you distinguish between weird beliefs that have to be continuously stretched to fit new data, and simply following the data to a logical conclusion. Good luck.

        • Pastabagel says:

          There was an attack in 1993 that we didn’t go to war over. Then two embassy bombings in Africa, then the bombing of a military housing complex in Saudi Arabia, then the attack on the USS Cole. We didn’t go to war over any of those.

          And yet, we did go to war in the Balkans, even though they never actually attacked or even threatened us. And we invaded Iraq in 1991…to do what, exactly, if not to protect oil interest in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia?

          This isn’t a conspiracy theory. If we send 20,000 troops to straighten things out in the Sudan–a situation rapidly approaching genocide, I’ll eat crow. IF it turns out that Afghanistan has no exploitable minerals, and we stay there for the next 10 years, then I’ll happily admit I’m wrong.

          But ask yourself this: If gas was $10 a gallon, don’t you think that would constitute a “real threat” to the United States? If the price of technology products doubled due to the costs of materials, don’t you think that would constitute a threat to the economy, which relies on continually improving technology to drive productivity growth?

          • JohnJ says:

            The 9/11 attacks are clearly more significant than the others you mention. We acted to protect Kuwait because Kuwait is an ally. Just like we would act to protect Canada if someone invaded them. Sudan is not an ally.

            What about Libya? Why would we act against Libya when they’re already selling us their oil? And why did we go into the Balkans? What did we get out of that?

            Why would we go to war for oil when we have plenty of that natural resource here in America?

            And of course this is a conspiracy theory. What else would you call it?

      • JohnJ says:

        And I don’t know what organizations President Obama is or is not a member of (other than the Democrat Party). That was just an example of a possible way the theory would be stretched to fit the data. Of course, people come up with all kinds of ways to stretch theories, so you may have other ideas.

        • operator says:

          The idea that America won’t go to war in response to a real threat is just silly.

          Name one Wall Street financier who is serving time for the fraudulent underwriting and malfeasance which the housing crash has been attributed to.

          Sure, they didn’t kill anyone, but if a kid off the street can go to jail for the better part of his lifetime over a handful of psychoactive substances (we declared war on those, if you recall) there probably should be a war on corruption too.

          Why do people believe strange things?

          Is it really such a “strange thing” to see a connection between the stated goals of an organization supported by political leaders and well-publicized events?

          The strangest thing a person could choose to believe would be a world in which others did not conspire to enrich themselves at the cost of others; if you want to pretend the food chain is “theoretical”, please take up that issue with the aforementioned whistleblowers’ arguments.

          • JohnJ says:

            Clearly, the war on drugs is being waged solely to wrest control of the natural resources of… wait, how is this supposed to work again? The war on drugs is like invading Afghanistan because large shadowy organizations are using the President to control Afghanistan’s vast reserves of natural resources (as opposed to those of, say, Brazil, South Africa, or Sudan. Hey, why don’t they want Sudan’s natural resources? There’s a good deal of public support for getting involved in Sudan. Why aren’t we stealing their resources?)?

            “Is it really such a “strange thing” to see a connection between the stated goals of an organization supported by political leaders and well-publicized events?”

            What is strange is dismissing facts that do not conform to what you want to believe. What about all the stated goals that don’t happen? Look at how much power they don’t have. I think the better approach is to evaluate a given set of options on their own merits (e.g. Should we invade Afghanistan? What are the costs and benefits?).

            Are people trying to enrich themselves at other people’s expense? In a word: duh. That will be true so long as there are people. I heartily endorse skepticism, especially of politicians whose response to everything is “please give me more power.” But that doesn’t mean that we have to subscribe to every insane conspiracy theory out there.

            Which is more likely: America invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks or America invaded Afghanistan, who just happened to be harboring a group that committed a terrorist attack which, purely coincidentally, killed thousands of Americans less than a month prior, for their natural resources, which, ten years later, we’ve not seen any of?

            If your answer to the question is “b”, you need help.

          • operator says:

            Clearly, the war on drugs is being waged solely to wrest control of the natural resources of… wait, how is this supposed to work again?

            In the 21 years from 1989 to 2009, an estimated $10.9 billion in assets were seized by U.S. Attorneys in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time frame averaged +17%. The value of assets seized in 2009 was four times greater than that for 1989.

            Asset Forfeiture

            There are the facts – how you ignore them is up to you.

          • Fifi says:

            “Clearly, the war on drugs is being waged solely to wrest control of the natural resources of… wait, how is this supposed to work again?”

            Natural resources are only useful because they can be turned into money, both the “War on Drugs” and actual wars tap more directly into the money by moving it from public coffers into the bank accounts of private industry. Wars are very very profitable for people who make weapons. The other thing you don’t seem to realize is that drugs are a natural resource (renewable but still natural) that do a thriving trade around the world, keeping them illegal is highly profitable for some organizations who manufacture and deal arms (as well as the sellers of drugs).

          • JohnJ says:

            So just to be clear, you’re saying that asset forfeiture laws prove that America invaded Afghanistan not because of 9/11, but for its natural resources? And this makes sense to you?

            But wait, why did we have drug laws before we had asset forfeiture laws if the purpose of drug laws was to steal people’s natural resources?

            Or is it more likely that asset forfeiture laws were developed for the same purpose as punitive damages in civil suits: to punish people beyond the damage they caused so as to discourage others from doing the same thing? Have asset forfeiture laws been abused since they were created? Of course! Politicians will do everything they can to get more power over other people’s lives. This is why we should be skeptical of politicians.

            You know what else the government does to increase its revenues? Speeding tickets! Does this mean that traffic laws are inherently corrupt?

            It is not true that all laws are created to steal from people. Nor are all wars over natural resources.

            Here is what I hear you saying, and please correct me if I’m mistaken: “The government has done bad things, therefore this was a bad thing.” If that’s what you’re saying, I think that’s a bit of an oversimplification. The world is a little more complex than that.

            Let me try saying it this way: Republicans often talk about “judicial activism” (what Republican-appointed judges actually do is another question). To support this argument, Republicans talk about all the bad things that judges have done when overturning legislation. However, does this mean that judges shouldn’t overturn legislation at all? But if judges don’t overturn bad laws, then they are upholding them. Likewise, if you’re arguing that wars (or asset forfeiture laws) are never justified, I think you’re wrong. I think our goal should be to do these things right. That means we should learn from our mistakes, not that we should refuse to ever do anything.

            Here’s an idea: start trying to predict what America will do next year based on whatever the Bilderberg group or the CFR or whoever is saying whatever, and when it doesn’t come true, maybe reconsider your premises. You should be able to make testable predictions and re-evaluate your position on the results. That’s just being rational.

          • JohnJ says:

            And stop getting your news from Prison Planet.

          • operator says:

            And stop getting your news from Prison Planet.

            You know, we might not differ so much in our views, but you’ve chosen to label me an Alex Jones follower and for that I will not stand.

            With much umbrage,

            – Disengaging

  8. boeotarch says:

    Maybe I’m just being a simpleton, but… there’s a guy who killed a bunch of us and now we killed him. I think we should be able to have a certain level of satisfaction from that, however primitive that satisfaction might be. Isn’t one of the main themes of this blog the fact that the human condition is inescapable?

    • philtrum says:

      But who is “we”? Who killed bin Laden?

      Americans, all ~300 million of you? New Yorkers? The U.S. government (Obama if you’re a Democrat, Bush if you’re a Republican)? The U.S. military? The specific U.S. military group that tracked bin Laden down in Pakistan? What kind of group identity is being imagined here?

      It seems to me that for a substantial number of the people cheering and chanting, this is about a man they’ve never met who killed thousands of people they’d never met and was then himself killed by other people they’ve never met. Saying “we” in this circumstance is making a pure identity claim, it’s got no relation to your life or your actions, it’s about who you imagine yourself to be.

      I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong to embrace a group identity of this sort. But it’s not obvious to me that it’s “the human condition” to do so.

  9. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    This was another excellent article, Pastabagel. What people need to know id the much much larger picture. There is a lot more going on than meets the eye.

  10. CarbonCopy says:

    Maybe another way to say it is if the main point of the war and invasion was to kill Bin Laden, couldn’t we have done it for less than $345 billion? I understand the guy was slippery, but if we really wanted to get him, it could have been done for much less. An investment like that speaks for itself.

  11. R. Nebblesworth says:

    And let me be clear: I’m not necessarily criticizing this either. It would be the epitome of lunacy to commit $345 billion we don’t have to kill this guy and at the end not have anything to show for it.

    So what? This only requires that the state have ends and means that appear to be crazy – which they do, all the time. States and other large organizations regularly engage in behavior that would be insane, sociopathic or even suicidal for an individual.

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