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Posted by on May 6, 2011 in International, Politics, War | 6 comments

The European View of the Osama bin Laden Killing

From the NYT:

No European government has condemned or criticized the killing of Osama bin Laden by American commandos, but the questions raised about the changing details of his death sharpened considerably after the White House revealed that he did not fire a weapon, was not armed and did not use a woman as a protective shield.

Some are questioning whether “justice” in fact was done, as President Obama portrayed the killing, and whether the American troops made any effort to capture Bin Laden alive or whether they simply executed him. And some think that the scenes of celebrating Americans — whether at the White House or at ground zero — are inappropriate responses that are indecorous at the least and at worst could incite more terrorism.

The disquiet is mostly among those on the left and among the elite in the news media, but it is reminiscent of the atmosphere during the Bush administration and the war against Iraq, when the United States was criticized for unilateralism, arrogance, disrespect for international law, triumphalism and a resort to overwhelming military force.

To be fair, there is no monolithic European view. Opinions there are divided just as they everywhere else, though I suspect there is far more nuance there than, say, on Main Street America, where fist-pumping and flag-waving were, and remain, the order of the day.

There may be some “disquiet” on the left and in some parts of the media, but the Times is generalizing to the point of near-misrepresentation. Clearly not everyone on the European left, whatever that even means, is full of “disquiet.” And, indeed, I suspect that the vast majority of Europeans, including those on the left, are on the American “side.” Consider the outpouring of support after 9/11. We were all Americans then, were we not?

Besides, the concern isn’t so much with what happened but how it happened. Which is to say, the concern is that the U.S. acted unilaterally and applied its own brand justice. That is a legitimate concern, given American tendencies to act unilaterally and without much regard for anyone else, including Europeans, and I would also suggest that the view, which we’re not hearing much of from the U.S., that the U.S. should have taken Osama alive and subjected him to due process is similarly legitimate. And I share the view that some of the reaction to Osama’s killing was indeed somewhat “indecorous,” even if I understand the outpouring of patriotic glee and find little fault with it. I was not in a celebratory mood Sunday night, given the gravity of war, but that is not to say that Americans shouldn’t have let off a little steam.

Now, I actually don’t think that taking Osama alive would have made much sense, and I generally agree with what my friend Richard Barry yesterday about this. I say this with great trepidation, but Osama had to be killed. That was really the only option. A trial and everything surrounding it would have been a circus.

But it would behoove Americans, and all those celebrating what happened, to take seriously the other side. No, not Osama’s side, of course, but the side of those who are understandably experiencing some “disquiet” in the wake of what was, essentially, a state-ordered execution followed by some dishonest spin from the White House and its allies (Osama was living a life of luxury in a million-dollar mansion, Osama was armed and fought back, Osama used a woman as a human shield, etc.).

I remain convinced that it had to be done, though I find that spin unnecessary and counter-productive, as it undermines not the mythology of Osama bin Laden but American credibility. But, yes, “disquiet” is a good word for the certain nagging doubt that prevents me, and so many others, from fully celebrating what was a necessary act. A sense of justice was done. True justice, as ever, continues to elude us all.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

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  • JSpencer

    I truly have no idea what the intent is of those who are trying to find a negative narrative for what was a very successful mission. Isn’t it enough to know Bin Laden was killed and with very little collateral damage? Can we all feel good about this for a little while? I’m not talking about celebrating here, but feeling good that a justice has been done.

  • Ras

    As the saying be damned if you do and you be damned if you don,t. And from what I can say after almost 10 years of suffering from 911 I read in the paper and hear on various blogs ..some even think that Osama bin Laden as been dead already since Dec of 2001 supposedly from a kidney disease..even on facebook some have pasted the document..falsefied of course by Conspirators of propoganda and they STILL trump this nonsense as proof? sorry I can,t help them anymore. If they want to beleive a lie than go for it..but leave me out of it. As the other poster said its counterproductive and serves no purpose to keep the rumor mill going with conspirative theories. I beleive the way it was handled was the best in the interest of national security and closes the chapter on a most horrendous tragedy on American soil, even tho his image will burn in our minds forever and haunt the souls who only want peace in our lifetime.

  • Life is complicated. While the world is surely better without Bin Laden. The way he was killed and especially the way the American public responded raises significant questions, depending on where you are.

  • ShannonLeee

    Europeans are glad he is dead and really don’t care how it was done. TV shows are having discussions, but in the streets, the average European is glad the man is dead.

    European debates on the subject are more about selling TV ads and scoring political points.

  • merkin

    I don’t believe there is any wide spread condemnation of the US’s military action killing OBL. There is a tendency on the part of many in Europe to automatically question any unilateral US action, based, quite appropriately, on recent history. Questioning that is form of due diligence, if you will allow, that has to be done.

    But concerning 9/11 we are all still Americans and there seems to be a general understanding of and tolerance for this action.


    “I suspect there is far more nuance there than, say, on Main Street America, where fist-pumping and flag-waving were, and remain, the order of the day.”

    I suspect that cheap pejorative stereotypes about Americans are just as inaccurate and unfair as cheap pejorative stereotypes about Europeans or Arabs. Americans are just as capable of reflection and nuance as anyone else. It is just as unfortunate when opinion-makers embrace lazy anti-Americanism as when they embrace any other form of bigotry.

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