We crowded around the TV in the communal lounge that evening and watched President Obama walk confidently up to the podium. He announced that U.S. forces had captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. There was palpable excitement among us college freshmen. Someone proposed that we drive on down to the White House and join in with a growing crowd that was gathering on the north side across from Lafayette Square.
I felt it in the night air. It was like the college parties that we had gotten so accustomed to on the weekends since the beginning of our time at the university. People chanted ‘USA! USA! USA!’ and ‘Fuck Osama!’ as American flags and apparel adorned the crowd. Someone stood atop a moving SUV and waved the red, white, and blue as horns honked along in approval. Photos from that night show us smiling widely, swept up in the mass euphoria.
The same kind of joy occurred in mid-December six years prior as my parents and I watched on the news as American soldiers pulled a dirty, unkempt, and rattled Saddam Hussein out of the hole in the ground where he was hiding. I remember my mom breathing a sigh of relief that they had got him and commented that it was like Christmas came early.
In both instances, I had a feeling of satisfaction that America had done it again. The bad guy had thrown the first punch, but at the end of the day, you don’t mess with the boys. They’re gonna come and get you no matter where you try to run in this world.
Mission accomplished. Bring ’em home. That's another win on the books for the USA.
But they didn’t come home and the war on terror didn’t come to an end. It was not another win on the books for the USA. As I write this for the anniversary of the take-down of Osama Bin Laden, U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan and Washington has gone on to bring violent force to many more countries and upon people who had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, this was Bin Laden’s goal from the beginning.
I spent my years in college learning about the history of wars, domestic and foreign policy, the inner workings of the intelligence community, even doing internships for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense. It has led to my continuous discovery of the behavior of the U.S. government; the costs in blood, treasure, and morality to the American people; and the web of interconnected policies and politics spanning decade after decade.
President Biden has announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 as a macabre full-circle bookend to the 9/11 attacks that started the War on Terror. Yet, ending the twenty-year forever war is little consolation for the future prospects of ending the War on Terror. The administration has rolled the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in with the sentiment that the threat of terrorism now exists across Africa, Asia, and the greater Middle East region. In other words, the U.S. will (maybe) withdraw from the oldest theater of the War on Terror and escalate its involvement elsewhere.
Capturing Saddam Hussein and killing Osama Bin Laden were supposed to mean the end of the war. That’s what I naively thought. But they were just two more notches on the belt of the hostile American empire and the gears of this horrible machine keep turning.