Osama Bin Laden and US foreign policy in the Middle East

A terrorist to the West and a patriot to  Islamic extremists, Osama Bin Laden was killed by a crack US Navy Seal team in a daring pre-dawn raid on a housing compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1, 2011 and his body buried at sea.  His killing ended almost 10 years of the most extensive manhunt in history, mounted by the US government and its allies.

In the wake of Bin Laden’s killing, security in US cities has heightened amid concern that Al Qaeda or its sympathizers may try to retaliate against America.  The US State Department, for its part, issued a global travel alert to all its citizens, saying there could be an outbreak of anti-American violence.  The rest of the world braces for a wave of revenge attacks, particularly in countries where Al Qaeda or its affiliate terror groups are known to operate.

The killing of Bin Laden by American forces represents a “symbolic” closure to 9/11 and a momentary distraction from economic difficulties for many Americans.  It also boosted the dipping approval rating of Pres. Barack Obama and the public perception of his leadership.

Yet there will  never be a total closure to 9/11 in terms of the physical, psychological and financial damage it has inflicted upon the American people (and the rest of the world).  Moody’s estimated the direct cost of 9/11 to the US economy since 2001 at $2.5 Trillion (and rising).  Its indirect cost to the American people and their economy is difficult to quantify, but it will certainly be the more costly and harder to recover from.

Bin Laden was the face of international terrorism in the West and the iconic inspiration for self determination and anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world for almost two decades.  Yet his global jihadi ideology was totally rejected as a model for effecting social change by the democratic revolutions (dubbed the “Arab Spring”) now sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. 

One can reasonably argue that Osama Bin Laden is the “bitter fruit” of more than half a century of “static” US foreign policy in the Middle East, supporting and propping up ruthless dictators and dynastic rulers in the region. By choosing “realism” over “idealism”  in the pursuit of its national interest in the region, America has inadvertently helped produce Islamic extremists, with devastating consequence for the rest of the world. 

Pres. Obama is once more presented with a historic opportunity — that of taking America on a different foreign policy path, one that redefines America’s view of the Middle East and reconnects America with the emerging socio-political context in the region.  And the opportunity comes at no better time in the history of the region: the coming of the “Arab Spring”  in North Africa and the Middle East.

Author:  Rene “RC” Catacutan
Published 05 May 2011

Images of some of the terror attacks attributed to Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda and its affiliate terrorist groups



The September 11, 2001 attacks on US soil (also known as the “9/11 attacks”) that killed 2,977 people and injured more than 6,000 others



The 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people and injured 700 others



The 2004 Madrid bombings that killed 191 people and injured 1,800 others



The 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and injured 240 others



The 2000 bombing of the US navy destroyer USS Cole (while refueling in Aden, Yemen) that killed 19 American sailors and injured 39 others



The 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 223 people and injured 4,085 others



The 1996 bombing of the Khobar Tower in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 US servicemen and injured 372 others