Would the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11 have made it impossible for the Bush administration to concoct a rationale for invading Iraq?
All answers to “what if” history questions are speculative nonsense; however, it is clear even ten years later that bin Laden’s death has created a catharsis. It was evident in the impromptu celebrations in New York and DC, in the random dude waving an American flag on a bridge spanning the freeway in my current city, and, as a resident of New Jersey who was down wind from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and can still recall the faint rotten milk stench of the plume as the jet stream carried it over my home, in my own guts, heart and sinew.
I once strongly suspected that the Bush administration aggressively-passively allowed bin Laden to escape in Tora Bora because his capture would have ended 9/11; the open wound would be bandaged and there would be no more fear and angst to misdirect to Iraq. Now, I think it’s more likely that they did want to capture bin Laden, but they outsourced the job to flimsy tribal allies in a typical bout of near-hilarious incompetence.
As bad as the Bush Administration was at actually doing things, they were great at selling them. That day in August in which a Bush lackey explained that the Administration was ginning up a war with Iraq in September of 2002 because “you don’t market a new product in August” was the day that any worthy unity from 9/11 died and instead it became proof that IT can happen here. Your kind neighbors can have their fear and anger stoked, forged and fluxed into incoherent hateful nonsense. Today, more than ever, just what the hell was Iraq War II for? Bin Laden is dead in Pakistan, organic revolutions are lurching at least parts of the Muslim world towards more democratic governance, gas is $4 a gallon. Why Iraq in 2002? It makes no sense.
Who knows, maybe the triumphalism of killing bin Laden would have allowed the Bushites to roll into Iraq and into Syria or some other disaster at the same time. Maybe the disaster of the Bush Years was always fated somehow, like a Greek Tragedy. For the only time in my life, I am glad that someone is dead, but I’m dumbfounded and aghast at what bin Laden gave the opening for Bush to exploit all over again. Yes bin Laden’s dead and something great will be built at the World Trade Center site one day. But the wreckage of the Bush administration is all around us.