The master of historical byplay
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
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The Euronews TV channel quoted a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars standing in a crowd outside the White House on Monday. “We’ve been chasing this ghost bin Laden around Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and finally we can bring our troops home,” he said.

The reaction is typical of the United States today, which is obviously feeling a bit overstretched as a result of its efforts at world domination.

Osama bin Laden’s destruction is without question a major political victory for the United States and, personally, U.S. President Barack Obama. The United States has demonstrated that it is capable of achieving its goals, which is essential for upholding an international reputation. Obama has acquired an iron-clad argument for whenever conservative politicians attack him for neglecting national security.

Obama’s critics frequently compare him with Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic president who is known for failing to win reelection. A primary reason for this failure was the high-profile fiasco that followed a secret operation in the spring of 1980, when U.S. Special Forces failed to rescue hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and were forced to flee after suffering casualties in a helicopter crash.

Unlike Carter, Obama’s success in ridding the world of bin Laden will provide him with an unbeatable weapon in his reelection campaign.

The successful operation in Pakistan may entirely change the Afghan scenario. Obama never liked the idea of continuing the operation in the country, but the idea of pulling out as early as this summer caused little enthusiasm in America.

Today, though, Obama has strong grounds for a withdrawal: the mission has been accomplished. Moreover, the goal of building a contemporary democratic state in Afghanistan, as declared early on in the invasion, was long ago abandoned.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has approved the United States’ change of heart, stating that Afghanistan is not a seat of terrorism and it’s high time for Washington to review its behavior toward the country.

What implications will the Saudi exile’s death have in a broader context?

If the information we receive about al Qaeda is true, bin Laden ceased acting as the organization’s full-fledged leader long ago. He simply couldn’t continue to play this role, as according to a popular maxim, al Qaeda is a network of virtually independent cells that do not demand centralized planning or guidance. Although the organization has a framework ideology calling for the “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” each regional subdivision fights a specific enemy – the government of the Muslim country where they operate or foreign invaders.

On the one hand, though, the destruction of their symbol – which bin Laden certainly was – might sap some of their ardor, but it will bring little practical change. These groups have their own goals and objectives and will continue working toward them.

On the other hand, the loss of the brand may trigger a decline in the international terrorism concept – at least, in the sense that it was used in the 2000s.

After the shock of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration tried to turn combating terrorism into the root of all global politics. Conceptually, the new evil was set to replace the Soviet threat that evaporated after half a century, as standing up to the Soviet Union had helped to structure the entire international system.

However, Bush’s approach has had a more polarizing than consolidating effect. Apparently, it wasn’t a wise idea to attempt to resolve other problems under the umbrella task of fighting terrorism, such as getting even with Saddam Hussein or gaining a military foothold in the Middle East.

In any case, the situation has now changed.

British strategic adviser Julian Lindley-French says it’s logical that the United States destroyed bin Laden now that the entire Middle East and North Africa are in utter turmoil. The upheaval of radical Islamism at the turn of the century was in fact a response to the deep crisis plaguing the authoritarian nationalistic regimes that have ruled nearly every Arab country since they gained independence from colonial rule. Incidentally, this new wave of political renewal came as a shock to Jihad supporters and breathed new life into the nationalistic agenda. True, it’s bound to have a more pronounced religious bend than ever before. But it will be focused on strengthening specific countries and boosting their roles in international politics rather than on whims like building a new caliphate.

Bin Laden was a product of the Cold War and the standoff between two political poles. Once it came to an end, he tried to start his own game.

The 9/11 attacks didn’t overturn the world, but they did catalyze the erosion of the existing world order – a process that began long before the attacks on the Twin Towers or the Pentagon.

Neither bin Laden personally, nor the international terrorism phenomenon he embodied has succeeded in changing history. They will go down in history as a byplay in the transition period the world entered in the late 20th century. And this transition will persist until the international system once again finds balance.

| RIA Novosti