The Impending Triumph of Osama bin Laden

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The terroristic master of Al-Qaeda was murdered before fully realizing his dream of destroying America as we know it, but Americans are making it happen for him. Hand in hand with the credibility of a government in a democratic system goes its legitimacy. Both are in some peril.

osama_bin_laden
Osama bin Laden

Alarmist rhetoric? Let’s examine the facts. Even before 9/11, about half the American public deeply distrusted the parts of government that dealt with intelligence, law enforcement and military action. The other half equally distrusted the tax collection, regulatory, scientific research and service agencies of the government. What has been done to restore credibility?

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On the one side — that of civilian discretionary spending – funding has been slashed savagely and services have been crippled. From the IRS to Head Start to the Agricultural Conservation Service to the Fish and Wildlife Service and now even Food Stamps, the dollar stream has been choked off. So the longtime enemies of those agencies and their services can now say with considerable justification, Look, the government doesn’t work.

On the other side – that of intelligence and law enforcement – which has never had a tool it didn’t abuse, it’s been given greatly more tools. Most of it, moreover, has been amalgamated into an unmanageable behemoth with the ominous name of Homeland Security, and encouraged to gather and share information on everything.

This has resulted in the persecution of Julian Assange, not an American but a believer in open government. Bradley Manning, one of Assange’s apparent sources, who acted on patriotic motives, has pleaded guilty to charges that will put him in prison for at least 20 years, but the government wants him there for life. Edward Snowden is out of the country, welcome probably never to return, for having given Americans information on the nefarious dealings of their own government, which was and is spying on its own citizens and its international allies. Barrett Brown, who exposed some extent of spying on Americans by Americans, has been in prison for nearly a year without bail, violating his constitutional rights both to bail and to a speedy trial. Michael Hastings doesn’t have to worry about any of that. The investigative journalist, having told friends he was on to something big, was in his car when it mysteriously blew up. Aaron Swartz, the hacker-activist, is dead, too, by his own hand, having apparently given up on ever escaping bogus charges under Internet fraud laws put on the books before the World Wide Web even existed. You can begin to understand all this intrusion by reading here.

Barrett Brown
Barrett Brown

On neither side of a bifurcated government, then, is there a lot of faith by the American people. From at least John Locke on, the theory of Republican government has been that it is legitimate when a majority of the people consent to it. Is that consent in peril? Should it be?

Shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, we began hearing some dreadful words: “9/11 changed everything;” and “the post-9/11 world.” These pronouncements have become a tragic reality. The response to 9/11 should have been, “This has changed nothing, other than some safety measures we should have taken already [and still haven’t, in 2013]. We’re not terrified. Take that.

By way of sensible safety measures, we might have moved to decentralize a lot of services like the electrical power grid and rerouted hazardous-material trains around places like Capitol Hill. Instead we decided to preserve everything we had with an ever more rickety Maginot Line of hired contractors and an ever more intrusive system of internal espionage.

Mr. bin Laden’s followers – and despite what the American government says, we have no idea of their numbers – have to be deeply happy about the state of the American psyche. It’s scared, and it’s distrustful, and it’s not getting any better.