Osama bin Laden is dead
, and the world is a better place for it. Moammar Qaddafi may soon follow
. His departure, too, will leave the world a better place. If all goes well, 2011 will also witness the demise of Bashar
, heir to the Asad dynasty. No one with a shred of decency will shed a tear. The world will just keep getting better, one dead villain at a time.
These three men have brought untold misery, pain, suffering, and death to tens of millions of people—the overwhelming majority of them Muslims, though their Western victims number comfortably in the thousands. With their dispatch, the Islamic world will exact its greatest measure of justice since (at least) the Iraqi execution of Saddam Hussein
nearly five years ago.
As Americans, however, we are always more interested in what their demise means to us. In particular, we must wonder what it says about our Commander in Chief—President Obama—and his seemingly eclectic strategy. What will it mean if the relentless pursuit of Bin Laden, “leading from behind” against Qaddafi, and mild criticism from a distance of Asad, result in the end of three terror-ridden personality cults?
The most obvious answer is that only a fool argues with success. Yes, it is always possible that different approaches would have yielded similar results more quickly, and at lower cost. But it is at least as possible that they would have yielded inferior results at greater costs. If these three men disappear, within a single year, on President Obama’s watch, he will deserve credit for having done something—something big—right.
It will also, however, create an important test. In the decade since 9/11 focused attention on the Western effects of Islamic rage, two broad schools of thought have emerged:
One—to which I subscribe—sees a deeply dysfunctional Islamic world, mired in a violent, dark age, lashing out in all directions, causing incalculable damage to the (largely Islamic) people living in its midst, and threatening significant harm to the world at large. To this way of thinking, Bin Laden, Qaddafi, Asad, and others of their ilk are symptoms of a deeper malady—the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual gap separating the mythology of Islamist supremacy from the needs of a modern world that accepts all people, and all faiths, as equals. The disease thus allowed these vile men to become popular leaders; their leadership did not cause the disease.
The other—to which I believe President Obama subscribes—sees a collection of truly vile individuals who have seized control of Islamic nations and organizations in the face of Western complicity or acquiescence. They see these leaders as the primary causes of Islamic rage, Islamist thinking, and the violence and terror that it has engendered. To adherents of this school of thought, a generation or two of dreadful leaders have devastated Islam; their reformation, or barring that their removal, will allow the healing to begin.
Saddam may have been the first to fall, but the recent acceleration of these leaders’ removal has created that critical test. What will follow the removal of these evil men from positions of leadership? If they themselves are the true disease, numerous Islamic countries should begin to open and to flourish. But if the culture itself is sick, removal of a few festering scabs is more likely to spread the infection than to enable a healthy recovery.
As we watch events unfold in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and throughout the Islamic world, we must remain open to both possibilities. The world will be a better place if the President is correct, and if new leadership leads quickly to openness, tolerance, productivity, peace, and prosperity throughout the Islamic world. I fear, however, that he is not. Removal of these leaders, while an unquestionable good in its own right, is more likely to be but one small step in a long, hard slog.