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Mon May 2, 2011
Local experts weigh in on what Osama bin Laden's death means for foreign policy and U.S. politics
By Patrick Donges
Pittsfield, MA – "America and the World after September 11" is the title of a course taught and developed by Williams College Professor James McAllister which examines both the effect of the terror attacks on foreign policy and critiques of American policies both before and after the attacks.
"This doesn't retrospectively vindicate everything about foreign policy over the last ten years."
McAllister said the killing or capture of bin Laden had largely been dismissed by Americans, and that his killing at the hands of forces commanded by Barack Obama is a political victory.
"Americans, I know I had, had kind of given up on this idea, that we were going to kill bin Laden. Remember he hasn't been very active in terms of being in our consciousness; the videos have dwindled to very few. The whole events of the Arab Spring' of the last few months, he's been totally irrelevant to them."
"Politically it's a major success. Obama's weakness or one of his perceived weaknesses has always been concerns about his handling of the military and his willingness to use force. Well, the proof is in the pudding."
Bin Laden's death also signals a turning point for the legacy of George W. Bush, as McAllister explains.
"I think we're now going to be more at a position to asses his legacy. The greatest failure or one of the great failures of Bush's administration was the inability to capture Osama bin Laden. Finally that chapter at least has been brought to a close, although al-Qaeda will still exist without Osama bin Laden."
Robert Bence, professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said bin Laden's death will give Obama more options when it comes to managing the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
"Not that the Taliban's gone, it's more diffused that it used to be, but here we've accomplished one of our main goals, so I think it gives him some cover for gradually reducing American forces there."
Bence said the policy focus will now turn to Pakistan, where he says the U.S. must determine who is acting in our interests, who is still aligned with the followers of bin Laden, and proceed accordingly.
"I think Pakistan is the real challenge for the U.S. It's a very shaky government, and it always has been. In the short run I think the U.S. will probably be criticized by quite a few factions in Pakistan, even those who are sympathetic to the United States, realizing that support inside Pakistan among Pakistanis is sort of dependent upon taking somewhat of an independent course from the U.S."
Bryan Early, assistant professor of Political Science at the State University of New York at Albany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, specializes in the study of economic sanctions and terrorism.
"The policy makers in the United States are going to have to have some very difficult and uncomfortable conversations with their counterparts in Pakistan."
Early said regardless of how much information Pakistani intelligence officials may have had about bin Laden's location, U.S. leaders must keep the lines of communication open between the two nations open, especially as foreign aid becomes a sticking point in federal budget negotiations.
"The fact that bin Laden was uncovered where he was will make it more difficult for U.S. policy makers to be able to give the amount of foreign aid that they have to the Pakistani government. It's going to make the United States' relationship with that country more contentious on a domestic front."
Asma Abbas is a professor of political science and philosophy at Bard College at Simon's Rock. A native of Pakistan, Abbas said she hopes that bin Laden's death will allow those on both sides of what had been referred to as the "global war on terror" to reflect on what the last decade of fighting has really meant for the lives of soldiers and regular working people both in the U.S. and abroad.
"I'm just really curious as to whether this ability to look past this figurehead actually makes us more open and maybe gives America, people here, a sigh of relief or a pause to start moving in a different direction."
"What produced him isn't gone and what he produced hasn't also gone. But yes, a distraction, if he is one, is out of the way, and maybe we can get to work more honestly and remind ourselves of what it was about."