The Myth of Bin Laden
The false story of his life meets the false story of his death.
Carney blamed the misleading early reports on the "fog of war." But a fog of war creates confusion, not a consistent story like the one about the human shield. The reason U.S. officials bought and sold this story is that it fit their larger indictment of Bin Laden. It reinforced the shameful picture of him hiding in a mansion while sending others to fight and die. It made him look like a coward.
This is the narrative that's really at stake. A narrative isn't just a chronology. It's a tale woven with themes. For 20 years, Bin Laden peddled a tale of oppression and jihad. In elaborate video and audio messages, he depicted al-Qaida's trail of bombings as a Muslim struggle against Western persecution. He wasn't just a terrorist. He was a storyteller.
That's the story Brennan sought to undermine when he cited Bin Laden's use of a human shield to show "how false his narrative has been over the years." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also targeted Bin Laden's story. In a statement trumpeting his death, she argued that "people across the Middle East and North Africa are rejecting the extremist narratives and charting a path of peaceful progress." Carney, too, warned against false interpretations. "It would be a shame," he warned, if Bin Laden's killing "became a piece in a partisan narrative."
Carney is right. So are Brennan, Clinton, and Cameron. Bin Laden was a delusional mass murderer, and his narrative was false. But you can't debunk one false narrative with another. The firefight at Bin Laden's compound, it now appears, pitted two or three men against a dozen or more commandos. Bin Laden didn't engage in the firefight and used no human shield. He wasn't even armed. We shot him dead anyway. That's the truth. Deal with it.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.