If I were a conspiracy theorist … and I’m not, but if I were …
I’d be thinking that Osama bin Laden actually died somewhere around the Tora Bora caves in 2002. And when U.S. Special Forces killed him, or maybe he died from his famously diseased kidneys failing without dialysis available, they found a trove of videos that were recorded shortly after 9/11 that bin Laden intended to release intermittently. They would be vague enough to always sound like they were describing current events, but really they were just reflecting whatever contingencies the top Qaeda leaders considered likely. After all, their need for publicity might be occasionally at odds with their ability to distribute their message.
The U.S., of course, knows a thing or two about the value of propaganda. These videos could serve America’s cause as well as they could serve Al Qaeda’s. There’s nothing quite as unifying as having a hissable villain to close ranks against, a la Goldstein in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. So the American military kept bin Ladin “alive” and arranged to have his tapes released via Al Jazeera. Far fetched? Sure. But that would explain why we’ve never been able to simply trace the chain of evidence back from the Arabic news network. I mean, somebody at Al Jazeera had to have a connection to whomever was sending those videos, right? And the sender had to have a link to whomever recorded them, who had to have a link to bin Laden himself. And yet, after almost ten years of surveillance, we couldn’t connect these dots?
Anyway, the videos did their job. George W. Bush won the 2004 election. (I prefer that construct to “George W. Bush won re-election,” which presupposes he was elected in 2000, but that’s an entirely different paranoid fantasy.) Unfortunately for the Republican Party, the videos lost their shelf life after that. The American public wearied of war as they realized that we’d spent less time in World War I and World War II combined than we’d spent in the Global War on Terror — and actually won both of the first two! And no amount of impotent rage was going to mask the fact that millions of people had lost their jobs practically overnight, the entire nation’s investment portfolio was in the toilet and, by the way, your house is now worthless.
So the Republicans lost the White House and, thus, control of the videos.
But that’s OK because they were losing their luster anyhow. Maybe there weren’t any prerecorded bin Laden rants left. And even if they were, the newly installed Nobel Peace Prize laureate and newly elected President Barack Obama had little appetite for continuing the GWOT. I leave it to your own political leanings to inform you whether this is due to his being a Muslim, having sympathy for the Islamist cause, he’s just plain evil and can’t be trusted or (my personal favorite as outlandish as it sounds) he realized that the most effective way to deal with the budget deficit is to end the war.
Now here’s where the planning goes out the window and the White House starts improvising. (Nothing goes according to plan for this long.)
Donald Trump revives the birther canard. There’s really no point arguing with him. No amount of evidence is going to stop people who want to think the worst about someone from thinking the worst. And the evidence that Obama had filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2008, the so-called short form, was all that was required by the government to stand for high office or, for that matter, to get a passport or driver’s license.
But then Obama gets the word that the CIA has located a high-value target outside Islamabad, Pakistan.
It’s obviously not bin Laden. He’s a long time dead from gunshot wounds or from fatal quantities of potassium and calcium in his blood, and it’s in a suburban setting, which is clearly not bin Laden’s style. Still, it’s somebody else we want dead. But we don’t want the whole neighborhood dead, so we have to send in the Navy SEALs rather than another drone.
Suddenly Obama’s long-form birth certificate finally materializes.
The SEALs do their job. They kill the bad guy. Then they put out the word it’s bin Laden.
The proof? Their word for it. The word of the CIA and of a covert operations team. I don’t want to disparage either of them. They’re both highly professional, highly effective organizations doing difficult jobs in the interest of defending their nation. But one of the pillars of that nation is freedom of expression, so I find no sedition in asking: What is it they say is the “first casualty of war” again?
Where’s the body, one might ask. At the bottom of the ocean. Which ocean? We can’t say. Do you have a picture of the bullet-ridden corpse? Maybe. If so, we’ll release it later. (What? Did their PhotoShop license expire?) How come he was able to survive with kidney failure all this time? Oh, he never had kidney failure! You didn’t hear us right — we said he had kidney stones. Can’t you provide any other proof that bin Laden died according to your account, Mister President? Hey, I just showed you my birth certificate — you people are never satisfied!
So now Obama is a shoe-in for reelection. Bush kept “chasing” bin Laden for more than seven years because it served his purposes. Obama “killed” him in less than two-and-a-half because that served his purposes.
The only part I don’t get is the media’s acquiescence to the narrative over the past 12 hours. I know we all want to believe this. But it’s somebody’s job — and I don’t know if it’s the legitimate press’s or Fox News’s — to start asking follow-up questions. Really, why is everyone reporting bin Laden’s assassination as a fact? It might very well be, but why isn’t anyone adding phrases like, “according to the Pentagon” or “according to the Obama Administration”? I’m not asking for cynicism here, just some healthy skepticism.
Because I’m someone who believes in freedom of the press, but who also believes that responsibility comes with that freedom.
Like I said, I’m not a conspiracy theorist.