Western narratives about our "enemies" typically place an unwarranted focus on the importance of the leading personalities of whatever terror group or drug cartel or rogue state happens to be the enemy du jour. The conventional wisdom is that if we can eliminate this or that charismatic leader, often characterized as "cutting off the head of the snake", we have solved the problem.
The gloating headlines in the Western media about the assassination of Ahmed Abdi Godane by US missile strike is just the latest example. Have we really struck a major blow against al-Shabab?
History tells us not bloody likely. Did Israel's execution of Ahmed Yassin, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, end Hamas? No!
Did the murder of Pablo Escobar stem the flow of cocaine into America? No!
There are multitudinous examples of hubristic Western crowing about our "successes" in decapitating the snake that have only resulted in more snakes.
The enduring success of the "head of the snake" trope is due to its function in diverting attention from the role that our policies play in creating and nurturing the failed states, terror groups, drug cartels, etc., who inevitably morph into our next mortal enemy.
How much more agreeable to place the blame for Hamas on a charismatic leader than in noxious Israeli-US policy.
How much more palatable to blame drug cartels on Pablo and his many pretenders instead of on our own policies.
So back to al-Shabab. America has once again cut the head off the snake...
Is this the end of al-Shabab?
Has America solved a problem?
When our enemies are our enemies because of failed US policies, we cannot expect to eliminate them by eliminating their leadership.
A new al-Shabab leader, younger, smarter, better educated, more ruthless and ambitious, was already waiting in the wings.
The murder of Godane has not eliminated a problem.
It has made the problem worse.