What a great day.
I’m going to take a breather from my habitual Obama-bashing, as fun as that is, to offer up some well-deserved praise. Osama bin Laden is now fish food.
To start with, kudos to our Navy Seals for executing a near-flawless mission. Zooming in on two Blackhawk helicopters, rappelling down 18-foot walls topped with razor wire, getting our target without a single US casualty, or without harming any innocent bystanders (with the possible exception of one of OBL’s wives who had the misfortune of being used by her husband as a human shield). And then, when one of the choppers developed mechanical problems, executing Plan B without hesitation, blowing up the crippled bird and shifting to the other one, getting out in less than forty minutes. Bravo. Jack Bauer lives.
Our special ops guys are so good it makes me humble.
Next, and I proclaim it cheerfully, kudos to President Obama. He made a gutsy call, one with plenty of risk, and it paid off. First, for putting boots on the ground instead of dropping a drone bomb on Osama. Think of all the things that could have gone wrong – a serviceman killed and left behind, an aborted mission and OBL free, an embarrassment like Operation Eagle Claw, Jimmy Carter’s desert disaster. But the risks were worth the value of looking him in the eye and putting a bullet in his head – not to mention the certainty of the photo and DNA recognition.
Also, this appears to have been a “kill mission” from the start, and good for them. I can imagine the carnival that would ensue if OBL had been captured and, God forbid, taken to trial in the New York District Court. At the least, he would have been held for a period of years in some detention center – Guantanamo? – where his very presence would be a rallying point for his faithful. Far better that he should be wrapped in a shroud and dumped into the sea – an ignominious burial for a devout Muslim who should, according to custom, be buried facing Mecca. We have been told that no country would take him, and I credit that – the gravesite would be a shrine where Islamic crazies could go to get worked up into a fundamentalist frenzy.
Lastly, it took guts to take the fight not only into Pakistan, but to a town only 30 miles from the capital. We have already been getting complaints from the Pakistanis about our drone strikes in the wild border region, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister just returned from a trip to Kabul where he publicly counseled Karzai to dump the US and side with Pakistan under Chinese patronage. It shows some brass to chopper right into the heart of the country. Recall that Candidate Obama declared he would do just that, much to the consternation of his Democratic primary opponents. Well, he proved good to his word, I’ll give him that. But it will only complicate our relationship with that country, as I discuss below.
And certainly, congratulations to our intelligence people. They painstakingly put together the threads of information needed to make this strike over the course of years. It started with a little hint, and led to our tracing a trusted courier to Abbottabad. If the operation itself was out of “24,” the intelligence work was like something from John le Carre.
And, it’s also a vindication of the Bush approach to fighting terror. According to reports, this whole investigative skein began with the rough interrogation we gave Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I wonder if the many liberals who condemned the previous administration’s tactics would change their tune if they knew that water-boarding led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
But, speaking of intelligence, you have to wonder how it was that Osama bin Laden could be living in a million-dollar compound, less than a mile away from Pakistan’s version of West Point, and we didn’t get wind of it. This place was built only in 2005 – apparently for bin Laden himself – and was by far the largest residence for miles around, with high walls and tight security. Abbottabad is a center of Pakistan’s military establishment. Is there any way a benign explanation could be put on that?
The administration is trying to put a congenial face on it, pretending that Pakistan remains an ally in the fight against terror. But the fact is that this operation occurred not only with no cooperation from Islamabad, but also without notifying them ahead of time. Now, there’s no question that Pakistan is in the midst of an existential battle with the Islamists over control of the country and its nuclear arsenal, and it does us no good to be undermining the government. On the other hand, that government has been shockingly porous in its commitment to the fight.
Pakistan is likely to emerge after this as the central battleground in the fight against militant Islam, and despite the billions we have sent them in aid, we are extraordinarily poorly positioned to influence the outcome. The government we support is weak and duplicitous, and the virulent form of Islam has broad support – witness the crowds openly supporting the murderer of Shahbaz Bhatti, a government minister who was gunned down for opposing the country’s blasphemy laws. The place is a mess, and I believe it is here, rather than Afghanistan, that the battle will move into its next phase.
Ironically, in much of the Arab world, the kind of militancy exhorted by Osama bin Laden seems to be out of date. With the contagion of popular revolts erupting from Tunisia to Bahrain, more emphasis is being placed on people’s rights and political freedom than on devotion to Islamic principles. The Islamists may yet win out in places like Egypt, because they tend to be better organized and more ruthless than the newer, less cohesive parties, but in general there is little enthusiasm for the hate-America rhetoric that is so much a staple of al Qaeda.
So it is to be hoped that Osama’s death marks the beginning of the end. Certainly it put paid to the myth of the untouchable terrorist leader. And since many al Qaeda operatives took an oath of loyalty to Osama himself rather than any larger cause, there is some cause for hope that his demise might kick away one of the props supporting the organization. Others will step up, and retaliatory strikes will be attempted, but bin Laden had leadership qualities that are not easily duplicated. At least, let’s hope so.
Finally, there has been some talk about how unseemly it was that people were chanting and cheering in the streets around the White House and Ground Zero – even in baseball parks – when the news came out. Doesn’t it drop us to their level, these people ask, if we so jubilantly greet someone’s death?
My response is this: I don’t recall anybody getting terribly huffy when the Munchkins sang, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” It’s no crime – it’s not even in bad taste – to celebrate the passing of one who terrorized your people.