Universal Translator

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Thoughts on Bin Laden's Death


I just logged in a few minutes ago to look something up on Wikipedia, and was shocked to see the news that U.S. forces shot and killed Osama bin Laden earlier today. So, of course, I went to a few news sites and watched President Obama's speech.

Of course, it is way too soon to know much about what happened and hopefully more details will be coming shortly. But like everyone else who pays attention to and writes about news events, I figured I'd jot down -- in no particular order -- my initial impressions and thoughts after watching Obama's speech.

(1) Isn't it nice to have a competent administration again? Isn't it nice to feel that the United States government actually can accomplish something? Since we let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora, and then decided to devote most of our military might to invading and occupying Iraq, I have had a real sense that the United States government just didn't seem capable of focusing on a goal and achieving that goal; still, you would think capturing or killing the mastermind of the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil would be an important enough goal that we could get past our national ADD for at least a little while. The fact the government was able to finally accomplish this goal now, following hard on the heels of the federal government's speedy and effective response to the tornados that just ravaged Alabama and a lot of the Southeast (in stark contrast to the government's ineffectiveness after Katrina), just makes me feel warm inside, like proof that if we just make sure to give the levers of power to intelligent, competent people then that power actually can be used competently and intelligently.

(2) Nice shout-out in Obama's speech about how he has made it clear for some time that if he could determine that Osama bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan then Obama would take steps to go after bin Laden in Pakistan. I remember during the Presidential debates Obama made this statement quite clearly, and his opponent (I think it was McCain, but it may have occurred during the primaries) responded by saying that Obama was disregarding the fact that Pakistan was a "sovereign nation and our ally." This criticism was later picked up and amplified by some members of the media.

I never quite got that. I mean, look I'm all for respecting the rights of sovereign nations, but slipping across the border into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden doesn't constitute an attack on a sovereign nation and ally, it constitutes a Special Forces move against a particular individual. Slipping across a border shouldn't be considered the same thing as getting to a safe base, particularly when the country you've slipped into ostensibly is helping the U.S. to capture you.

Maybe the proper thing to have done would have been to alert Pakistan's government that we were going to mount this operation (and maybe we even did that, though I doubt it). But given that the American government believes Pakistan's security forces are in bed with the same extremist groups believed to have been sheltering bin Laden, I'm not going to worry too much if it turns out we didn't give Pakistan a head's up before we went in (and this, of course, is why I doubt we did so).

(3) Another nice shout-out reiterating that the United State is not at war with Islam, no matter what the crazy reactionaries over here say. Also, fairly deft decision made to remind everybody that Bush, Jr. made exactly the same point immediately following 9/11. Of course, this won't assuage the rightwing nuts who already are driven to insanity by the mere fact of Obama's presidency (look to hear the usual critics talk about how during the speech Obama was giving a wink-n-nudge to his Muslim brothers), but at least the White House had the good sense to try and mitigate some of the political damage the simple acknowledgement that Islam is not the enemy will do to Obama among the more insane of our citizens.

(4) I'll be interested to learn more about the President's involvement in ordering this operation. From his speech, I understand that this was the culmination of tracking down a lead that we first got wind of way back in August of last year. From his speech, it certainly sounded like President Obama personally made the call to launch this operation. If true, then I say again let's hear it for the competence and intelligence and prudence that allowed this operation to succeed and that did not let the opportunity be lost. I will be curious to see what effect, if any, this has on the President's job approval poll numbers, although I doubt it will have much effect on the 2012 election. (Bush I had approval ratings in the high 90's after concluding the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but he still went down in defeat just one year later largely due to the economy.)

(5) Speaking of politics, it strikes me that President Obama ordered this operation and was able to make this pronouncement eight years to the day after President Bush pulled that bullshit PR stunt on the aircraft carrier and gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech about how he had so successfully prosecuted the Iraq War. Coincidence?

(6) I'd like to know more about how, exactly, bin Laden was killed. The reports I read before watching Obama's speech state that he was shot in the head. Obama said something about how "after a firefight" bin Laden was shot and killed. Had he been captured already, or was capturing him possible, and was he killed anyway? If so, was he killed on Presidential Orders or what? Was there some concern about the political circus that would erupt if bin Laden were taken back the U.S. to stand trial? I mean, good God, the wussies in our Congress can't stand the idea of allowing any terrorist to be tried on U.S. soil for fear that they will somehow manage to kill us all with their deadly terrorist superpowers. So, naturally, I have to wonder whether it wasn't decided that the easiest way to end this thing would be to just make sure bin Laden didn't survive being captured.

(7) Does this mean we might finally get out of Afghanistan? Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt that we will be in Afghanistan at least until sometime in 2013. Obama ran against Bush, Jr.'s legacy by arguing that Afghanistan was "the good war" and that our ill-advised and unprovoked invasion of Iraq caused us to take our eye off the ball (one of the reasons Osama bin Laden was able to remain at large for so long; another nice touch of the rhetorical shiv was when Obama mentioned that he had instructed CIA Chief Leon Panetta to make locating bin Laden his number one priority. Compare and contrast to Bush, Jr., who famously said on-air that he didn't know where bin Laden was and that he wasn't really concerned about bin Laden). Of course, having run on this platform Obama was then forced to double down on the Afghanistan war once he was in office.

I remember realizing only a few months into Obama's tenure, when he was talking about drawing down troops out of Iraq, that this meant that we would necessarily have to stay in Afghanistan at least until Obama won re-election. There was just no way that Obama would be able to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan without the Republicans hitting him up as "soft on terror" and a "typical Democratic Dove." As distasteful as it is to have to confront the reality of the situation, the risk to Obama's political survival would have to have been considered too great to allow him to try getting us out of Afghanistan as well.

But now? Hell, the Taliban were toppled and al Queda is gone; according to our own military intelligence there are only a few hundred actual al Queda members still left in Afghanistan. We are fighting the Afghans because they are fighting us, and they are fighting us because we are there. But now that Osama bin Laden's dead, can't we just finally announce victory and go home (after the 2012 election, of course)?

(And, by the way, don't get me wrong. I remember that when we launched the Afghanistan War I was hoping that this time we might do it right. And by that, I meant that I hoped part of our plan was to stick around and help the Afghans build up their country. Help them get some concrete and asphalt plants up and running, help them to build roads to connect their major cities and towns -- that alone would have been enormously beneficial merely because it would have curtailed the "tolls" extorted by bandits and local warlords and would have made it easier for Afghans to trade with each other and build an economy.

(But it quickly became apparent that, true to form, Americans don't have a whole lot of interest in helping the people we invade; we're mostly just interested in blowing them up real good. And now we've been in the country for almost a decade and it is also clear that we don't really have the stomach to keep this up. So here's hoping that with bin Laden's death we can cut our losses and start making plans to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. We'll be leaving Afghanistan in a mess, but it was a mess when we got there and we aren't really planning to do anything to help clean that mess up anyway, so let's announce victory and get the Hell out of Dodge).

UPDATE: The New York Times is now reporting that Osama bin Laden was "buried at sea." WTF? Why would we do that? Jesus, if this turns out to be true -- that there is no body and no independent confirmation (other than the Obama government) -- then the "Birther" conspiracy theory is going to seem like nothing: "Obama's lying about capturing OBL; instead, he cut a deal with his terrorist friends so that they shut up and he can claim he killed OBL and therefore get reelected," etc., etc., etc. Rinse and repeat.

I really, really, really hope this turns out not to be true.

UPDATE 2: Well, appparently this is true. Muslim burial rites apparently require that bodies be buried within 24 hours of death. And I can see why, in an effort to tamp down on blowback from Muslim religious extremists, we might want to make sure we aren't religiously insulting OBL's body.

And, who knows? Maybe that is even the smart move. I can see how Obama would make the responsible decision that it is more important to avoid unnecessarily inviting additional terrorist strikes than it is to cover his own ass from the inevitable winger conspiracy theories, but I still think this is going to be ugly.

UPDATE 3: And, right on cue, a commenter over at The Washington Monthly is reporting that rightwing radio already is trumpeting the "cover-up" conspiracy theory. Y'know, sometimes it really sucks to be right . . .

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