Via Bad Rachel, I present to you perhaps the finest piece of television of the 21st century and a peculiarly fascinating example of the freedom we’ve helped bring to Iraq:
Posts For: May 2, 2011
The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne has weighed in with another of his measured, analytically rigorous, I’m-allergic-to-double-standard columns, this time on the debt ceiling. According to Dionne,
Starting this week, the talk in our nation’s capital will be dominated by whether or not Congress should raise the debt ceiling—as if we have any choice but to pay off our obligations. It will be a colossally foolish and self-destructive battle, another sign of how fanaticism and ideological obsession are rendering our country ungovernable.
Dionne had particularly harsh words for Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator who said:
The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.
Hold on. Wait a minute. I’m sorry; I’ve made a terrible mistake. These aren’t the words of Senator Marco Rubio; they’re the words of then-Senator Barack Obama, from 2006. Which raises this question: Do you recall the column by Dionne excoriating Obama and other Democrats for voting against raising the debt ceiling during the Bush presidency? That’s funny; neither do I. Which tells you much of what you need to know about Dionne these days.
I’ve made clear my praise for President Obama’s actions earlier today.
I would add only that it’s fair to ask (a) which Bush-era policies, if any, helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden; (b) which Bush-era policies that Obama opposed made bin Laden’s death possible; and (c) what would have happened to bin Laden if he had in fact been captured rather than killed and Attorney General Eric Holder had his way (a national security official told Reuters that the U.S. special forces team that hunted down bin Laden was under orders to kill the al Qaeda mastermind, not capture him).
Perhaps a curious reporter or two will explore these matters; it seems to me the answers would be most enlightening.
So we finally got him. After a nearly decade-long manhunt, and while we’re still fighting the longest war in our history, Osama bin Laden is dead.
In at least one way it’s good that it took so long for us to locate and kill him. He has not been effective lately—otherwise it would be a disaster that it took so long to get rid of him. No, he’s been ineffective, and yet we still went to the other side of the world to find him and kill him.
He said—and he probably truly believed it—that the United States was weaker than it appeared, that it could be destroyed as a superpower as the Soviet Union had been, that Americans could not endure mass casualty attacks on our homeland. He was wrong all along, but now everyone should know he was wrong.
After a brief period of post-911 national unity, Americans have been deeply and sometimes stridently divided about foreign policy since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As frustrating as this divide may be no matter which side you’re on, this too is, for the most part, a good thing. Democracies are supposed to argue with themselves about various policies, especially about policies that involve life and death. There is, however, an unfortunate downside. Fighters on the other side, the enemy side, know they might sap our will to keep fighting if they can inflict enough casualties.
They’re right about that when it involves wars of choice, but they’re dead wrong if they think it gives them license to kill us. If you attack us where we live, serious people in both the Republican and Democratic parties will hunt you down to the ends of the earth, will put you on the run for the rest of your days, and will not stop until you are dead.
The willingness of so many people to obsess over fantasies about our leaders and political system has become the hallmark of discourse in the age of the Internet. Within hours (or was it minutes?) of the unveiling of President Obama’s birth certificate last week, e-mails were winging around the globe madly asserting that the document was an obvious forgery. Similarly, today the truthers, those who believe that the 9/11 attacks were the work of the U.S. government or Israel or some other insane conspiratorial theory, are disputing the death of Osama Bin Laden. Crackpot leftists such as Cindy Sheehan and talker Alex Jones are denying bin Laden’s death and asserting that this so-called hoax is merely a prelude to another war or perhaps, as some posters on Sheehan’s Facebook message stream say, another “faked” terrorist attack on our shores.
With President Obama and his administration now being smeared by the crackpots of the far left, perhaps this is a moment to recall the hatred that the truthers and their allies spread about President Bush. Although the mainstream media has acted as if far-right conspiracy theories about Obama were a uniquely noxious addition to our public discourse, anyone who paid attention to the anti-Iraq and anti-Afghanistan war demonstrators during Bush’s presidency could attest to the prevalence of vile extremist rhetoric employed against Obama’s predecessor. But the fever swamps are still full of those who hate America and prepared to believe any theory, no matter how preposterous, that will rationalize that hate.
While we might just put this all down to the fruit of a bad week for both birthers and truthers, it is an apt moment, as America rightly rejoices at the comeuppance given Bin Laden, to ponder the vicious nature of the paranoid conspiracy theories that originate from the far left. Polls have shown that belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories is rampant in the Arab and Islamic worlds, a trend that is closely linked to the surge in anti-Semitic hatred that has taken root there in recent decades. The links between the truthers and the Israel-haters should remind us that although the Internet facilitates them, urban legends are not a modern invention. The same kind of thinking that leads people to imagine that Israel or the CIA attacked the World Trade Center once led others to believe the vicious canard that Jews baked matzah with the blood of kidnapped Gentile children.
There is this:
Current and former U.S. officials say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, provided the nom de guerre of one of bin Laden’s most trusted aides. The CIA got similar information from Mohammed’s successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Both were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics inside CIA prisons in Poland and Romania.
“Yeah, we water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed…I’d do it again to save lives.”
—Former President George W. Bush, during a speech and question-and-answer period at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In her remarks this morning on the killing of Osama bin Laden, Secretary of State Clinton asserted that:
History will record that bin Ladin’s death came at a time of great movements toward freedom and democracy, at a time when the people across the Middle East and North Africa are rejecting the extremist narratives and charting a path of peaceful progress based on universal rights and aspirations.
It may be a bit early to announce that people across the Middle East are rejecting extremist narratives. Dictators have been overthrown, in some cases, but it is not yet clear what will replace them. We do not know what will happen next in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, much less what History will say about it. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony will continue notwithstanding the death of bin Laden.
President Obama deserves great credit for a successful mission that involved great risk. It completes the mission President Bush announced with his “dead or alive” remark. But it is too early for celebrations (this passionate post and the erudite comments under it suggest the moral hazard involved). If the killing becomes the occasion for mistaking a tactical success for victory in a war not yet won, History will have bad things to say about our self-congratulatory rhetoric of triumph.
Over at National Review Online’s Corner blog, Mark Steyn concedes that he was a “little stunned by the first part of the President’s speech” last night reporting that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a raid by U.S. forces. “[A]ll that telepromptered overload about cloudless Tuesday mornings was not only tackily over-prettified but came over as unfelt and hand-me-down, like a course exercise in some third-rate creative-writing school’s Soaring Oratory class,” Steyn complained.
But perhaps the most stunning thing about the speech was the message that the “telepromptered overload” was intended to reinforce:
On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.
The American people came together, we were united as one American family—the theme of unity was so important to the president that he returned to it again at the end of his speech, just in case anybody had missed it (“let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11”). The triumph of getting bin Laden, for him, was apparently diluted by the sense of unity that had been lost in the intervening decade.
By a remarkable coincidence, yesterday was also the eighth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s famous “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln marking the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
Donald Trump’s prominence in the GOP presidential race has owed more to his domination of the media coverage over the past few weeks than to his seriousness as a candidate. His monopoly of the news cycle peaked late last week when Obama released his birth certificate. After that, the real estate tycoon latched onto the “college transcript” controversy to keep the back-and-forth going with the president.
But Trump’s petty, baseless, and highly-personal attacks on Obama’s legitimacy to hold office seem especially tasteless in light of the president’s role in the execution of Osama bin Laden yesterday. The reality show star tried to backtrack today, calling for a halt in the “party politics” debate:
I am so proud to see Americans standing shoulder to shoulder, waving the American flag in celebration of this great victory,” [said Trump]. “We should spend the next several days not debating party politics, but in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those currently fighting for our freedom. God Bless America!”
There’s nothing wrong with engaging in party politics or debate, but that has no resemblance to what Trump has been doing. Instead he chooses his criticism of the president based on what’s likely to get him the most media attention. With the world focused on bin Laden’s death, we seem to have a bit of a reprieve from Trump’s constant interviews and self-promotion today. The bin Laden coverage will wane soon enough, but let’s hope that Trump’s absence continues.
On the very day that American forces were invading a compound in Pakistan’s Abbottabad Valley to kill Osama Bin Laden, the New York Times was reporting about the widespread dissatisfaction in that country with the pace of the distribution of American aid there.
Given the fact that Bin Laden was found living in a populated area of Pakistan within sight of a government military installation, yesterday’s Times article on the subject was unintentionally ironic, but it also illustrated the difficulties that the United States faces in the region. Although America has promised to give Pakistan $7.5 billion in civilian aid over the next five years, the Pakistani government is so thoroughly corrupt that it has proven impossible to deliver the money to infrastructure, health, or education projects that are desperately needed. Apparently only $179.5 million of the first $1.5 billion of the five-year program had been disbursed by last December.
The result is that most Pakistanis distrust the United States and see Washington as trying to ineptly buy their love. They also seem to be more focused on their resentment against American drone attacks on terrorist targets inside the country, a sentiment that will only grow in the wake of the killing of bin Laden without any cooperation from Islamabad or the Pakistani military. But in the wake of the realization that Pakistani officials may have shielded Bin Laden, attempts to speed up or increase U.S. aid are liable to fall on deaf ears.
America desperately needs to keep Pakistan out of the hands of Islamists because of its strategic position as well as its nuclear capability. But the price America has paid for support for American efforts in Afghanistan has been our acquiescence toward the Pakistani government’s two-faced policy on terror. Punishing Pakistan might be self-defeating for the United States given the stakes there. But changing the situation via well-intentioned American aid seems to be as much of a failure as any other strategy we have employed in the region.
Bin Laden’s end emphasizes the importance of human intelligence in the fight against terrorism. Not only did a Gitmo interrogation reportedly start analysts down the path that led to discovery of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, but someone must have gone through that neighborhood to discover that they never put trash out for collection. Satellite imagery and signals intercepts have a role, of course, but too often the human side proves more important. In the age of litigiousness and in a situation where briefcase-carting lawyers have more say in intelligence and national security operations than the man in the back alley, the value of human intelligence is ignored or simply becomes the stuff of automatic lip service. Let’s hope Bin Laden’s death changes that.
Try to watch this without tears in your eyes. The commandant of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, Capt. Robert E. Clark, last night (h/t: Tom Bevan):
Among the many serendipitous aspects of the Osama bin Laden operation is that the founder of Al Qaeda was true to his boast not to be taken alive. He apparently offered resistance to SEAL Team Six and wound up with a bullet—or perhaps multiple bullets—in the head.
Imagine if he had been taken alive. What a circus would have ensued. Where would he have been held? What techniques would have permitted for his interrogation? How would he have been tried? Those questions would have consumed public debate for months.
President Obama has backtracked on his intent to close the Guantanamo detention center and to end the military tribunals for captured terrorists. Both are still in operation, with Attorney General Eric Holder announcing recently that Khalid Sheik Muhammed and other 9/11 conspirators would face a military tribunal, not a civilian court. Presumably the same precedent could have been applied to bin Laden but whether tried by a military or civilian court his proceedings would have been the mother of all media circuses. In custody he also would have been a rallying cry for jihadists who undoubtedly would have carried out atrocities to try to blackmail us into releasing him.
His fast death is not all to the good. It does make it impossible to interrogate him, thus depriving us of possibly critical intelligence. But by most accounts bin Laden had become increasingly divorced from daily Al Qaeda operations; his compound did not even have telephone or Internet connections. Moreover his interrogation would surely have reopened the difficult debate over the use of coercive techniques—a debate that may reopen in any case because of news that some of the information which led to his location was obtained in secret CIA facilities using harsh methods.
All things considered, it is just as well that he now rests in a watery unmarked grave.
It has been less than 24 hours since bin Laden was run to ground, but already the historical revisionism is in full force. The New York Times’s Roger Cohen weighs in on the news while on location in Libya and informs us that it was all made possible by a name change.
According to Cohen, the triumph of American arms yesterday in Pakistan was the result of President Obama’s linguistic ability:
This is a triumphant day for a young American president who changed policy, retiring his predecessor’s horrible misnomer, the Global War on Terror or G.W.O.T., in order to focus, laser-like, on the terrorists determined to do the United States and its allies harm. Bin Laden had enticed George W. Bush’s flailing America into his web. Obama saw the need for extraction and engagement—extraction from the wars and engagement with the moderate Muslim majority.
In fact, as we now know, the tracking down of the 9/11 plotter was in part the result of interrogations that took play at Guantanamo Bay, the prison that Obama had promised to shut down, and had already been under way long before he took office. The assault on the compound had nothing to do with “engagement with the moderate Muslim majority,” but rather was the work of a Bush-like unilateral military intervention in a Muslim country where the majority, whether moderate or not, don’t like the United States or Obama.
Barack Obama may no longer claim to be fighting a global war on terror, but that is what our armed forces continue to do, just as they did while Bush was president. Obama’s “engagement” with Islamist radicals, such as the government of Iran that Cohen lauded in his infamous attempt to downplay Tehran’s anti-Semitism, was an abject failure. Obama is entitled to claim the credit for his decision to launch the strike on Bin Laden, but any pretense that this victory has anything to do with president’s conceptual approach to the Muslim world is sheer bunk.
The death of Osama bin Laden brings to an end one of the most massive and complicated manhunts in history. The operation itself appears to have been a masterpiece in terms of planning and execution. Jake Tapper reports that President Obama authorized the use of elite American forces to kill bin Laden in lieu of bombing his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This was done in order to preserve DNA evidence to prove bin Laden was dead and to minimize collateral damage. This decision is a credit to the president. If the operation had failed, as Jimmy Carter’s effort to free the Iranian hostages did, it would have been extremely damaging.
It will take some time to assess the effects of bin Laden’s death on al Qaeda specifically and militant Islam more broadly. But the moral ramifications are enormous. Bin Laden, after all, was the living, breathing symbol of al Qaeda. Once considered to be the “North Star” of global terrorism, in the 1990s bin Laden was one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremism in the world. And then came the massive, cruel attacks on September 11. As long as bin Laden was free, the circle remained unclosed.
Finally, in the early morning hours on Sunday, the man who had declared it the duty of every Muslim to “kill Americans wherever they are found” was himself killed with a bullet through the head. He will not find 72 virgins awaiting him.
Among the most vivid memories of my life was attending, as an official of the Bush White House, the Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral, where President Bush spoke to the nation in the middle hour of our grief. “Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history,” he said, “but our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of [this] evil.” He went on to say, “On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.”
At the close of the service we sang, with tears welling in my eyes, the Battle Hymn of the Republic. “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” the lyrics go. “His truth is marching on.” And so it is. Justice may have been delayed. But in the end, justice was not denied. Osama bin Laden is dead.
The saving grace about most extremist organization is that, well, they are so extreme that they make it hard even for dupes and fellow-travelers to sympathize with them. Case in point: Hamas. The Gaza-based terrorist organization is basking in new-found legitimacy by striking a power-sharing arrangement with the PLO. But how does Hamas react to the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist? Here is how one Israeli newspaper:
Hamas on Monday condemned the killing by US forces of Osama bin Laden and mourned him as an “Arab holy warrior” while Iran condemned “Zionist terror” and US sources said Saudi Arabia had refused to bury the arch-terrorist’s body. “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood,” Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, told reporters.
Hamas’s ham-handed response reminds me of the catastrophic mistake that Yasir Arafat made in siding with Saddam Hussein when Iraq invaded Kuwait. That blunder cost the PLO substantial amounts in oil money and forced it to the negotiating table. Hamas’s statement may not have comparable impact, but it certainly shows the self-defeating tendencies of fanatical terrorists. They tend to speak their minds where more prudent politicos would opt for silence.
One of the enduring images of the post-9/11 agony was the way that many Palestinians cheered the news of the terrorist attacks. Veteran terrorist Yasir Arafat soon ordered an end to the demonstrations in Gaza and elsewhere but the willingness of Palestinians to identify with al Qaeda atrocities resonated for many Americans, including President George W. Bush, who challenged the world to declare which they side they were on in the conflict between America and terrorism.
It is worth remembering the Palestinian reaction to 9/11 on the morning after Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. forces because a triumphant President Obama must soon make a critical decision that affects the future of a terrorist ally of bin Laden. The United States has always and quite rightly insisted that Hamas must be treated as a terrorist group, not a political party or a government, in spite of the fact that they are the de facto rulers of Gaza since the bloody coup in which they seized power in the strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. But by agreeing last week to join a coalition government with their Fatah rivals, Hamas is putting itself in position to benefit from the massive American aid that flows to the PA.
Many in Congress from both the Republican and Democratic parties have rightly put the Palestinians on notice that if the Fatah-Hamas alliance is signed, American financial support for the PA will cease. But the White House and the State Department, though mildly critical of the pact, have yet to enunciate the administration’s determination to go along with the will of Congress on this issue.
The death of Osama bin Laden—richly deserved, long delayed—is certainly cause for celebration. But let’s not get carried away. The organization he built, al Qaeda, is likely resilient enough to continue without him. Certainly many of its regional affiliates, from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, operated largely independently of their titular leader and will continue to do so. Then there are the numerous other Islamist terrorist organizations, such as Lashkar e Taiba and the Pakistani Taliban, which did not pledge even formal allegiance to “Emir” Osama. His death is an important symbolic blow against the Islamist terrorist network but not a fatal one; at most it might lead to the decline of Al Qaeda and the rise of other, competing organizations.
Some other thoughts on the Big News:
• The raid shows the importance of U.S. bases in Afghanistan—not only for keeping that country out of the clutches of the Taliban and other Al Qaeda allies, but also for projecting U.S. power into Pakistan which, despite bin Laden’s death, will remain a hotbed of radical Islamist activity. If it were not for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, how could Seal Team Six have reached bin Laden’s compound deep in the heart of Pakistan? According to news accounts, they were using Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters, presumably the variants specially modified for special operations. But modified or not helicopters are short-range aircraft. Thus having guaranteed access to bases in Afghanistan is crucial to the success of such missions—as they are for Predator strikes and various intelligence-gathering activities which the CIA and other agencies undertake to monitor the situation in Pakistan.
Now that Bin Laden is dead, the anti-war crowd, Congressional Democrats, and isolationist Republicans are probably going to demand that the United States pack up in Afghanistan and go home, perhaps even before 2014. This would be a huge mistake. If there’s one lesson that we can immediately glean from bin Laden’s death, it is that Pakistan is not a true ally in the war on terror. If we leave Afghanistan now that bin Laden is gone, Pakistan will move in and fill the vacuum—with his fellow-travelers.
The State Department is too keen to see Pakistan as a partner, perhaps even one they can work through to stabilize Afghanistan. They have it backwards. The best thing President Obama can do to defend American national security is use Afghanistan—perhaps with India—as the first line of defense against an increasingly malignant Pakistan. We shouldn’t be in Afghanistan permanently, but we need to ensure that becomes neither a safe haven for Al Qaeda nor Pakistan’s puppet.
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas on Monday condemned the killing by U.S. forces of Osama bin Laden and mourned him as an “Arab holy warrior.” “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood,” Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, told reporters.
Before you let this go with “Oh, that should play well in Congress,” it’s worth mentioning that the ostensible Al Qaeda/Hamas split is a favorite talking point of Hamas apologists. For certain foreign policy experts, it ranks with “Sunnis and Shiites never cooperate” as a pretext for engaging some jihadists because they wear different badges than other jihadists. Even this CNN article includes a reference to doctrinal differences.
Those differences don’t exist on the level of goals and tactics. They didn’t stop Hamas from releasing 28 Al Qaeda prisoners a few years ago. On the issue of confronting the West, they don’t prevent Hamas from getting pulled in Al Qaeda’s direction rather than vice versa. And then there’s this:
After Hamas assaulted and overthrew Fatah’s forces in the Gaza Strip this summer, Zawahiri issued an audio message assuring, “our brothers, the Hamas mujahedin, that we and the entire Muslim nation stand along side you.” Now that Hamas rejected power-sharing in Gaza in favor of brute force, bin Laden’s deputy pledges to help facilitate the “passage of weapons and supplies from neighboring countries” into the Gaza Strip… This would not be the first time the two groups worked together. In the early and mid-1990s, Hamas members received paramilitary training and even attended Islamist conferences in Sudan that bin Laden and members of his budding network reportedly attended.
So while Hamas and Al Qaeda do occasionally fight over who gets to be the top sharia-enforcing totalitarian in the Gaza Strip, their estrangement is vastly overstated. It remains vastly overstated no matter how many times it gets peddled by J-Stret co-founder Daniel Levy, or by anyone else who urges Western dialogue with Iran’s genocidal proxies.