Monday, May 02, 2011

Reflections on bin Laden’s Death

osama

 

 

 

Today, I am proud to have been here.  Not yesterday.  Probably not tomorrow.  But today, I am .

A few thoughts:

  • President Obama deserves some credit here.  He brushed aside diplomatic concerns and gave his support to aggressive operations inside Pakistan, with or without Pakistani cooperation.  This was always a high-risk strategy (and may yet generate blowback), but it seems to have yielded fruit.  Yet weirdly, judging from his speech a few hours ago, Obama seems more interested in leveraging his success for support of his domestic agenda rather than a specific set of goals with respect to terrorism.
  • Operationally, bin Laden’s death does little to diminish the near-term threat of terrorism.  Al Qaeda – and Islamism in general – has always been a highly distributed movement, with very little in the way of command and control from the top.  bin Laden himself is something of a figurehead at this point.
  • Which is not to say that figureheads are strategically valueless.  Long term, whether Osama’s death discourages would-be jihadists or provokes them to renewed efforts remains to be seen; certainly our military is predicting the second in the near term, given our worldwide elevation of alert levels and force protection measures.
  • Back to the blowback:  this is probably not good for the government of Pakistan.  Either they helped us – and collaborated with the enemies of Islam – or they didn’t – and were powerless to stop a military operation in their capital city.  Either way (and let’s face it; nothing will stop Pakistanis from believing both simultaneously), the credibility of Pakistan’s government just took a nosedive.
  • Obama ought to get a short-term bump in the polls because of this.  But more people may start to question our continued presence in Afghanistan, given that we now have what we came for.  These questions will be most urgent if, as we are expecting locally, the Afghanis riot in protest.  Since Obama is unlikely to withdraw from Afghanistan, unlikely to see his nation-building efforts result in sustainable progress, and unlikely to undertake meaningful steps to promote American security like controlling our borders, I predict Obama will find it difficult to translate this event into 2012 electoral victories.

11 comments:

samsonsjawbone said...

What does it say that I don't care about this?

Ricochet, which I sometimes read, is abuzz with typically short-sighted neoconservative chest-beating. “Who's the strong horse now?” Well, considering it has taken ten years to kill Bin Laden, and symbolism notwithstanding, it's not even really important, I'm not sure we can say it's us. Speaking of which: “Another demonstration that our culture is thriving while theirs wanes.” Um. Have you ever been out of the US, or read anything besides rightist media pablum? Our civilisation is dying.

I think it must be some token of the evolution of my worldview that the whole affair makes me think not of politics, or war, but of death. The biggest elephant in every room in the world. What were those final hours like for Bin Laden? What did he think about... what did he believe in, as a living human man, during those last hours?

samsonsjawbone said...

As the helicopter hovered overhead, did he know what was coming? Had he spent time in prayer, meditating on his Koran? When the SEALs stormed the room, was he afraid, or prepared?

The bullet entered Bin Laden's body and killed him – and then what happened to Bin Laden?

Who pulled the trigger, and what was he thinking, and how will he face death when it comes?

I wonder if I shouldn't be sad that I'm not happier about this. Is it a sign of spiritual maturity, or of profound cynicism and disillusionment? I take no pleasure in the death of anyone.

newt0311 said...

This was always a high-risk strategy (and may yet generate blowback), but it seems to have yielded fruit.

This is the most depressing line I have read all week.

Consider what Pakistan is:
1) Significantly weaker than us. We could crush them militarily without even feeling it much.
2) Completely beholden to us due to the billions in aid we give them.

And yet ... they have seen fit to commit an act of war against us. They have taken this country for fools by knowingly harboring a terrorists, an enemy. Any country with a shred of honor would be compelled to thoroughly humiliate the Pakistani national government in such a situation.

We on the other hand, consider is a gutsy move just to kill this terrorist. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Novaseeker said...

It's one of those things that will be criticized no matter what, I think, but it's still a rather significant thing symbolically. It's also a great triumph for the CIA and special forces who carried this out. It's natural, given the state of division in American politics (especially as it plays out on the internet), that this will be played by various elements in a negative way, but it's a very positive thing, overall, for the United States regardless.

ironrailsironweights said...

The credibility of Pakistan's government did not - could not - take a nosedive as it *already* was at absolute zero.

Peter

Φ said...

What were those final hours like for Bin Laden? What did he think about... what did he believe in, as a living human man, during those last hours?

Samson: dunno. But I promise you he believes in Jesus now.

Any country with a shred of honor would be compelled to thoroughly humiliate the Pakistani national government in such a situation.

Newt: which, to a first approximation, is exactly what we did. We revealed them to the world to be duplicitous little bitches and we held up their territorial sovereignty to be a matter of both theoretical and operational insignificance.

My question is, what is Pakistan's face-saving move going forward? Yes, we could invade the country and destroy its state; what we cannot afford to do is to conduct a thirdcounter-insurgency a la Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan can therefore make even more trouble for us than they presently do.

Any country with a shred of honor would be compelled to thoroughly humiliate the Pakistani national government in such a situation.

Peter: Up until last evening, I don't think the American people fully appreciated this. I know I didn't until I was actually over here.

Yet, weirdly, I have not yet seen a single MSM story asking these questions.

Φ said...

Peter: oops! my remark to you was in response to your comment:

The credibility of Pakistan's government did not - could not - take a nosedive as it *already* was at absolute zero.

newt0311 said...

My definition of "thorough humiliation" includes:

1) A complete removal of all aid given to Pakistan by the US.
2) The execution of several high-level officials who knew there Laden was a failed to inform the US.
3) The execution of the base commander who sat a few miles away from Laden's mansion and did nothing.

None of these requires an occupation.

Note also that Iraq is a quagmire because the US no longer has the will to rule a nation. It had it in the past: the Philippines and Cuba in 1900 were very much like Iraq and Afghanistan today and yet the US army was able to subdue and bring under control both nations in a matter of month. They did so with fewer resources and drastically worse technology. The difference was that they knew what it means to rule a nation. The current crop of military commanders don't which is why Iraq is the disaster it is.

Novaseeker said...

No doubt that Pakistan is a hugely problematic "state", really. I think that now, however, the gloves will gradually come off in dealing with that regime, now that we isolated Bin Laden and demonstrated that we can, and will, take out targets inside their territory without their permission. Pakistan is a very chaotic place, and different "elements" within the government are off doing their own thing, often. I'd expect that this is going to set things down the road towards greater chaos in Pakistan.

Elusive Wapiti said...

I'm not convinced that the Pakistani leadership was necessarily *not* in on the plan...but that they are posing as such to save face with their quite radicalized population.

The sheer quantity of madrassas in Pakistan is mind-boggling, and Pakistan is now, like it was 10 years ago, ground zero for radicalized Islam. And they have the Bomb.

Dexter said...

I think that now, however, the gloves will gradually come off in dealing with that regime, now that we isolated Bin Laden and demonstrated that we can, and will, take out targets inside their territory without their permission.

Nope. It remains true that the majority of the logistics to NATO forces in Afghanistan comes through Pakistan (especially the oil that keeps the vehicles moving and the aircraft flying). Therefore we can't afford to piss the Pakis off too badly.