Monday, May 2, 2011

What Osama bin Laden's death means

Deceased!  (Hamid Mir)
In a long awaited moment, President Obama announced Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a predawn raid on Abbottabad, a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan.  US Navy SEALs attacking from helicopters stormed bin Laden’s fortified compound and overwhelmed the defenders.  Bin Laden was reportedly shot in the head and his body taken by the SEALs.  The body was buried at sea within twenty-four hours to keep with Muslim tradition, but not before bin Laden’s identity was confirmed through DNA testing. 

Bin Laden’s death is a major milestone, but it also has many different consequences for different people and organizations.

The War on Terror  Bin Laden started the War on Terror, but his death does not end it.  Al Qaeda, the terror network that bin Laden founded, still exists with the goal of killing Americans wherever they may find them. 

Al Qaeda Bin Laden was the spiritual head of al Qaeda, but had probably not directed its day-to-day operations for years due the worldwide manhunt for him launched by President Bush.  Bin Laden is believed to have avoided internet and telephone communications, instead relying on couriers.  One of these couriers was identified by US intelligence and led the Americans to bin Laden’s compound.  There are numerous junior leaders of al Qaeda who have been trained since 9/11 and who are ready to carry on bin Laden’s work.  The War on Terror has likely made al Qaeda more decentralized with multiple autonomous branches. 

President Obama Obama will almost certainly get a boost in the polls from bin Laden’s death.  The president deserves accolades for making a gutsy decision to send ground forces into a friendly country after a man that the US was not even sure was there.  He also made a very good speech to announce bin Laden’s death, complete with references to “one nation under God” and thanks to the military. 

Conservatives may be tempted to nitpick Obama’s speech for references to “I” and “my” or second guess his decision making.  They shouldn’t.  Obama would have taken the blame if the raid had failed, and is therefore entitled to his portion of the credit.  He made the right decision and should be supported.

Osama’s death will not secure Obama’s reelection though.  The economy is still a shambles.  The victory in Abbottabad will not bring down gas and food prices.  It will not bring down unemployment.  It will not control the deficit. It will not make Obamacare work any better or make it pass constitutional muster.  These problems still need to be addressed.

George W. Bush President Bush is vindicated by bin Laden’s death.  Much of the intelligence that ultimately led to bin Laden was developed during President Bush’s administration.  The interrogation techniques and the prison at Guantanamo, although controversial, may well prove to have been instrumental in bin Laden’s downfall.  Under new rules for interrogating detainees, bin Laden might never have been found.

President Bush also deserves credit for launching the War on Terror.  Without his resolve and determination, the hunt for bin Laden might well have ended years ago or been consigned to a back office at the CIA.  Even though bin Laden was not captured during his watch, Bush set the stage for his eventual reckoning with justice and, more importantly, prevented further attacks on the US. 

Afghanistan and Iraq The two main fronts in the War on Terror continue to draw al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.  The war in Iraq is largely won with a stable republic in place, although the Iraqi military is far from strong enough to stand up to outside influences like Iran.  In Afghanistan, there is much more work to be done.  While many troops will soon be coming home from Iraq, it is too early to leave Afghanistan.  A premature withdrawal would create a power vacuum that could allow the Taliban to move back in and open more terrorist training camps under new bin Laden protégés.  In both cases, the US should be prepared to assist the fledgling governments resist Iran… by force if necessary.

Bipartisanship Finally, the two parties have found something that they can agree on:  That the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden.  This is a moment for national unity and celebration.  Politicians and pundits should think twice about politicizing the moment with cheap shots and insults.  That goes for Republicans who would fault Obama’s speech for being too egotistical as well as for Democrats who would denigrate President Bush for leaving office with Obama still at large.

Pakistan As Ricky Ricardo might say, “Pakistan has some ‘splainin’ to do.”  Our nominal ally did not inform us that Osama bin Laden was living in a suburb of their capitol city in “the heart of the Pakistani military establishment.”  Many in the Pakistani government have strong ties to al Qaeda and other terror groups.  The US should reevaluate who our friends are in Pakistan and whether foreign aid to the country should be continued.  Many Pakistanis, and Muslims in general, will be unhappy that bin Laden is dead.  As President Bush said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

For its part, the United States did launch a military strike into a friendly nation without their consent or knowledge.  The Pakistani government will definitely be embarrassed and angry at that fact.  They would be more angry if they had not been caught red-handed with the most wanted man in the world.

Conspiracy Theorists  Conpiricists will have a field day with the fact that bin Laden’s body was buried at sea so quickly after his death.  Even photos and DNA will not convince them.  The theory will probably be that Obama faked bin Laden’s capture to boost his approval ratings going into the election and distract from the birth certificate debate (which many of them still believe is a forgery). 

The US Military  The US military will gain much earned prestige from the mission.  The War on Terror should not be condensed into a 40 minute firefight.  American soldiers, sailors, and airmen have done an amazing job in the ten years since the 9/11 attacks.  In spite of insults, failing support, and tenacious resistance by the terrorists they did in Iraq what many thought was impossible.  In Afghanistan, progress is slower, but they are making great strides.

The list of those who gave their lives in Iraq includes 124 GeorgiansEight Georgians have died in Afghanistan.  In all, over one thousand Americans have died in the War on Terror.  Many more have been wounded or maimed, both physically and mentally.  Thousands have endured long months and years away from their families and loved ones.  Many of these Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have moved through Georgia’s military bases or traveled on flights in and out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.  The job is not over yet, but we owe them a debt of gratitude.  

The CIA  After missing some big breaking news, the CIA finally gets one right.

The United States of America  After three years of a recession, bitter partisan debate, and what often seems like little progress in the war against the terrorists, America has finally received some good news. Americans should enjoy a well-earned celebration of the justice that often seems to be meted out much too rarely. 

America’s enemies should note that Americans can withstand a long war.  Bin Laden himself did not believe that America would track him to the ends of the earth over a decade.  He famously referred to American soldiers as “paper tigers” after the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.  However, as President Ronald Reagan once said of another Muslim terrorist supporter, “They counted on America to be passive. They counted wrong.”

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