The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of the U.S. military is a singular victory for the U.S. Yet it also raises several issues:
1. Obama's Decision To Order The Raid On Bin Laden's Compound:
Obama made the right decision to approve the raid on bin Laden's compound. He deserves credit for his decision. That said, many on the left are attempting to shoehorn this "right decision" into proof positive that Obama is a bold and decisive leader. Despite the complete absence of any evidence of that in regards to the rest of Obama's failing foreign policy, it bears noting that in the instant case, Obama's decision was not "gutsy," it was pragmatic.
Once bin Laden was found, Obama had three options. The first option was to do nothing. But if it ever leaked to the public that Obama knew where bin Laden was and did nothing, that would have been political suicide for a President already seen to be extremely weak in foreign affairs. Obama HAD to act. The only options then were whether to bomb the compound or to do a special ops. air assault.
Doing a standoff bombing run was not a viable option. Bin Laden's compound was in a built-up area near Pakistan's capital of Islamabad. To be sure of killing him inside of the compound would have required probably two strikes with laser guided 500 lbs. bombs or larger. This would have resulted in collateral damage, with innocent civilians outside the compound being injured or killed. Given that Pakistan is already up in arms about drone strikes in the tribal areas, a major bombing run some 30 miles from Islamabad would have probably done mortal harm to whatever remaining relationship we have with Pakistan. Two, we would have had no way of knowing for sure whether the bombing run was successful absent our agents getting cooperation from Pakistan to inspect the rubble in the aftermath - something that could not be assured Given the impact that the bombing would have had on our relationship with Pakistan - and how such an act would have looked to the world unless we could establish with certainty that we killed bin Laden - it would not be worth the risk.
That left the last option, sending in the special ops folks. It was by far the least risky option for Obama. One, a night raid of this sort is a bread and butter mission for special ops. Two, if some men were lost in the battle, that happens. No one with a shred of intellectual honesty on the right would fault Obama for loss of life on a legitimate, fully resourced mission to capture or kill bin Laden.
On that note, parallels have been drawn by many civilian pundits to the failed 1979 Iran hostage rescue as well as Mogadishu in order to play up the "bravery" of the President's decision. Those are not legitimate comparisons. Mogadishu was a travesty because of political decisions by the Clinton administration that assured the Rangers involved were underresourced. The 1979 Iran hostage rescue failed because of insufficient helicopters - when two went down in the desert, the entire mission had to be scrapped. Neither scenario was at issue here. By all accounts, the mission was completely resourced, there was tons of intel, and there was time for meticulous planning. Further, the special ops folks, 40 soldiers in toto, were brought in by two chinooks and two blackhawks with enough carrying capacity to hold 100 people. There was a lot of redundancy.
In sum, I credit Obama with the right decision to send in the special ops for this operation. It does not mark him as a decisive leader, nor was it a brave decision given the options. It was a pragmatic decision that deserves congratulations, not adulation. By comparison, this decision did not take the testicular fortitude of a Washington to order the assault at Trenton, of Truman to order the atomic bombing of Japan, or for that matter, of Bush to order the surge in Iraq.
2. Impact On The 2012 Election
Some leftwing pundits are suggesting that 'getting bin Laden' makes Obama a far more formidable, if not unbeatable candidate in 2012. I will be surprised if even a single American sees this act of killing bin Laden as decisive when they go to cast their ballots in 2012. Foreign affairs can kill a President, as happened with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. But history teaches that foreign affairs are not decisive in the face of economic doldrums. Just ask Bush senior, who lost to Clinton despite his near universal popularity after Gulf War I. Obama may have gotten bin Laden, but unless he gets the deficit, jobs, inflation and gas prices, his outlook for reelection is cloudy indeed.
3. Why Assassination?
According to the most recent reports, bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot. He was asked if he wanted to surrender, he said no, and our special ops folks respected his wishes. Assuming this information is correct, then there is no question that this was an assassination. I think that perfectly justifiable. I do not, however, think it was the right decision.
On pragmatic grounds, capturing bin Laden would have been the penultimate intelligence prize. I believe that he wasn't taken alive because it would have created massive problems for Obama, given that he has utterly neutered our ability to interrogate high value al Qaeda detainees. It is a travesty.
As to justice, bin Laden was given a painless, instantaneous death. He, of all people, did not deserve such mercy. Justice would see him spending his remaining years naked and alone in a cold, windowless cell being forced to watch The View during the 12 hours of each day when he wasn't being waterboardered.
4. Burial At Sea
This was a smart move by the Obama administration. It prevents any chance of his burial ground becoming a shrine. It also has a nice Godfather-esque feel to it. Osama sleeps with the fishes. In the same vein, someone suggested putting bin Laden in the cement being used to create the foundation for the new WTC building. That would have been poetic indeed.
5. The War On Terror Is Now Over?
Those on the left who have posited that with the death of bin Laden, we can declare victory in the War on Terror and quit playing are simply so naive, so grossly ignorant of the nature of the threat emenating out of Wahhabi / Salafi / Deobandi / Twelver Islam, that they don't seem to rise to the intellectual level of idiot. Bin Laden was simply the most recognizable manifestation of the threat. Indeed, with the continued drive of uber-terrorist Iran for nuclear weapons, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Islamicization of our "NATO ally," Turkey, things portend to get much worse if something is not done to bend the trajectory. These people on the left who want to call the GWOT quits now are every bit as dangerous to our nation as the jihadis. To quote Milton, "Thus Belial, with words clothed in reason's garb, counseled ignoble ease, and peaceful sloth, not peace."
6. Whither Pakistan?
Pakistan is a failing police state. There is no question that Pakistanis at some level of the the ISI and the government had to know that bin Laden was living in a palatial compound in the middle of a suburb of the nation's capital. It is time for a true "come to Jesus" meeting with our erstwhile allies. We do have cards to play here. One of course is the withdrawal of aid. The second is to swing our support to Pakistan's mortal enemy, India. I doubt Congress will be a rubber stamp for continuing aid to Pakistan without a lot of questions answered - nor should they be.
7. Human Intelligence
In the war against the radicals in Islam, human intelligence has been by far the most important aspect. And indeed, it appears that the information that eventually led us to bin Laden came from two individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. Those would be the same techniques Obama banned as our Moral Arbiter In Chief. This should be not merely a moment to savor the rather delicious irony, but it should also be a catalyst to reopen the debate on interrogation techniques. Obama has neutered much of our human intelligence collection capabilities - and the war on terror is far from over.
(Image at top of page from Imaksim via American Digest)