Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Shark Bait

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)


Ted Leddy said...


A great day for the US. I'm sure as a former military man you take great satisfaction from the fact that the last thing Osama Bin Laden ever saw was a US Navy Seal pointing a gun at him.

I want to say someting about President Obama. I first started reading conservative blogs a number of years ago because I was tired of all the Bush bashing that was dominating the debate. But today I find the Obama bashing equally boring. Barack Obama has proved that he is not Jimmy Carter. He is neither afraid, embarassed or ashamed of American power. Look, the guy is a liberal and I know you will never like him. But conservatives are going to have to acknowledge that President Obama has conducted the war on terror in a relatively competent manner. Otherwise, his critics are going to come across simply as bashers, not fair minded critics.

If the conservative movement want to see him ousted in 2012 they are going to have to focus on the economy. Otherwise, he will be a two termer. And it is not just because of this recent raid.

Obama has left the troops in Iraq. He escalated the war in Afganistan. He has sent more terrorists to paradise from drone strikes in Afgahanistan and Pakistan that the previous administration and he has confronted Colonel Gadaffi. And now he has overseen a counter terrorism operation that has led to the death of Bin Laden. The public just won't buy the line anymore that he is a weak, elite, liberal intellectual, who is afraid of American power and who thinks that agressive US policies have caused terrorism. That is how the far left think, but it is not how Obama thinks. Has Obama not been a pleasant surprise to you in any of the areas I just mentioned?

Is it so hard to believe that a person can be liberal and still recognise that western liberal democracy is a wonderful thing that should be defended aggressively from fascism, communism, religious fanaticism or any other type of tyranny, just as FDR and LBJ did.

For some, (not you and I mean that sincerely) saying anything positive about Obama is like swallowing acid. And I am really beginning to grow tired of this. I believe that such people are no different than the Bush bashers who never gave the former President a chance.



GW said...

Thanks for the comment Ted. I agree with most of what you have to say and have been the first to say on this blog when I think Obama gets it right. I still have a lot of heartburn with Obama on the foreign policy front. For example, yes, Obama has increased troops in Afghanistan, but he did so on the proviso that they would be there for one year. It was pure bull, but I think it certain that his pronouncements deeply hurt us among the Afghan people. As to Libya, that has been bungled from the start. We entered into a war in a severely limited fashion with no knowledge of who we were supporting.

With those and many other caveats, I am pleased that Obama has adopted many of the Bush era policies in the war on terror - and as you point out, in the case of drone stikes, upped the ante. I have said so many times on this blog. I don't think that he did so because he is not a far left ideologue, but rather because he is an ideologue who has been mugged by reality of a dangerous world and the weight of personal responsibility.

For example, if he had simply left Iraq to be Lebanonized by Iran, that would not only have been political suicide, but additionally, would have substantially strengthened the hand of Iran. Even he campaigned against Iran during the 08 election.

Likewise, as to Afghanistan, that is the war Obama and the entire left supported. If Obama turned tail in 2009, even after receiving Gen. McCrystal's assessment of the Afghan war that was made public, he again would have committed political suicide - in addition to placing America in a much weaker position.

Then there is Gitmo and whether to hold detainees without trial until the end of hostilities. Talk about being mugged by reality on that one.

To reitterate, my take is that Obama is a far left ideologue who has a pragmatic streak. That was my assessment of him in 2008 and it has since been vidicated. I applaud the pragmatic streak, but I think that his far left ideology leads him into critical errors. That is not weakness, but judgment.

Do note that two of the five people I would have voted for President or any other post were Democrats, both of whom were pragmatic, intellectually honest and robust in defense of our nation. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was one, Zell Miller another. Both men, had my vote for anything.

That said, it is not that liberals cannot be strong on foreign policy, but rather that, since the 1960's, and particularly in the last decade, the dominant strain of liberalism has been incredibly weak in foreign policy - in addition to being intellectually dishonest. My blood still boils when I think of all those on the far left who voted for war in Iraq, then did their best to legislate defeat in that war for their own political gain, irrespective of the cost to our country and the entire free world. I have no respect for such people, nor any trust that they will do the right thing to advance America's interest rather than their own. I put Obama in that category - as I wrote in 2008. See http://wolfhowling.blogspot.com/2008/02/ann-coulter-rush-limbaugh-and-mccain.html

And lastly, yes, we have bomb throwers on the right who are incapable of crediting Obama. That said, my sense is that if you go to the major right wing blogs, you will find far more intellectual honesty regarding Obama, I think, than the other way around.

GW said...

Ted - See http://wolfhowling.blogspot.com/2011/05/obama-dragonslayer.html

If this report is true, than Obama is not a leader, but criminally indecisive and weaker than even I feared.

Ted Leddy said...


Mugged by reality is a good way to put it. I think that is true regarding Gitmo. But not regarding the drone strikes as I believe he first ordered their use a mere three days into his presidency.

On Libya, I give Obama a pass. Unlike deciding whether to take action in Iraq or Iran it is not like there was the opporunity with Libya to study the situation for six months in advance. In fact, nobody could possibly have imagined at the start of the year that America would be at war with Libya. But I do agree, NATO look unsure of what they are prepared to do in that country.

I don't think it is a pragmatic streak that he has, I think it's a tough streak. Some of his pre election pledges on national security were actually quite bold. Like his promise to take action in Pakistan if high level enemy operatives were in his sights. His supporters are currently circulating the you tube clips of him saying so with particular glee.

On your last point, I agree. I just finished reading "Decision Points". The former President comes across as such a reasonable and compassionate man yet he was so hated. I must say I regret some of my own opposition to his policies but am willing to chalk it down to naievity in my youth.

I read your Dragon Slayer post and the link to the report. I will watch out for further reports about it but at this stage, I am not convinced.