Wednesday, May 4, 2011

As we know it, as I see it

I've digested a fair amount of news, analysis and commentary since Sunday night, and I've managed to collect some of my thoughts.

Osama bin Laden is dead. He died on May 2, 2011 at the barrel of a gun wielded by a member of DEVGRU (f.k.a. SEAL Team Six). Theories to the contrary have no basis beyond anti-government paranoia.

I celebrate, without apology, both the death of Osama bin Laden and the manner in which he met justice. 'Nuff said.

This was a "kill mission" from the get-go. All the soft-pedaling we've heard over the last few days is intended to soothe the squeamish. I'm not squeamish and I don't buy it.

Releasing photos of a dead Osama bin Laden won't make a bad thing worse. In other words, the fresh threat posed by his pissed-off followers isn't appreciably greater if we show the world what he looks like after taking one Black Hills round to the chest and another bullet to the head. I don't have a pressing emotional or intellectual need to see the photos myself, but I can't argue against their release.

Radical Islamist terrorism and al-Qaeda are not dead, nor are they mortally wounded. David Morris summarized it simply and well:
"As to the statements that we 'cut the head off of al-Qaeda and radical Islam'...they completely miss the point. That would almost be like saying that when Elvis died, rock-and-roll died with it. Rock-and-roll and al-Qaeda are movements. Both have the equivalent of highly public, well-funded, organized groups as well as garage bands, and solo acts anonymously practicing at home every night -- hoping to someday get to play on the big stage and get famous. Just like rock-and-roll continued after Elvis died, misguided people will continue to try to kill us, disrupt our way of life, and terrorize us after bin Laden's death."
The trail that led to Osama bin Laden began during the second term of Pres. George W. Bush. U.S. intelligence operations unraveled a network of couriers, ultimately tracing one promising thread to the compound in Abbottabad. Pres. Barack Obama missed an opportunity to be magnanimous on Sunday night, however -- he should've expressly highlighted an effort that originated in the previous administration. In my opinion, he should've explicitly thanked his predecessor, but (uncharacteristically) he didn't.

Much of the "heavy lifting" -- developing intelligence that made possible the assassination of Osama bin Laden -- was done by career and long-serving federal employees. Many were around before 9/11 and will be there after Pres. Obama leaves office. That's the nature of (our) government. Though it's great sport to disparage bureaucracy and bureaucrats, these folks deserve our respect.

Pres. Obama made a command decision -- deal with it. Just as Sunday's address was missing a particular expression of gratitude so, too, are statements from the President's political opponents. They thank "the troops" and Pres. Bush but fail to give Pres. Obama his due for making a correct and yes, a gutsy call. Typically, right-wingers don't seem able to distinguish national unity from policy agreement, so they can't bring themselves to say a heartfelt American thank-you. It's a symptom of the grade-school mentality infecting our politics.

The death of Osama bin Laden doesn't put a lock on Pres. Obama's re-election. Far from it, I'm glad to say. Truth is, the expected post-assassination "bump" probably won't help that much or last very long -- and November 2012 is a long way off. (See also Operation Desert Storm and Pres. George H.W. Bush.) In a week or two we'll turn our full attention back to the floundering U.S. economy, this president's weakness and the biggest roadblock to a second term.

The kind of scene captured in the White House photo of the national-security team gathered in the "Situation Room" isn't as rare as most people think it is. I'll leave it at that.

Pakistan is an unreliable ally. We were right to leave Pakistani officials in the dark about the assault on the Abbottabad compound until our DEVGRU team was airborne and outbound -- we couldn't risk jeopardizing OPSEC by informing a regime that's untrustworthy (to put it kindly). That said, maintaining good relations with Pakistan -- without continuing to throw away billions in aid -- will prove useful in the future, as it has in the past. Only simple-minded zero-summers are proposing that we sever ties completely with this (unreliable) ally.

I've lost count of the heroes. Our culture invokes "hero" so often that the word has lost much of its impact. When it truly fills the bill -- ordinary Americans who resisted terrorists on United Flight 93, NYFD firefighters who ran toward near-certain death on 9/11 -- we should use it. And anyone who wants to apply the same label to the real-deal team that assaulted Osama bin Laden's compound on Sunday, well, that's fine by me.

I choose to call them warriors.