Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama dead -- but his death raises troubling questions

It is a cliche in Western movies. Someone, the grizzled old prospector perhaps, or the comely schoolmarm, must absolve the hero for shooting the bad guy down like a dog.

"If ever a man needed killin', that one did," the character would intone, and, as the end credits roll, the hero would begin to come to grips with the idea that, if what he'd done was evil, it was a necessary one.

"If ever a man needed killin', that one did" is as fitting an epitaph as any for Osama bin Laden. But I think President Obama overstated the case last night when he said that "justice" has been done.

As a lawyer, I can never agree that "justice" can be done with helicopters and Navy SEALs and firefights. But I'm not unhappy that bin Laden is dead.

Osama bin Laden -- architect of, or at least the inspiration for, 9/11 -- and one-time friend and ally of the United States -- is dead.

Or had you forgotten about bin Laden's past as our pal? Remember how the Soviets invaded Afghanistan? The United States couldn't do much about it at the time. Jimmy Carter forbade the U.S. Olympics Team from going to the Moscow Games in 1980. And we also backed "freedom fighters," like young Osama, who swarmed into Afghanistan via Peshawar, Pakistan to make jihad on those godless communists.

We Americans are too friendly. We want everyone to like us, even young Osama. But he didn't really like us; he just liked our money and weapons. First chance he got, he turned on us. When his native Saudi Arabia allowed American troops to assemble in that country in preparation for the liberation of Kuwait, the die was cast. The first bombing of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Cole, the bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Al Qaeda, 9/11 all followed thereafter.

The circumstances of the weekend raid on Osama's secret fortress could make a thrilling adventure movie (though it probably will never be made because it is unlikely to do well overseas) but the raid itself carries serious implications for America's future.

Osama's secret hideaway was not in some remote mountain cave, either in Afghanistan or Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) or Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It was, we learn, only about 60 miles away from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, in
Abbottabad, a city of about 500,000, in a large and highly secured compound that, a resident of the city said, sits virtually adjacent to the grounds of a military academy. In an ironic twist, the academy was visited just last month by the Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, where he proclaimed that Pakistan had “cracked” the forces of terrorism, an assessment that was greeted with skepticism in Washington.

In addition, the city hosts numerous Pakistani forces — three different regiments, and a unit of the Army Medical Corps. According to some reports, the compound and its elaborate walls and security gates may have been built specifically for the Qaeda leader in 2005, hardly an obscure undertaking in a part of the city that the resident described as highly secure.
Jane Perlez's article in the New York Times, from which the preceding snippet is taken, adds that it is "too soon to say whether Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad reflected Pakistani complicity or incompetence."

NPR posts an AP article this morning in which Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, insists that the country's authorities were not aware of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad:
"Had we known it we would have done it ourselves," Hasan told the BBC. "The fact is that the Americans knew it and they carried out the operation themselves and they killed Osama bin Laden and then later our president of Pakistan was informed that the operation was successful, and that's it."
Stop right there.

The United States launched a military operation on the sovereign territory of a nation which is a supposed friend and ally of the United States without prior permission?

Another AP article, by Kimberly Dozier and David Espo, posted this morning on Yahoo! News, stresses that, in his statement last night, President Obama said that "it was 'important to note that our counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.'" But, here again, Dozier and Espo note that President Obama called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari after the raid.

This is troubling on at least two levels. First, friends don't invade friends. Sending military units into another country without the permission of that country's government is called an invasion. Maybe even a sneak attack.

Second, and also obviously, we must not think Pakistan is much of a friend. Clearly we didn't seek Pakistan's permission for the raid because we must have believed that someone high up in the Pakistani government would have warned Osama. Our dear friend would have told our most hated enemy that the heat was on.

On that level, it doesn't matter whether Pakistan was protecting Osama as a specific government policy or whether the Pakistani government is so impotent that it can't ferret out people high up in government circles who were shielding Osama: If we asked for permission, Osama would not have been there when we arrived.

Of course, on another level, it matters a lot whether the Pakistani government is duplicitous or merely weak: They have nuclear weapons.

I tried to explain all this to Youngest Son this morning. He's 18. There's a reason why every nation taps its 18-year olds to fight its wars: Everything is so black and white.

Youngest Son had no doubts about Osama's demise whatsoever. After I explained, he said, "What are you? Afraid that Al Qaeda will retaliate?"

"No," I said, sadly. "Although that will happen anyway." Our enemies will not be deterred by Osama's death, even if a few of the more self-aware ones will look over their shoulders nervously just a bit more today than yesterday. But what about everyone else?


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

charlie always says they send 18 year olds into battle because they don't ask questions, they go where they are ordered to go and they are fearless and imortal. i don't know if i believe that but he does.

i was personally horrified at our own people in the streets cheering like monkeys though. what does that say to the world?

smiles, bee

Jean-Luc Picard said...

They had to do it secretly. Perhaps they couldn't trust the Pakistan government?

Rob said...

On a slightly different tangent, I find it quite odd that we don't exhibit the same zeal for exacting similar swift and finite justice upon murderers who lounge in relative comfort in our own prisons. I wonder how many Americans fiercely oppose the death penalty for crimes that our own citizens commit yet at the same time joyfully celebrate the (very expensive) killing of foreign criminals.

Ellee Seymour said...

Yes, I have my concerns too about repercussions.