Notes and Asides for May 10, 2011
What do you expect? This week’s notes and asides are, not surprisingly, all about various aspects of the biggest story in the last 9 years, 7 months and 27 days. I know it has been done to death (yes, UBL, pun intended), but there are so many interesting points that I am unable to resist jumping in.
Leo McGarry would have bought him a Hot Dog from Nathan’s. The most striking aspect of the “revised facts” fiasco is the utter futility of it all. The White House had a very simple problem: there were no contingencies for taking UBL alive – this was a “wet” mission from the moment it was ordered. This fact is clear by the execution style “double tap” wounds; UBL had one in the head and one in the heart, just the way you draw it up. It was the right call and it was carried out almost exactly to plan – a remarkable success under any circumstance, let alone at night deep in a non-cooperating country.
The problem – if such an absurd manufactured dilemma can truly be called a problem – is that POTUS does not want to admit he ordered a kill on sight order on UBL. He is, after all, a Nobel Laureate, a constitutional law professor and a committed liberal – it is understandable that he is uncomfortable in the role of a hanging judge. All the same, the attempts to make this out to be a “capture or kill” mission are almost comical when considered against the facts that they knew would come out.
After all, the wounds on the corpse would be documented even if we “buried” the body within 24 hours under Islamic law (no exhuming a corpse from the sea, as the Hague may have tried to do – see below). And, real time or not, there is almost certainly a tape from the raid. At a minimum, the SEALs will be debriefed, and members of congress will get to see the results. There is, quite simply, no hiding the obvious fact: the President ordered a man killed.
And that order was justifiable under ANY circumstances – UBL could have been naked lying face down with his hands tied behind his back and still the only course that ends this man’s reign of terror is to kill him immediately. The prospect of giving this man the public forum of a US trial is too ridiculous to contemplate, as I am sure was made very clear to POTUS. In essence, UBL simply drawing breath in US custody would be a threatening act that endangered American lives unnecessarily; such a risk warrants killing an unarmed and unresisting man.
There are few people who we can kill on sight in history, and this was one of them. That the president felt the need to hide from the fact that he ordered just that is puzzling; after all, if polled, the only people who would have said “bring him here alive” would be the far left, who are going to vote for him anyway. As for the other 80-90% of us, our only regret is we don’t know where to send the beer for the guys who did it.
Political water boarding. It was certainly too good to be true, but the immediate claim that “enhanced interrogation” played a prominent role in the death of UBL was very satisfying to many of us who defended the use of such techniques. Unfortunately, it was also a gross overstatement.
I am in favor of the use of such non-lethal techniques as approved by congress and the President. I also do not mind defending the practice in and of itself based on previous successes.
That said, the claim that this was anything other than one of many in a chain of events that played SOME role is to state far too much; KSM no doubt gave us information over time as a result of breaking under water boarding, but it was a process, not a single event that led to this result. Overplaying this one piece cheapens the hard work that intelligence professionals in the field did to bring about this spectacular success.
Enhanced interrogation techniques have their role to play and should be something we keep available in the most extreme of circumstances – it is not, however, the lynchpin of our intelligence gathering apparatus.
So why did we “have” to release Abu Ghraib? I understand the rationale for not releasing a picture of Bin Laden post ventilating the back of his brain pan – if it put one Soldier in increased harm’s way then it was the right call. I do not agree that it should be a “never” or even a very long time until I do get to see it, however, I watched 3000 of my countrymen die live on TV – I can handle seeing one more corpse.
I also wonder where this reserve was when the same DOD asked this same POTUS not to release photos from Abu Ghraib – ones the DOD thought likely to incite violence against American soldiers? My crass and politically suspicious mind has the answer, unfortunately.
Take a bow, Intelligence Community. The US intelligence community – and the CIA in particular – has taken a beating over the last decade. From missing 9/11 to Iraqi WMDs to blowing the volatility of Tunisia and its aftermath, some of this criticism was certainly deserved. But more often than not the successes of these same dedicated professionals largely stayed hidden from view.
That is why when they get the chance to celebrate such a spectacular success publicly it is a moment we ought to all pause and consider the sacrifices these men and women make every day in what is by definition a largely thankless job. Make no mistake about it – the successful killing of UBL was a major victory for the CIA. They patiently developed vital intelligence and gave the President a target and a method to succeed.
So, in addition to Seal Team Six, here’s a tip of the hat to the IC – thanks for getting the bastard.
If you needed MORE evidence that the UN is a silly debating society dominated by pedestrian interests…Couldn’t help but notice that the UN is concerned about the “legality” of the UBL kill mission and wants a “full disclosure of the accurate facts.” In a way, you almost have to admire the chutzpah of an organization that tolerates Libya as the chair of its Human Rights Commission (as Libya was in 2003) yet finds the killing of a mass murderer a problem; not every one wears their duplicity like a badge of honor.
Over the last decade, the UN has been exposed as corrupt (see the Iraq oil for food scandal, for example), incompetent and useless except as a fig leaf of credibility for anti-Israel dictators and terrorists the world over – and yet tolerated. Even still, this latest nonsense might be too much even for trans-nationalists like BHO. The President has gone to great lengths to legitimize the UN as an arbiter of international law – perhaps when he is indicted at the Hague he will understand the rest of our concern with abdicating any sovereignty to an entity not tasked with protecting, well, OUR sovereignty.
It wouldn’t be America is we didn’t think about what this means for 2012. The silliest part of this discussion is what this “means” for 2012. I have no idea. Does it make the President harder to beat? Probably. But the extent to which that is true has been grossly overstated.
The narrative put out by Chicago Barry 2012’s people is “the foreign policy attack is now dead.” Really? One successful raid against one – admittedly high value – target makes up for the rudderless policy in the burning Middle East? UBL covers for, as one of his own advisors put it, BHO’s “leading from behind” in Libya?
Maybe. But the assertion of this as “settled” sounded a lot like “Mission Accomplished” to me – a good tale, but one facts on the ground still dispute.
The President is in better shape today than he was on April 30 – no doubt. But as his smaller than expected bounce (he is still just over 50% in RCP’s average of national polls) is likely being dragged down by a sluggish economy and volatile gas prices. If the economy continues to improve at this pace Chicago Barry will have to run against two people – the GOP nominee and his alter ego President Obama’s failed economic promises.
Which circles me back to why this is a silly discussion to have: who cares what the killing of the worst terrorist in the world means for future politics? Would you be against killing UBL if it hurt the chances of beating BHO in 2012?
Presidents, like quarterbacks, get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses; this one is no different. President Obama made an aggressive move to kill a man who deserved no less – the politics are a triviality against that undeniable good.
Quick hits…In the past week oil prices dropped. Not sure if that was UBL related, but it is welcome – especially for summer tourist spots. I would caution against too much elation over this fact, as we are one bad demonstration in the streets of Riyadh from the trend reversing quickly… Found the sudden embracing of the US military as “our greatest strength” by BHO a little disingenuous as he is in the process of gutting that very strength. The new budget proposal pushes defense spending to its lowest share of GDP in more than a generation…Before those on the left claim that surgical strikes can supplant “boots on the ground,” remember that most of the sources of intelligence upon which we relied came from being swept up in military actions – no combat ops, no leads to develop…and finally, a note to President Carter, please shut up. At a time when former Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush are letting the current leadership class address the pressing issues and stand in the forefront, Carter can’t see to help himself. His performance in North Korea borders on betrayal, and in light of Pyongyang’s crimes one that makes no logical sense. Perhaps Jimmy should ask Kim why he doesn’t grow his own food rather than claiming we are starving his people by not giving him food.
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