02 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

Around 10:15 last night, I saw a tweet that President Barack Obama had announced an entirely unexpected press statement.  Instinctively, I knew it had to be that we had finally got Osama bin Laden.  You're welcome to check my Twitter timeline and consult my wife.  Anything else would have been important enough to funnel information directly to media, with the President speaking later.  As it turned out, crafting the speech delayed the formal announcement long enough that the story leaked anyway.  The last several hours have brought forth several questions and points worth addressing.  Here are my initial thoughts.

Thursday morning, Mr. Obama released his long-form certificate of live birth.  While Donald Trump crowed that he was proud of himself for "accomplish[ing] something no one else could do," the President glared from his podium and insisted, "We've got better things to do.  I've got better things to do."  As it turns out, the operation to strike against bin Laden was already well into planning by Thursday morning.  Say whatever you will about Obama, but there can be no denying he has one of the sturdiest poker faces of all time.

We've been hearing about how this isn't a Democrat or Republic event, and largely I believe that's true.  Americans of both parties have longed for this day.  On 17 September 2001, President George W. Bush boldly declared, "Wanted: Dead or Alive" was the policy on bin Laden.  In 2002 came the infamous Tora Bora debacle, in which bin Laden was able to narrowly escape U.S. forces.  But then, just a few years later, Mr. Bush dismissively remarked that bin Laden was no longer a priority.  The Central Intelligence Agency actually closed down its bin Laden task force in 2005.  That's not me baiting conservatives.  Those things happened.

I have no problem with those who opposed Barack Obama politically before this announcement continuing to oppose him politically today.  But I have read numerous comments that attempt to detract from his role in the killing of bin Laden, and that's frankly wrong.  Obama made capturing bin Laden a priority, it was he who authorized the strike.  At the very least, can we finally rid ourselves of the misguided, paranoid notion that Obama is a secret, radical Muslim agent intent on killing Americans?

I'm a self-described liberal.  I oppose the death penalty, on the basis that the risk of wrongful conviction is entirely too great.  I do not oppose the death penalty on the basis that all life is sacred, because I don't believe that.  Bin Laden claimed credit for attacks against us, and made clear that if he had his way, attacks would continue until every last American was dead.  There can be no confusion that bin Laden was wrongfully accused.  I feel not one shred of hypocrisy opposing the death penalty while applauding the death of this mass murderer.

There's a moment in The Hunt for Red October where the crew of the Russian submarine begin to sing with patriotic pride.  The first officer frets that the sound of their collective voices may expose the ship to a monitoring enemy.  Sean Connery considers this for a moment and then smiles.  "Let them sing."  That's exactly how I've felt about the publicized, organic public gatherings of this past night.  Al Qaeda were already dedicated to opposing us.  It's foolish to believe that somehow public celebrations over the death of bin Laden will be what pushes them over the edge.  We are, after all, dealing with textbook fanatics.  There was never any chance that al Qaeda members were going to say, "Oh, okay; you got him fair and square.  Props, man."  It makes no sense to suggest that we are more endangered by killing a mass murderer because his supporters may become incensed.  By that logic, no one would ever stand up to a bully because the bully's friends might not like it.  Either you want to keep your milk money or you don't.  I do.

Bin Laden's status as a martyr is also misguided.  Those who bought into his brand of hatred were already committed to his warped cause.  Rational people--and, despite what stand-up comedians and fear-mongering racists would have you believe, most Muslims are rational people--have already rejected bin Laden and al Qaeda.  His death may galvanize the surviving members of his terror network, but I find it hard to believe that there are scores of people responding to this news by saying, "You know, I wasn't really into that whole al Qaeda thing, but this tears it.  I'm 'a join up!"  The angry young Muslims whom bin Laden had been exploiting for recruitment have recently discovered that they could instead direct their angst against their own oppressive governments.  The world has watched as the desire for freedom--not hatred--has driven revolutions across the Middle East.

I know there are Americans who are angry that bin Laden's body was buried at sea in the middle of the night.  It may not be satisfying, but it does accomplish two things.  Firstly, it disposes of the body in accordance with Islamic traditions, a very clear gesture not to al Qaeda, but to the Muslim community around the world that their ways are respected.  And al Qaeda does not have a body around which to build any kind of tangible memorial.

There are apparently photographs of the corpse, and some people seem to feel it's morbid to desire to see them.  I don't deny that it's morose to want to see gruesome photographs of a corpse, but I do believe there is a legitimate value to those images.  Surely they would not be any more damaging to the psyche of viewers than what we saw on the morning of September 11th, or what we have seen our brave men and women in uniform endure in campaigns since that fateful day.

No, this does not singlehandedly end the War on Terror.  The Pakistani faction of al Qaeda has already issued threats that they intend to retaliate in some way.  This doesn't erase the agony that countless Americans have felt for the last decade, losing loved ones on September 11th or in the ensuing military campaigns since.  Those chairs at the dinner table remain empty.  But this moment in time, this is a victory.  This is not insignificant.  Stocks are up, oil prices are down.  This has the potential to turn the tide of our national mood.  We needed this, as a society.