2011.05.02: May 2, 2011: George Packer Writes: Osama Bin Laden: Better Late Than Never

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George Packer Writes: Osama Bin Laden: Better Late Than Never

George Packer Writes: Osama Bin Laden: Better Late Than Never

"When Obama took office, Dick Cheney wasted no time to accuse him of putting America's security at risk-a libel quite unprecedented at that level in recent American history, and one quickly taken up by conservative media. Now the President can claim to have achieved what his predecessor, given almost eight years and every motivation, could not. We will probably learn that the action involved a fair amount of luck-Presidents have little to do with intelligence tips emanating from the ends of the earth. But that doesn't really matter. It won't stop the charges of softness from flying, as they surely will if this news brings a retaliatory attack on New York, Washington, or another American target. But, for most Americans, the killing of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of a long-form birth certificate in establishing Barack Obama's bona fides as commander-in-chief. " Journalist George Packer served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo.

George Packer Writes: Osama Bin Laden: Better Late Than Never

Osama Bin Laden: Better Late Than Never

by George Packer

It came almost a decade late, after far too many subsequent deaths, some necessary but most of them needless. Nor does it bring to an end anything other than the living embodiment and inspiration of Islamist terror. Still, the killing of Osama bin Laden is cause for deep satisfaction. The President, in his announcement, used the word "justice" several times. Yes, in part-because Osama would not be captured to face official judgment. (We should be grateful, given the way military law has turned the trials of lesser Al Qaeda figures into self-inflicted wounds.) But a completely honest explanation from President Obama would also have mentioned revenge.

Which doesn't diminish the significance or rightness of this action. I wish it had happened at Tora Bora, at the end of 2001. The years since have been a series of almost unrelieved setbacks and disasters for the United States, while Osama himself was practically forgotten. But Americans, along with many others, needed to see this man dead. And now he is-and better still, killed in close quarters, by skillful and courageous soldiers, rather than by remote control from the sky or kidney failure.

Back on the night of September 11th, there were celebrations in the streets of many Arab cities. I doubt there will be many protests this morning, except perhaps in Pakistan. In Morocco, they're demonstrating against Al Qaeda, whose affiliate in the Maghreb just killed sixteen people in a Marrakesh cafe. Arabs have their eyes on their own governments these days, and that is one sign of the way the world has changed since 9/11. Al Qaeda, holed up in the Pakistani tribal areas, saw its operational importance decline under military and intelligence pressure; the global movement fractured into dozens of franchises, each one caught up in and feeding off of local troubles. The main victims of Al Qaeda-licensed terror became impoverished Iraqi Shiites, Jordanian wedding parties, Pakistani police cadets, European train passengers. I never heard any American denounce bin Laden-or his follower Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Land Between the Two Rivers-more bitterly than the people I heard in Baghdad. Al Qaeda lost its hold on the sympathies of all but a small minority of Muslims, even as the U.S. made itself deeply unpopular. Then came this year's revolts across North Africa and the Middle East, and suddenly it became clear that much of the Muslim world had left 9/11 far behind. Neither Al Qaeda nor Washington matters very much these days in Cairo, Misurata, or Dara'a, and that is good news.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, for reasons of America's counter-terror campaign in its territory and of its own political culture, is going in the opposite direction: sinking into greater militarization, intolerance, and xenophobia. Recently Hillary Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen complained publicly that the Pakistani authorities were doing far too little to help the U.S. in its openly secret war against Al Qaeda. From the President's speech, it's hard to know whether Islamabad co÷perated in the operation at all, or was even informed in advance. Bin Laden was hiding not in the remote tribal mountains, as everyone suspected, but an hour's drive north of Islamabad, in a town with a strong military presence, which makes it impossible not to think that he was living under the protection of Pakistani intelligence. For Pakistani military and intelligence, such a strike under their noses is a humiliating rebuke. Among the public, the death of Osama, a fabulously wealthy Saudi, will probably rouse more anger among poor Urdu and Pashto speakers in Lahore and Peshawar than among Arabs.

If the killing won't do anything to improve America's deteriorating relations with Pakistan, it will force a difficult question on the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan. The President has always insisted that this war's goal is to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda." If so, then bin Laden's death should bring us closer to an ending. But I've never fully understood or accepted this rationale for a war where the fighting and nation-building are happening in places like Helmand and Kandahar. The means and the ends have never been in sync. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the President uses the death of bin Laden to justify accelerating America's disengagement from a conflict for which he's never felt much enthusiasm, regardless of the state of hostilities between the vicious Taliban and the venal Afghan government-which is what the war is mainly about.

When Obama took office, Dick Cheney wasted no time to accuse him of putting America's security at risk-a libel quite unprecedented at that level in recent American history, and one quickly taken up by conservative media. Now the President can claim to have achieved what his predecessor, given almost eight years and every motivation, could not. We will probably learn that the action involved a fair amount of luck-Presidents have little to do with intelligence tips emanating from the ends of the earth. But that doesn't really matter. It won't stop the charges of softness from flying, as they surely will if this news brings a retaliatory attack on New York, Washington, or another American target. But, for most Americans, the killing of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of a long-form birth certificate in establishing Barack Obama's bona fides as commander-in-chief.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: May, 2011; RPCV George Packer (Togo); Peace Corps Togo; Directory of Togo RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Togo RPCVs; Writing - Togo; Journalism; Terrorism; Peace Corps Pakistan; Directory of Pakistan RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Pakistan RPCVs; Peace Corps Afghanistan; Directory of Afghanistan RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Afghanistan RPCVs





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Story Source: The New Yorker

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Togo; Writing - Togo; Journalism; Terrorism; COS - Pakistan; COS - Afghanistan

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