Monday, May 2, 2011

Special Comment: On the death of Osama bin Laden
Video via FOK News Channel
video 'podcast'

transcript dubiously sourced, may not be official

Now, as promised, a special comment on the death of Osama bin Laden and its immediate impact on this country.

Unlike most such things, the counterterrorism component can be overestimated. By all accounts, bin Laden had largely disconnected from the operational side of al Qaeda, so he will likely prove more valuable to its terrible cause as a martyred inspiration than he had been as a large and perpetual target.

Concomitantly, while the desire for revenge within those who ally themselves with that almost diaphanous organization may be intense, al Qaeda was never built for, and has never succeeded at the quick, bold strike; plans were meticulous and lead-times measured not in days but in years. If there have been such nightmares hatching within what we might define still as "al Qaeda", it is possible that they might be sprung, and soon.

But the story of terrorism within this country since 9/11 is the story of amateurs in a hurry. And in terrorism, amateurs in a hurry tend to kill themselves; or lock their car keys in their car bombs in Times Square; or decide to shoot up an army base while leaving their training videos to be duplicated at Best Buy; or wind up lighting on fire not their underwear bombs, but their own crotches.

The greatest threat right now certainly is from individuals, not directly connected to al Qaeda, out of rage and frustration, and an accurate sense that their evil inspiration is now dead, acting alone with whatever they might have. It is simultaneously both reassuring and disturbing to remember, however, that these kinds of individuals could be set off by anything - anything from bin Laden's death to bad weather - their threat level may not grow very much at all.

Certainly there will be no groundswell in the Middle East, rising up to avenge the slain supposed leader. Except for the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, and those Pakistani elements who completely failed bin Laden and have a lot more to worry about now, there is not a government in the region who is not happy he's dead: he was their enemy as much as he was ours.

And curious, was it not, that as the uprisings of 2011 unfolded in Egypt, in Libya, in Tunisia, in Syria, in Yemen, not only did none of those who sought change invoke bin Laden or al Qaeda as symbols or inspirations, but the fact that they ignored a terror group that also sought to overthrow these very same governments was not even a part of the public discussion, there or here.

Nobody even questioned why those rightly seeking to derange the power structure of the Middle East did not turn to bin Laden, and that is the ultimate answer to the proverbial question, "What will be the reaction on the Arab street?" Some on the "Arab street" may have danced on 9/11. They did not dance when bin Laden began killing Muslims in Indonesia, or in Mumbai.

Thus, the largest international impact for this country relates to the nature of our involvement in Afghanistan. Despite the elimination of bin Laden and the prospect that it could animate the Taliban, support for the Afghanistan war here will probably vanish in the weeks and months to come. President Obama could easily accelerate a withdrawal and get nothing but praise from most of the nation.

And now we come to the least important, but the most fascinating impact of the raid at Abbottabad - its rearrangement of the political landscape of this country.

If your instinct is that politics should play no immediate part in the aftermath of bin Laden's death, that is natural and commendable, and the ship sailed in the other direction in 2002, from the day the Republicans put out an ad showing Georgia's senator, Max Cleland, and bin Laden in the same picture.

The symbol of that party might as well not have been an elephant, but bin Laden himself. Everything that happened, everything that did not happen, was perverted into a symbol of Republican mastery and of Democratic weakness, and even Democratic treachery. Five separate national Republican political campaigns were run on a simple premise: "Vote Democratic and you die."

Cleland was only the first to be smeared in 2002. The Swift Boaters turned John Kerry's military experience into a liability in 2004, and the GOP boasted that a bin Laden tape released days before the vote had turned the election to President Bush. The 2006 midterms were run on the GOP premise that Bush had kept us safe, conveniently ignoring that it was on his watch that the nightmare of 9/11 unfolded.

2008 brought this divisive, sick strategy to its apex: the claim that a candidate for the presidency was not actually American, that he was a terrorist sympathizer. 2010 saw invocations of how that president had "failed to protect America", even though more terrorist actions had been stopped in his first 18 months in office than had in his predecessor's two entire terms.

And each campaign, and those few days between each campaign, were devoted to a campaign of a different sort - the argument that terrorism could be countered only by unique and gruesome methods. Torture was necessary; laws were not. And none of that bestiality captured anybody, least of all bin Laden. Just two years, three months, and eleven days after that subhuman dictate was reversed, the ordinary rules prevailed, and triumphed.

This disgusting cornerstone of Republican politics is now gone. Rudy Giuliani's political career ended in an instant: he was reduced this afternoon to praising President Obama. Sarah Palin sealed her demise by tweeting congratulations only to the military, not to the desk jockeys and other intelligence officers whose reading of reports and hard slog work over maps made this possible. And certainly she offered no congratulations to the Commander-in-Chief. Michelle Bachmann's "un-American" meme just vanished. Newt Gingrich's premise of a president flailing internationally went up in a puff of ego. The Peter King hearings in the House - the ones with that thin veneer of studying Muslim extremism masking the true goal of smearing Obama's counterterror efforts - it'll be a surprise if anybody but Rupert Murdoch even sends a reporter now.

Even the immediate fallback, the Republican default about all this, that Barack Obama simply finished what George Bush had started, collapses with the addition of just one fact, that the Republicans themselves so gleefully and viciously trotted out in 2006 and 2007, namely, the hunt for bin Laden did not begin with President Bush, it began with President Clinton. It began with a Democratic president, and it has ended with a Democratic president.

The oversimplification is ridiculous and unfair to those who genuinely fought al Qaeda and bin Laden under the previous president, but oversimplifications shape a nation's thinking, and win elections, and have been the essence of Republican argument on this and other complex subjects for decades. And there is right now only one oversimplification that matters anymore: Barack Obama got Osama bin Laden. And every other political calculation, every strategy that suggests Democratic weakness or liberal uncertainty, or an Obama half-hearted in his defense of this nation, is, of an instant, gone.

These arguments are worse than laughable, worse than stupid, worse than bankrupt. These arguments are today as dead as bin Laden.

Good night, and good luck.