Justice Delayed is…Still Pretty Darned Satisfying
"I heard a thundering sound, followed by heavy firing. Then firing suddenly stopped. Then more thundering, then a big blast.”
Nothing has united Washington like the killing of Usama bin Laden since the very attacks he orchestrated nearly a decade ago.
Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives are all toasting the strike by a 40-man Navy SEAL team that swooped in on the terror master’s compound, killing bid Laden and one of his adult sons. Relief and exultation at the end of the manhunt that began on Sep. 11, 2001 runs the political gamut from Pelosi to Paul.
So universal was the desire for bin Laden’s death and so effective was the mission to kill him – from authorization to head shot to burial at sea in about 8 hours -- that Congress can skip the usual gamesmanship and chin pulling that follows a major military or intelligence operation.
Attorney General Eric Holder promised in March 2010 that Americans would be reading Miranda rights to bin Laden’s corpse and that the 54-year-old, Saudi-born heir to a construction fortune “will never appear in an American courtroom.” There were some who quailed at the idea of the U.S. putting a hit out on a foreign citizen, but the general sense in Congress was that bin Laden had it coming, having been a part of attacks targeting Americans for 18 years. His continued existence was embarrassing and frustrating.
There are substantial disagreements about what the killing means for America’s struggle with Islamism around the world and particularly for the war being waged in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But for now, relief predominates and politicians will be looking for ways to associate themselves with the killing.
President Obama is enjoying broad, bipartisan praise for authorizing the raid and for keeping Congress in the loop on the mission. It is a much-needed success for a president whose foreign policies have become increasingly unpopular.
Depending on the aftermath in the region, the killing could also help Obama sell the beginning of his Afghan troop drawdown this summer. A major success would give Obama some context for arguing that the mission there is nearing completion.
Bin Laden Success Highlights Pakistani Problems
“We don't want to create a shrine to Usama bin Laden."
-- A U.S. Defense official talking to FOX News about the reasons the military opted to bury the terrorist leader at sea.
If Usama bin Laden was living in a gated compound in an upscale neighborhood near a major Pakistani military base, why has the United States been bombing the tar out of every cave and cranny in the desolate mountains of Waziristan for almost three years?
Part of the reason is that the attack on of the mountains of Pakistan’s border that began as strategic, covert strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban leaders under President George W. Bush has been expanded into a strategic bombardment under President Obama. The air campaign has killed more than 1,000 people since Obama took office and is aimed at broadly disrupting the Taliban, rather than just killing specific bad guys.
The other reason though, is that the Pakistanis are unreliable allies in the war against Islamism.
We don’t know how long Bin Laden had been living in Abbottobad – home to a Pakistani military base and training academy. But we do know that the compound appears to have been built for him in 2005.
To have the most wanted fugitive in the world living unmolested 40 miles from the capital in a residential neighborhood of a garrison town reveals the size of the problem we have in Pakistan. If the killer Seals could zero in on the compound because it stood out for its size and security features, how many of Abbottobad’s 121,000 residents had noticed something odd about bin Laden’s crib?
Obama’s drone war in the western mountains has caused continuing unrest in Pakistan. There are many in the nation of 170 million whose sympathies lie with the Islamists and others still who believe that the enfeebled government of President Asif Ali Zardari has sacrificed national sovereignty and allowed the country’s military to become the handmaiden of the United States and hampered in its primary mission – menacing its enemies in India.
The increasing number of terror attacks in the country, the imposition of the death penalty for those caught preaching any faith but Islam and the popular outrage over the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor are all evidence of the declining conditions in America’s most important ally in the war in Afghanistan.
The fact that 40 American special forces blasted their way into one of the Pakistani military’s most important cities to kill a man widely admired in Pakistan will no doubt deepen the turmoil in the already chaotic country.
Meanwhile, that bin Laden could be living in the relative open down the street from a major military garrison will tend to deepen American skepticism about the willingness and ability of the Pakistanis to be of help.
Response to Bin Laden Killing Will Reveal Size, Shape of Terror Threat
“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.”
-- Travel warning for Americans abroad by the State Department.
There will be a counterattack in response to the killing of Usama bin Laden, but what kind of counterattack will tell us a great deal about the threat Islamist terrorists pose to the West.
The great fear is that bin Laden’s deputies have been keeping a plan in their back pocket for just such an occasion and can deploy it now to avenge their leader and demonstrate their vitality. This is why the next few days will be a crummy time for international travelers and anyone encountering the Homeland Security complex.
Al Qaeda has been badly disrupted over a decade of war with the United States, but if the group is still capable of a major attack under the direction of bin Laden’s heirs and through offshoot groups around the globe it would be an alarming indicator.
Another great danger is that there would be popular unrest in sensitive areas in response to the killing. It will be a troubling sight if the Pakistani streets or the neighborhoods of Cairo grow restive as a result of the death of a man respected by many in the Islamic world for his determination, asceticism, religious fervor and ability to bedevil Western powers. If that is the case, then his martyrdom could inflame the already instable region.
The third danger is that lone wolves like the U.S. Army officer who killed 13 Afghan-bound troops or the failed Times Square car bomber will be set off by the bin Laden hit. The central threat from Islamists in recent years has been from Muslim radicals living in the West who either snap and act out on their own or are recruited into the jihad by terror operators. A spate of lone wolf attacks would be a worrying indication of the troubles ahead.
Which of these three responses – or what combination of them – will tell us a great deal of the nature of the threat still posed. Bin Laden had become more of a symbolic than operational leader in the war on the West, but how his followers and admirers respond to his death will shed light on what operational capacity remains in the movement.
Is Qaddafi Next?
“[The Russian government has] serious doubts about statements by coalition members that strikes on Libya are not intended to physically eliminate Mr. Qaddafi and his family."
-- Statement from the Russian foreign ministry on a NATO air strike that killed one of the sons of Libyan leader Col. Muammar al Qaddafi.
There seems to be some reason to believe that the attacks on Western embassies in Tripoli in response to the weekend air strike against the Qaddafi family was by an outraged mob, not the military.
Such an outburst would be a sign that the rebels have little hope of developing a consensual government in the country. If Qaddafi’s tribes are still loyal to the extent that they would riot of the murder of his son, they are unlikely to greet the members of enemy tribes as liberators.
But it also demonstrates the dangers posed to the West if Qaddafi is allowed to remain in power under some crease-fire arrangement. His threats of terror attacks on Italy and other NATO powers and guerrilla war by his supporters ring truer after the embassy attacks.
But if Qaddafi must go and the rebels can’t govern their enemies, what way forward in Libya? Can one of his less-crazy generals be tapped to lead an interim government for their side of the divided nation?
President Obama, buoyed by the acclaim he is receiving for ordering the strike on bin Laden, might be convinced to depose Qaddafi.