Monday, May 02, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Well, I had intended to go on hiatus for a few weeks, but for obvious reasons, this won't wait.

Six years ago, give or take a few months, I wrote:

"To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, you can stand on a hill in eastern Afghanistan and look west, and with just the right kind of eyes, you can see the high-water mark where Islamofascism's wave crested, and fell back. In a weird way, I'm glad we didn't put paid to him at Tora Bora. I'm glad he's survived to witness these moments. He will die, eventually, with the searing knowledge of his utter DEFEAT burned indelibly into his synapses. Yes, this, too, is justice."

This was in the optimistic blush of a brief wave of elections and promises of elections that swept the Middle East in late 2004 and early 2005. I was, to say the least, overly optimistic. But I still agree with the broad outlines of what I had written.

Osama bin Laden is dead. He was killed not by an anonymous missile strike, but by a SEAL team that had been infiltrated into his compound. And while I'm happy he's no longer breathing our air, I'm just as happy that he saw Tahrir Square before he checked out. He died not in glory, but in defeat. Now, some quick observations.

One: As I often say when these things happen, there's an extent to which this changes nothing. Bin Laden was in direct operational control of Jack and Squat, and Jack left town a few years ago. He kept in touch by courier, which proved to be his downfall, but how much detailed planning can you really do that way? We still have the Taliban to deal with in Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to deal with, led by Anwar al-Amriki in Yemen. Or so it's thought. So, the plate's still pretty full.

Two: On the other hand, this does change a lot. Bin Laden was an important symbol of the movement. He was the one man that everyone in the movement looked up to and respected. He was, unquestionably, The Big Cheese. And don't forget the detritus that was taken from his compound upon his demise. Al-Qaeda in Iraq pretty much folded up like a cheap tent once Abu Musab al-Zarqawi got his ticket punched. Everyone bin Laden was in direct contact with has to be sweating bullets right about now. If they go to ground now they might be able to break contact and stay a step ahead of pursuit. Or, they might not. They won't know until a SEAL team shows up at the door yelling "CANDYGRAM!"

Three: And that's also an important point, all by itself. Ten years ago, the CIA didn't speak to the special-ops community well, if they even spoke at all. Now, they work together fairly seamlessly. It's taken a decade to do it, but the CIA has returned to its OSS roots, and rediscovered the old-school arts of human intelligence. And they've also added a few new wrinkles, such as teaching commandos police forensics techniques. These things take time to work, when they can work at all. It may take years to finally get that last piece of the puzzle. But a sufficiently patient and dedicated investigator can crack the coldest of cold cases, if they get the right resources to do so.

Four: Pakistan has some 'splainin' to do. Like, just how was he able to hide in plain sight like this, just outside of their capital city? Mind you, the Pakistani ambassador had a good point. Two words: Whitey Bulger. That said, the point still stands that Pakistan's intelligence agency basically set up the Taliban, back in the day. There's been a long-standing suspicion that the ISI had been tipping off Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets when raids had been planned. They weren't trusted with the information on this raid until it had already happened. There's a serious conversation that has to happen between our governments, and it ought to happen soon.

Five: While this doesn't destroy Al-Qaeda, or even come close to it, Al-Qaeda is essentially irrelevant. The sweeping changes seen this spring in the Arab world have basically left them behind. You see, for all his faults, George Bush got one thing right: they key problem in the Arab world could be traced to a lack of self-determination. Al-Qaeda's answer to that was to re-institute the Caliphate, under a strict system of Islamic law. But this spring's demonstrators want no part of that program. They want democratic government, laws that mean something, and protection for their civil rights. The upcoming Arab generation is grabbing hold of self-determination with both hands, and are winning for themselves the honor and the self-respect that come with it. They have no need of Al-Qaeda. It probably won't die, but it'll persist more as a criminal syndicate than as a political movement.

Six: This ought to put paid to the ridiculous notion that President Barack Obama is some sort of pacifist, who won't even use military action as a last resort. It also ought to put paid to the equally ridiculous notion that President Obama is a closet Muslim that will shy from spilling a fellow-traveler's blood. And while Trump was having a fit about Obama's birth certificate, Obama was busily planning a surprise bullet fiesta for Osama bin Laden. This man will take care of business when it's necessary. You doubt this at your peril.

Seven: It's far too early to tell where this all ends up. I do believe that a wave of change is sweeping that part of the world, and that there's not a single government over there that will escape unscathed. Not all of the movements will succeed. Some will fail to fulfill their early promise. Some of them, maybe even most, will succeed at least partially. And a few will succeed brilliantly. And the world will be a better, safer place for it. There's still some excitement to come, but at least there's more hope in the air than there's been in many, many years.

Eight: And lastly, what effect will this have on next year's elections? Probably not much. A year and a half is an eternity in politics, and besides, the economic conditions next summer will have a far more profound effect. What this unquestionably does is give Obama one more positive point to hit regarding his record in office. And possibly most telling, it's a foreign policy point. It's ludicrous now to campaign against him as being soft on terrorism. Not that it'll stop them from trying. I'm just saying, it won't work. If next year is as incumbent-friendly as I'm beginning to suspect, it'll just make them look pitiful.

OK, now back to my regularly-scheduled vacation. See y'all in two weeks, give or take.

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