Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Obligatory curmudgeonliness

You knew I would deliver.

Driving to work today I was a bit surprised by news of the crowds pouring into the streets all around the country in spontaneous celebration of the wacking of OBL. Of course people wanted him to be caught but I hadn't realized so many people's feelings were still so close to the surface. The people standing in the plazas and on the street corners chanting "USA, USA" reminiscent of the Olympic hockey team's victory over the Soviet Union rather than any more substantive event that I can recall. My own feeling was essentially that this removes an irritant to the rational conduct of foreign policy and U.S. electioneering, but I wasn't inclined to run out and get rowdy about it.

A few of the more thoughtful reactions I have come across call either for a quibble or for an endorsement. PZ Meyers is actively disturbed by the cheering crowds, because he is thinking of the hundreds of thousands who are dead essentially because GW Bush used Al Qaeda as a pretext to invade Iraq. After wading through rivers of blood, we kill one man who was thousands of miles away the entire time. It seems a wrong occasion for celebration.

A fair point, but people aren't really thinking of that. Barack Obama is not George W. Bush, after all, and he was certainly obliged to hunt Bin Laden with all possible diligence. However, the pursuit and ultimate running to ground of Bin Laden in Pakistan turns out to be unrelated to both Iraq and Afghanistan, which really ought to lead to some serious soul searching once people get over their triumphalism.

Juan Cole reminds us of al Qaeda's origins in Ronald Reagan's cold war machinations. He also makes clear what many others have pointed out -- bin Laden was no longer of any substantive importance, al Qaeda has devolved into separate organizations in various places that did not answer to him or depend on him for resources, and essentially, this won't change anything. Maybe not, but it could if Obama takes advantage of the greater room this gives him to wind down the Afghanistan folly. It also exposes for anybody who is paying attention the collusion of the Pakistani military with al Qaeda and bin Laden specifically. Obviously they knew exactly where he was the whole time.

Magnifico at Daily Kos does an excellent job of rounding up the information available at this time and putting the story together. I find it particularly amusing that president Obama gave the order on Friday morning. He did seem to have a mysterious Mona Lisa smile throughout the White House correspondent's dinner. Now we know why.

Finally, although the U.S. is claiming that bin Laden was killed when he refused to surrender and resisted capture, we all know that the Seals had orders to kill, not capture him. The last thing the administration needed was to have bin Laden in custody. Those people who are regretting that there will not be a trial are being unrealistic. Yes, summary execution is against our principles and also against the rules. The Geneva Convention doesn't allow you to kill prisoners. But no politician or government is going to object to this, I think, for better or worse.

Just imagine the circus if they had shipped a breathing Osama bin Laden to Guantanamo, and had to figure out how to try him, kill him in an approved manner, and then presumably hand over the body to someone. It was pretty well understood all along that if the U.S. ever tracked him down, they'd just shoot him and throw his body into the ocean from a helicopter. Ugly, but over and done.


Anonymous said...

On your first point, I don't think THAT many people really held those feelings close to the surface. From the limited vignette my little brother provided (he's a senior at university in the mid-Atlantic region)most of the crowds who spilled out were looking for excuses to drink and make a scene on a Sunday evening. Looking at the pictures of the young people celbrating on the national mall and in front of the white house...I may conclude similar motives (somewhat disgusting nonetheless).
They were most likely young teenagers on 9/11.


Anonymous said...

Sorry one small thing to point out... Navy SEALS, not Seals. Not that it distracts from your fine post, just saying.

Cervantes said...

Technically true, Brian, but you'll often see it in title case. (I think it's less distracting.)

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