Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, May 02, 2011

What the Killing of Bin Laden Means

Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, it's time to think about what it means. There are lots of consequences that could be discussed, and may well be brought up in comments or future posts by various contributors to this blog, but for now I'll focus on just a few that come to mind. In particular, I'll open discussion on three dimensions: the implications for the future "war on terror" (including our involvement in Afghanistan), implications for our relations with Pakistan and India, and the implications for domestic politics, especially presidential politics, here in the United States.

Terrorism and Afghanistan:
This is not going to end the terrorist threat to the United States or in any country. But the killing of Bin Laden is a serious blow to one of the most important international terrorist groups in the world. Al Qaeda has been increasingly marginalized by the so called "Arab Spring" and the Obama administration's cautious but reasonably consistent, albeit imperfect, support for democratization demands in Arab nations. Because of this political marginalization, it is perhaps more important that killing Ben Laden gives President Obama the opportunity to declare victory in Afghanistan and move forward with a decrease in the US military presence there. This is important because it will allow Obama to get out of Afghanistan while inoculating himself against the "cut and run" charge that will inevitably be directed against him by the Republicans.

US Policy on the Subcontinent:
Because of the circumstances around this raid, it is increasingly clear that Bin Laden was getting protection from elements in the Pakistani military/intelligence apparatus. It simply does not pass the stink test that Pakistani authorities would allow such a large and secure compound to be built and inhabited so close to their primary military academy without checking it out. I doubt someone could build such a complex in the United States (a relatively free society) without attracting the attention of police. That such a building could pass unnoticed in a police state like Pakistan is simply implausible. This is the most prominent bit of evidence that the Pakistanis make very poor allies indeed. I'll post more about this later, but for now I'll just mention that Pakistan was important to us because our primary goal was the containment of the USSR. Now, our primary foreign policy goals are the containment of China (a close ally of Pakistan) and the tracking and combatting of terrorist groups. Pakistan is not a reliable ally for either goal. At the same time, India is an almost natural ally for both goals and to the extent that Pakistan will insist that we chose between Pakistan and India, finding Bin Laden living for years, literally on the door step of the main Pakistani military academy makes that choice considerably easier to make.

Domestic Politics in the United States:
On September 26, 2008, then candidate Obama said, "If the United States has al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out." To this Republican nominee, John McCain replied, "(Obama) said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan. Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government."

A hypothetical President McCain would have informed the Pakistani authorities at least of our intent to conduct a raid and asked permission to proceed. That would have risked Pakistani leaks to Bin Laden's people. For all we know, ill advised trust of Pakistani military/intelligence officials is why the Bush administration was never able to get Bin Laden in 8 years of trying.

This inoculates Obama from the charges of being "weak" and "lacking leadership" that Republicans' talking points have been focussing on lately. Now, every time he is accused of being "weak" he can whip out the "well, we got Bin Laden on my watch and I'm the guy who gave the order and to hell with Pakistani sensibilities."


The Acting President said...

The main point that I agree with is winding down the footprint in Afghanistan. I don't think we have a clearly defined goal there and, over time, the morass will simply continue of its own inertia with our nation and its troops increasingly hated for our presence. Leaving is a very strong move. It shows that we aren't interested in dictating to a feudal society how they should function. It gives us a real chance to stop the waste of having American lives on the line with no current threat. And further, we can leave without trying to solve Afghanistan, a problem no one, not even the Afghanis seem very keen on aiding. The killing of bin Laden points to the future of counter-terrorism: strong intelligence developed over long periods of time and strikes of special forces. Our troops and operatives are well distributed and can accomplish this without a war footing in theater.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The Pakistan issue is the most fascinating. Having bin Laden in Abbotabad next to the Pakistani military academy just 30 miles from the capital is like having a major compound in Annapolis. The Pakistanis knew - at least the army knew, and therefore our "friend" Musharraf. It's possible that nobody in Pakistani army/intelligence told the current civilian president, who is equally appalled. Either way, Pakistan is in deep doo-doo.

McCain's real comment was that Obama was inexperienced to say in public that he would attack Pakistan. That's something you lie about, McCain believes. Clearly that would have been a bad move, to lie about it.

Raised By Republicans said...

It's a bit beside the point to argue fine points but I think McCain's statement is open to either the interpretation that he would have only acted in cooperation with the Pakistani government or that he would have lied to the Pakistanis about our intentions and then suddenly gone in at need. I think either would have been a mistake.

But if we look at what McCain has since said about recent events in Egypt and Libya, he clearly has the standard neo-con view of being loyal to "our" dictators and doing everything we can to undermine "bad guy" dictators. In that context, I'm inclined to think that McCain would have been loath to risk our overall relationship with the Pakistani military/intelligence agencies for the sake of getting bin Laden.

It's such a cold war mentality and misses the point that in a complex world it's possible that elements within the same regime can acting against our interests while the man at the top smiles and shakes our hands. We're better off basing our policies on a case by case basis informed by basic principals than we are adhering to a doctrinal commitment to untrustworthy and unpopular repressive regimes. Besides, there is some evidence that democracies make better and more trustworthy allies anyway.