The Assassination of Osama Bin Laden

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Make no mistake - it was an assassination. Team of heavily armed men hired by a group breaking down the door with orders to shoot him dead rather than capture. The only difference is instead of wearing business suits and acting on the orders of the head of a mob "family" or of those of a drug cartel, these men were United States Navy personnel, acting under the orders of a lawful chain of command that reached all the way to the top levels of the US Government.

I'm not certain I disagree with whomever gave the kill order. That's not the point. The point is that this is official, even bragged about evidence for the entire world to see that the United States considers assassination to be within the legitimate tools of war. Whatever past misdeeds have been committed in this way (and its probably a larger number than you're thinking), there was always at least a thin layer of official deniability. Everyone concerned may have known the United States did it, but it wasn't officially touted as something ordered by the lawful legal chain of command publicly. If some group in the future wants to consider assassinating the President of the United States (or other officials), the assassination of Bin Laden is going to be cited as official evidence that we think it's within the rules of war.

I don't think that's an entirely Bad Thing, because there is a good case to be made that if war has personal consequences for those who order it, there's likely to be a lot less of it. However, whatever beneficial things we may get (like putting the fear of a bullet into Khaddafy or Kim Jong Il) could have been gotten with a less political operation. The bad things are almost purely the result of the high profile political nature of the announcement. Had, instead of the President himself making the announcement by breaking into prime time television, a lower level government spokesperson had mentioned something like "We have come into the possession of Osama Bin Laden's body" in a routine press conference, with carefully controlled details limiting the apparent extent of our involvement, it would have been far better for all concerned once the dust settled.

I assure you, the rest of the world sees the warts on the United States at least as clearly as we do. When we do something like this, we remember. Even though they may be celebrating with us now, our allies and Osama's other enemies will remember later on. There will be consequences to this. Given the number of people trying to have President Bush or Vice President Cheney arrested and tried in other countries for alleged crimes against humanity, I think Barack Obama may be well advised to restrict his travel itinerary after he leaves office, because whatever evidence or lack of it there might be against officials of the Bush administration, the evidence against the Obama administration will be henceforth much stronger. Furthermore, there will be diplomatic consequences for the worse. No other nation that I'm aware of has ever officially acknowledged - let alone bragged - that it did something like this. The Israelis have done a number of snatch raids with the object of bringing the targets in for trial, and government assassination is as old as government, but never has an assassination been celebrated by a Head of State in a public and official manner. Since at least the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, assassination has been officially verboten by international law, and while violations have been frequent, they've all had at least a thin layer of official deniability built in - until now.

What are Pakistan's thoughts on the matter? They have been at least a sometime ally in the war we have been fighting since 9/11/2001. Their territory has violated, troops moved in, a building in the suburb of their capital torn apart by gunfire, and people under the protection of Pakistani sovereignty killed (you know, the other people, some of whom were legally Pakistani residents or citizens). Pakistani jets scrambled looking for the invaders - it was good luck the American helicopters managed to avoid them. Suppose Canada sent troops on a mission of this kind onto US soil? Suppose Mexico did - what would our reaction be? Suppose the Canadian Prime Minister or the President of Mexico went on national TV and gloated about it, as Barack Obama did? The argument has been made that Pakistan has been aiding and abetting Al-Qaeda. Well, if so, what are we going to do about it? (Given the current status of US forces and finances, I don't see what can be done about it short of turning Pakistan into a nuclear wasteland. Our forces simply have too many other commitments). And if they have not been in fact assisting Al-Qaeda, how do we justify what we did to them? This is a deadly insult to their national sovereignty, far more than it would be to ours because of the nature of their dominant culture - more devoted to "face" than ours. Especially given the way we pressured the last leader of Pakistan to depart, I would be inclined to the viewpoint that Pakistan will extract it's payback. And they are a nuclear power themselves.

Personally, I cannot help but be glad Bin Laden is dead. Intellectually, I'm appalled by this. However, the fact remains. I am human with human emotions, not a robot. I can't turn it off. I could ignore it, I suppose, but that would add self deception to the list of failings. I wasn't glad when Saddam Hussein was hanged - it needed to be done, but there was only a sense of "that's over". Ditto any number of other world malefactors with far worse crimes against humanity than Bin Laden (most of whom died natural deaths in their beds, unfortunately). But Osama Bin Laden was personal, somehow. My only direct connection with anyone he killed directly was that my E&O folks were in the World Trade Center, and "You killed my insurance agent!" just doesn't resonate as a reason to kill someone. But I do feel a connection to the people he killed and their families. It very well could have been me or mine. "There but the grace of god go I." Maybe I will pay somehow for this failing in whatever afterlife there may be. If so, it will be a legitimate collection.

If you are one of those who has been condemning "assassination squads" loudly and clearly while Bush was president, and have not yet condemned this assassination, or have even spoken in favor of it, I think we can safely conclude that your real motivation was political party of choice - raw naked political partisanship. I'm not exactly happy about assassination squads under anyone, but I have to admit there are times it is necessary to the interests of the United States and far less costly in terms of lives than any other alternative. I am not pleased, however, at the official sanction this one has been getting. It may be necessary to do occasionally, it isn't ever necessary to rub the face of the rest of the world into the fact we did it. In fact I can think of no beneficial aspect whatsoever to said face-rubbing.

Had the administration been content to make a low profile announcement, that took no official credit for the kill, the interests of the United States would have been better served. By turning it into an official circus for political gain, Mr. Obama has damaged the interests of the United States in furtherance of his own political career.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on May 4, 2011 2:45 PM.

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