By RAY McGOVERN/Special to MYFOXATLANTA
ATLANTA – From all that is known about the late Osama bin Laden, it is a safe bet that his second preference — after staying alive — was to be martyred by U.S. forces acting arbitrarily and independently in a Muslim nation. President Barack Obama’s proud announcement late yesterday evening that “a small team of Americans” had killed bin Laden indicates that the Saudi-born terrorist has now been given the second item on his wish list — gift wrapped.
As the world watched on TV, the President the former professor of constitutional law bragged about having acted as judge, jury, and executioner. Huh? Due process? What’s that?
International law? Quaint, obsolete. The professor turned president was out to show how tough he is and how his crackerjack extrajudicial assassins can get their man. There is nowhere to hide!
President Obama may be buoyed by the loud (if morbid) rejoicing at the White House gate last night by a hundred or so young people shouting “U.S.A.” and singing patriotic songs to celebrate the killing. Add the fulsome praise by Wolf Blitzer and other TV mavens, and the White House can expect the death of bin Laden to boost the President’s approval ratings.
That will probably be the case — for a month or two. (The longer-term implications are far bleaker.)
The President’s advisers probably told him that killing bin Laden would also increase his re-election chances. But that may well turn out to be a chimera. In a word, there is trouble ahead. Big trouble.
The reaction in the Muslim world, and particularly in Pakistan, where the assassination took place, is likely to give extremists of all stripes extra incentive to upend governments that acquiesce in American violations of their sovereignty.
The killing is likely to create longer lines at recruiting stations for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The prospect of serious anti-U.S. terrorist attacks has just increased exponentially.
Obama is fond of quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, but the President seems to have missed one of Dr. King’s aphorisms: “That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.”
After learning the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, why did the President order him killed rather than — how often have we heard the phrase? — “brought to justice?” Was the White House so thirsty for some kind of success in the battle against terrorists, that it fell into the Alberto Gonzalesian dictum that international law and the Constitution can be considered “quaint,” and/or “obsolete in the struggle against terrorists?
There are commonly accepted legal ways to capture and bring such people to a court of law — yes, even the “bad guys” like Osama bin Laden.
That bin Laden would have had extremely valuable information to impart to interrogators is a no-brainer. Why would the U.S. government forgo this golden opportunity to debrief the captive, rather than kill him?
Last night’s announcement of the demise of Osama brought to mind how, once Saddam Hussein’s two sons, Qusay and Uday, were located, they were summarily killed rather than captured on July 22, 2003 in Mosul. It always struck me as more than a little odd that, at a time when the U.S. was ostensibly on the hunt for so-called “weapons of mass destruction,” the killers in that case were told, in effect, “take no prisoners.”
Did no one in the CIA or Pentagon want to ask where those WMD might be lurking? There were many reports at the time that the sons might well know. Did Washington perhaps fear the embarrassment that would inevitably come if Uday and Qusay survived to tell the world there were —truth be told — no WMD, and that there had not been any in Iraq since shortly after the Gulf War in 1991?
Why Not Capture Rather Than Kill?
Getting back to the killing of bin Laden: did no U.S. official point out the potential intelligence windfall, if Osama were thoroughly debriefed on al-Qaeda, its people, and its modus operandi? There must have been very powerful motives prompting the decision to forgo that golden opportunity. What might those motives have been?
The CIA and Osama go back a long way, so to speak. No doubt there are many things that Osama could have reveal ed that the U.S. would very much prefer not see the light of day.
Moreover, the White House was certainly aware of how embarrassing it could be, if bin Laden lived to explain what drove him and his associates to punish America on 9/11. One of Osama’s chief lieutenants, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, already spilled the beans on his own motivation. Check out page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report for the following: “By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”
There will be no way to avoid increased turbulence in U.S. relations with Pakistan, where U.S. drone strikes conducted by the CIA have been a major irritant. While Obama credits Pakistani security units with cooperating with the U.S. attempt to find bin Laden, the President’s statement last night was crafted to suggest that President Zardari was not consulted regarding the U.S. attack on the outskirts of Islamabad, but that Obama simply telephoned Zardari to let him know what went down.
Whether Zardari actually had some foreknowledge or not is not known. Still, the impression of the U.S. running roughshod over the Pakistani government will add to the image of Pakistani presidential pandering to Washington. Zardari is already in a peck of trouble, extremism has grown among some Muslims, and his very position as President is in jeopardy.
Zardari will be under increased pressure to demonstrate his independence of Washington at a time when Pakistan has been subjected to all the indignities mentioned earlier. Add in the embarrassment stemming from the discovery of bin Laden near Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. And then there are those hated U.S. drone attacks on northern Pakistan — all those “militants” and Pakistani civilians needlessly killed … while Osama sat right under the authorities nose near the capital.
Whether or not the Pakistani military decide to allow Zardari to remain as President, Pakistan is likely to react strongly against the U.S. at a time when bilateral relations are already at their nadir. Most important, the Pakistanis will thumb their nose at U.S. demarches to get them to trim their substantial support for the Taliban.
Pakistan can also block the resupply of U.S. forces along roads to the Khyber Pass and down into Afghanistan. This extremely long logistics line may well prove the Achilles Heel of the entire war effort. No one knows this better than the Pakistanis. And in the past they have shown themselves ready to use the leverage afforded by NATO’s dependence on the difficult supply line.
It is doubtful that President Obama and his senior lieutenants will be able to repair the damage without making commitments that could undermine their war policies. But that kind of result is one to expect when one nation acts in a highhanded way and humiliates another important country. Suffice it to add that Pakistan, with its 170 million people and nuclear arsenal, is far more important to U.S. and other countries than the pile of rock and valleys called Afghanistan.
It is a oddly myopic policy that risks serious damage to a relationship with an important country like Pakistan by acting arbitrarily there, while pursuing a feckless war next door in Afghanistan, for which Pakistani cooperation is the sine qua non for any significant progress.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a veteran Army officer and also served as a CIA analyst for 27 years. He is co-creator of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.