Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Killing of Osama bin Laden:
Vengeance Has Been Done

It has taken a while for me to write anything regarding Barack Obama's announcement last Sunday night that members of the US Special Operations Forces (JSOC's Navy SEAL Team Six) had shot and killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The reason is primarily due to so many other excellent analysts beating me to the punch and voicing my own feelings far better than I could have myself (thus saving me the time and effort). My own reaction to the news lies somewhere within an amalgam of these articles by Glenn Greenwald and David Sirota in Salon, Chris Floyd from Empire Burlesque, Haim Baram in H'aretz, Cord Jefferson in Good, Chris Hayes in The Nation, Kai Wright of ColorLines, and this post by Will Wilkinson from The Economist.

With all the shifting versions of what really happened during the Abbottabad raid (prompting the White House to finally gag itself), one thing is clear: this was a kill mission.

The other day, Marc Ambinder, writing in National Journal, reported:
The White House made clear to JSOC that it strongly preferred to have bin Laden killed, rather than captured, because the administration had no good idea where to put him. Still, just in case bin Laden successfully surrendered, a contingency plan was created for taking custody of him. It involved flying bin Laden to a U.S. aircraft carrier in international waters, with decisions to be made later on where to take him after that. The half-formulated plan, of course, never had to be used. (emphasis added)
So, apparently, it's better to execute a wanted criminal than have the annoying task of actually bringing him to justice. I mean, it's such a hassle to figure out where to put him! And they had "no good idea" anyway. Imagine all the paper work! Far easier to shoot him in the face and dump him into the ocean. In strict accordance to Islamic principles, of course. Just like all Muslim sea burials.

Clearly, this is what Obama meant by the "pride in what this nation stands for, and what we can achieve." He is aware that shooting an unarmed man is "a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people." Anyone who might think that the "rule of law and the rights of man" are what make America great would be wrong. Covert kill teams are what make us great. A decade of invasions, occupations, and hundreds of thousands dead in order to exact vengeance on one man, now that's dedication, American-style. It's how we "stand up for our values abroad." It is "the story of our history."

Apparently, when he declared "that America can do whatever we set our mind to" and affirmed that "there’s nothing we can’t do," the President really meant, "there's nothing we can't do except actually capture bin Laden alive in order to put him on trial and sentence him to death for his crimes like our Constitution demands we do, because, hey, I just have no good idea about where to put him." When, during his inaugural speech, Obama said, "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less," he wasn't counting the short-cut of killing rather than capturing and the settling for revenge rather than justice. And when, in the same speech and many since, Obama rejected "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" and assured his citizens, and the world, that the United States would not abandon those ideals "for expedience sake," he didn't mean having to spend time dealing with the irritating task of finding a suitable location to detain the country's most wanted man and irksome minutiae of due process.

Earlier in his fawning love letter to JSOC, Ambinder also noted,
Created in 1980 after the disastrous hostage-rescue mission in Iran, JSOC is part of the U.S. Special Operations Command that oversees the various special-operations commands of the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy. Over the past 10 years, JSOC units have been essential to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. JSOC has fought a silent but successful proxy war against Iran's Revolutionary Guards—even, National Journal has learned, engaging directly with its soldiers in at least three countries. It has broken up nuclear-proliferation rings. JSOC has developed contingency plans to safeguard Pakistan's nuclear weapons in the event of a coup in that nation. Its intelligence unit helps Colombian commandos dismantle lucrative drug rings that finance Hezbollah operations around the world. (emphasis added)
One would hope that such assertions would be backed up by actual evidence or at least a link to a source, but nah, Ambinder and his editors don't think so. Isn't this major news? Armed combat with the troops of another country? And yet, it's just glossed over with the expectation that Ambinder's readers will just smile and move on, thrilled that our militarism and kill teams know no bounds.



  1. Bin Laden died late in 2001

  2. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  3. I have been an objectively quiet reader for a while now with no particular bias in any one direction but this particular article spurred me to response. I’ve actually learned a great deal from your reporting and am grateful to have done so. It seems, Nima that your aptitude lies in your commendably academic ability to defend your theories but I would say, over about a year and a half of readership, I have failed to see you cross the line and consider, in earnest, the opposition. I’m not suggesting that you don’t give your opponents due process but it does seem you are unwilling to lend the opposition even a modicum of viability and therefore develop ideas that temper your tendency toward the simply vitriolic. I say this because you seem to have the intellect and the ability to be a hugely effective thinker but your argumentation is so self preserving that you alienate even the slightest possibility not that you may be wrong, but that someone who disagrees with you might help you grow. You respond to people with truculence, usually capitalizing off of your intellect to belittle and demean to great effect. You treat intercourse as a competition instead of a forum for development and therefore relegate yourself to the vain category of vain dissension. And isn’t the very important purpose of dissension, in the end, development? It’s too bad because you’re too good and could potentially provide so much. Anyhow, that’s my two cents. I hope you’ll consider my thoughts.

  4. Liam -

    Thank you so much for not only your readership and kind words, but also for your insight and respectful criticism.

    While it is certainly true that I can be biting (some might say scathing) in my criticism of what you call "the opposition" (though I do my best to avoid ad hominem attacks and stick to the - sometimes inconvenient - facts, even if I do throw in jabs now and then), I wonder what about this particular article spurred you to write your comment/critique. To me, this one seemed pretty innocuous.

    Furthermore, I am curious (genuinely) as to what dissenting opinion you think I have not given due credence or respect. I am not arguing that you're wrong, rather, I'm simply wondering which comments you think I have reacted to unfairly and without a sufficiently open mind.

    I do think that opposing viewpoints are not only valuable but vital to an engaging discourse and that debate and dialogue are the way to advance learning, understanding, and - in some cases - tolerance and compromise. Still, when an opposing viewpoint that I disagree with (or, more importantly, that offends me) is presented in direct response to something I myself have written, I do often respond forcefully - not because I am "unwilling to lend the opposition even a modicum of viability" or am just interested in self-preservation (though I do expect and hope to provide evidence that my own analysis is sound and accurate, or else I wouldn't write it), but because bad or erroneous arguments (if they are indeed bad or erroneous) deserve to be countered and dismantled, not given equal standing with a legitimate dissenting perspective.

    That said, who do you think I have belittled and demeaned? Is it someone spouting Zionist hasbara talking points? If so, what do you think I might be able to learn from them and in what way do you think their regurgitation of long-debunked mythologies might help me grow? Do you think someone espousing racist stereotypes and ethnosupremacist narratives should be treated with the same kind of respect as someone who might have a slightly different view of the legality of the SEAL Team Six raid in Abbottabad?

    Personally, I do think there is a distinction to be made. And if someone is willing to reveal not only their ignorance but their bigotry, I do not hold back on my condemnation and criticism of their point of view. If someone chooses to engage me in the comment section of my own website and question my motives or information, so be it. But with that choice comes my responsibility to respond.

    However, if you think I have unjustly unleashed a nasty or dismissive reply to someone undeserving, please point it out, because you will be absolutely correct in your frustration with me.

    Thanks again for reading and reaching out and for eloquently sharing your thoughts. I really do appreciate it and hope that I can learn from your respectful criticism.


  5. Nima,

    I understand your position. I suppose my point is this: Many people in the world are filled with slant, self-serving, and sensational ideas that allow them the simple satisfaction of feeling wronged. Not to say that the issues that provoke their ire aren’t worth the revolutions and the uprisings that they cause. Not in the least. Persecution and inequality offends me as well and needs to be exposed. Instead, these issues give said short-sighted people an excuse to fight because it’s, most of the time, easier to scream and yell than to discuss and proceed. It gives them an excuse to be pissed off but it doesn’t inspire them to endure the arduous task of side lining their own egos enough to put in the work to make change. That is much harder to do. It’s why I stopped watching Fox News. I found that it pissed me off to no end but I went on watching because it was somehow perversely satisfying and that isn’t healthy.
    I’m not saying that you’re one of those people. I don’t know that. What I am saying, however, is that many of your readers are probably individuals who disagree with you to a polar extreme and respond to your research with equally polarizing language. Your offense to the issues is inherent in your writing. Moreover, your offense is warranted in many cases. I’m not a details guy but I do find merit in a lot of what you write and appreciate your due diligence in linking out to facts that inform the structure of your arguments. I do, however, disagree with you at times, naturally. But when that happens I’m not moved to respond with my own ideas because I don’t trust in your ability to absorb what I have to say before deciding whether or not my view point has value. I don’t trust in your ability to respond without pointing out a syntax error (I’ve specifically seen this a number of times) and dominating with flame tongued anger telling me that I’m wrong to the word. I know the world is far to complicated a place for that kind of zero sum game.
    Your language, in your articles and your discussions, suggests that you have already made your choices before the discussion begins. You say, “I do think that opposing viewpoints are not only valuable but vital to an engaging discourse and that debate and dialogue are the way to advance learning, understanding, and - in some cases - tolerance and compromise.” I believe that is true on some real level but there doesn’t seem to be room for this in your writing. There certainly doesn’t seem to be room for this in your responses. “If someone is willing to reveal not only their ignorance but their bigotry, I do not hold back on my condemnation and criticism of their point of view.”. Fair, but if someone exposes themselves to be a bigot isn’t their chief goal to engage you in a polarizing discussion that provokes you to respond in a way that gives them license to just detest you further? It’s a shame that you give them that license. These people want you to tell them they’re the idiots they are because it’s satisfying for them to hate what you stand for. Your willingness to engage on that level not only belittles them but it undercuts your ideas. I imagine it would be much more effective to engage those that disagree but still want to work toward some goal. As a reader your research is enough. You don’t need to “drive angry” so to speak in order to be convincing.

  6. I don’t know what provoked me about the Bin Laden article. Perhaps I felt I could see a different side. Perhaps I felt it wasn’t so simple as, “Just put a bullet in him and let’s be done with it”. What would be the cost of trying him? What kind of violence would such an event inspire around the globe? How many more people would die? Perhaps I felt as if, in response to the argument of Bin Laden being unarmed, that a man like that doesn’t need to be armed to be a threat to the lives of everyone around him. I am conflicted about a military incursion into a foreign nation but I also support Obama and his effort to revise and temper what has been an abysmal and cavalier American approach to foreign policy. But, of course, I don’t really want to start into that here because I’m not up for being told I’m wrong on all counts. I know I’m too open minded a person to be painted in such absolute colors. Think about it.
    Thanks for the response. It takes something to ask these questions and I admire your desire for truth on many levels.

  7. It is a shame when the US acts in the same manner as the governments in most Islamic nations. But then it proves that we are all alike and that no nation morally rises above any other when it comes to acting emotionally.


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