Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Take-Away Thus Far From a Mission Accomplished

Benchmarks and clear progress have been hard to come by -- and even harder to convey to the public -- in our ongoing military engagements in the Middle East. That all changed barely less than two days ago, when we could finally claim a tremendous and irrefutable breakthrough.

"The CIA first started trying to kill Bin Laden when Michael Scheuer set up Alec Station in 1995," said a career U.S. counterterror official. "They finally found a President gutsy enough and focused enough to finish the job."

Details about how the mission in Abottabad unfolded are still emerging. But based on the information we have already, a few points are already clear.

Unilateral was the way to go: It was a moment for fundamental rugged individualism, so as it has been said before, if you're going to do something, do it yourself, and loose lips sink ships. The call to share mission details on a truly need-to-know-basis, along with keeping the Pakistani government in the dark, was a no-brainer -- it was the only way to go.

Raising the batting average: The image of the Central Intelligence Agency had been taking a beating since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a point repeatedly emphasized in this blog. But there is no doubt that the CIA got this one right. The spy agency's steps along the way were bountiful, from the raw tip that led to bin Laden's courier, to watching the intelligence incubator develop increasingly significant "targeted intelligence" that eventually led to the go/no decision on Friday of "actionable intelligence."

Nobody does it better: As for the military arm of the mission, the SEALS just keep adding to the mystique that defines their existence. The American military has been getting specific missions right for a while. The surge in Iraq and Africa Command's leadership at the start of the air campaign against Moammar Gadhafi are examples of well-executed specific missions.

Getting to know all about you: It is time to re-evaluate our relationship with Pakistan. There is no credible terrorist hunter right now who thinks Bin Laden could have been two hours by car from Islamabad without someone in the Pakistani military or ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, knowing he was there. His compound in Abbottabad occupied the biggest lot in the neighborhood, close to  Pakistan's military academy (a third world equivalent of our West Point), and many retired Pakistani military officers. Somebody should have asked a question or two, no? At the least, this revelation requires that Pakistan now conduct a transparent internal investigation as the first step in a rehabilitation aimed at a forthright effort to join the world community. Any co-conspirators who are uncovered must be handed over to the U.S. And if no one knew, explain how that could happen.

I like you as a friend: Nations committed to fighting terrorism need to be wedded to the concept. It is an all-in proposition. It requires reigning in and in some cases weeding out those who are complicit or complacent. Either Pakistan plays by these rules or somebody is going to have think about a mission to grab Pakistan's nuclear warheads. Even the Russians and Chinese understand that much without letting anachronistic ideological doubts and posturing get in the way.

Waterboarding still isn't cool: For those of us who believe in management by results, it is admittedly a bit more difficult today for us to make the argument (that I for one held) that the terror prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base was too much of a global eyesore and recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. There are reports that 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, provided information that led to the courier who hid bin Laden in the Abbottabad compound. But just because some of the intelligence used for the mission came from GITMO, the United States is not absolved from its obligation to abide by rules governing how we obtain information. KSM would have given the info up with a feather tickler. 

Why even ask that question?: We know the answer to the question, Did Bin Laden deserve a burial in the Islamic tradition? Of course he did. The reasons are obvious, starting with the American value system, and ending with not giving the dark disciples of Bin Laden any opportunity to exploit the situation for their political gain.

IPhones beat Al Qaeda any day: The Muslim world now boasts new, young secular heroes who wield big ideas, smart phones and twitter campaigns to press for a life of freedom, and the ability to choose who  leads their nations. An extremist who hijacks a religion and brainwashes followers into believing that killing will open the gates of heaven does not stand a chance against the opportunities that democracy can provide in a free society. Bin Laden is a dark figure who never led a movement, just a cult based on killing and repression.

It was all about him and the theft of Islam: Al Qaeda's charismatic leader sent his recruits to their death, ordered others to live and fight in caves and subjected many followers to a life as wanted international criminals. Cast as a leader hidden among people, bin Laden for years resided out of sight, but comfortably with family in a fortified (albeit not well-guarded) $1 million compound built in 2005. The truly larger-than-life image of a bin Laden who fired automatic weapons and walked on the front lines folded in death, hiding behind a wife who was shot in the leg when she went charging at a SEAL. He hijacked the Quran for his own selfish reasons, desecrating a religion in the most unholy of ways. Osama was a fraud.

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