Looking ahead to President Obama’s Bully Pulpit

Preliminary thoughts about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The elimination of Osama bin Laden warranted jubilation, public demonstrations and cheers, dampened by somber reminders of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans recognized the obvious – This was a historic victory. President Obama said it well:

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.  The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Bin Laden leaves the stage in May 2011, but his operational capacity was limited if not eliminated years before his death. He existed as a symbol of terror. It is hard to think that anyone could rise to the same level, anytime soon.

His death now is as strong a blow to international terror as it would have been years earlier. Striking down the symbol will be accompanied by newly energized pursuit of his number two – Ayman al-Zawahiri – and the estimated several hundred al Qaeda fighters along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Questions and Answers

How could bin Laden have lived in plain site for so long, one kilometer from a Pakistani military post?

We don’t know yet, but U.S. officials won’t want to beat up on the Pakistanis. The civil government in Islamabad is a weak enterprise, and its stability depends on domestic public perception. The Pakistani military and intelligence service – ISI – are a power unto themselves and comprise a complicated, rivalry-ridden command structure. U.S. officials are giving the Pakistanis a chance to save face. The Obama administration will keep working with Pakistani officials on future operations of joint interest – decreasing violence, enhancing political and economic stability.

What about increased vigilance and retaliation?

Intelligence and police forces have been doing a fine job over the last decade to counteract, block and limit the scope of terror attacks. The system isn’t fool-proof, but there has never been a reason to live in fear. [Fortunately, Tom Ridge’s foolish color-coded alert warnings have gone the way of the Edsel.]

Will the death of bin Laden accelerate demands for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Probably so. However, the Obama administration will take some time, looking for a changes in the wind–the flagging ability and will of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to pursue their goals.

What policies should be on the agenda?

–Israel and the Palestinians–Seizing the moment to push the Israelis and the Palestinians toward an equitable peace. Presidential persuasion is a key—a successful compromise is needed. A resolution for the West Bank and Gaza has always been a major recipe toward drying up the seedbeds of future terrorism.
The U.S. Abroad–—pursuing further efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad. That image could hardly have been worse when President Obama took office after the multiple failures of the Bush administration. Obama can use the moment and the bully pulpit to push recalcitrant players toward real mediation and compromise for peace in the Middle East.
–Middle East Uprisings–Hard work to land fairly in each of the civil uprisings burning in the Middle East. And taking care that Yemen evolves peacefully, and with a future government that continues to fight al Qaeda cells there with U.S. support.
–Kashmir — Push for peace talks and negotiations between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, supported by the United States and Europe. Success feeds world peace and creates the prospects for a more friendly relationship with Pakistan.

The bill of particulars is long, but President Obama has checked off one of the greatest action items he may ever face.


Filed under 1, Afghanistan, Middle East, Obama, Politics

2 responses to “Looking ahead to President Obama’s Bully Pulpit

  1. Alfred Gluecksmann

    Given that Bin Laden was surrounded by overwhelming firepower, it is appallingly deplorable that he was not captured alive. Not only should he have been debriefed and tried for valuable intelligence to be gathered, but his killing potentially sentences more innocent people to death via a reprisal attack in Pakistan and or in the United States while furthermore enhancing his standing as a “martyr” among his extremist murderous followers.

    One is reminded of the rush to execution of another murderous terrorist, namely McVeigh, when then Secretary of Justice Ashcroft was determined that that he would be executed. His execution destroyed the opportunities for more details to be learned about this Christian fundamentalist criminal, particularly about the ne National Alliance network of cells lead by William Pierce to which McVeigh was linked and which had targeted U.S. government installations for terrorist attacks, as documented by the book McVeigh had in his truck, titled “The Turner Diaries”.

    It is downright reckless for this rush to assassination and executions to trump the rule of law which should by now characterize the strategy when criminals of this caliber are finally hunted down.

  2. peter eisner

    Hi Alfredo,
    I’m not sure that the commandos could have captured bin Laden alive, even if they had wanted to. He had said some time back that he expected and wanted to die in a gun battle, martyred. We don’t know the details yet, although I’ll agree that the U.S. wasn’t interested in capturing him alive. I don’t think I agree that he would have provided any intelligence, though. He had no incentive to do so. And I think that he would have been just as much, if not more, of a cause celebre, and martyr-to-be among terrorists, if he had lived. Reprisals, my guess is, would be the same–with people looking to take advantage, or even trying a great attempt at capturing hostages and bargaining for their release. in return for bin Laden.
    McVeigh is a different case, it seems to me. Bin Laden was killed, at least according to the early version, in flagrante. I personally am not a pacifist — I could see killing someone before they try to kill me, or a friend, or anyone else in the act.
    McVeigh was arrested, sentenced to death after a trial. The United States was, according to Amnesty International, one of 19 countries that executed at least one person in 2009, and one of 58 countries that actually supported capital punishment. I happen to oppose capital punishment. More than 130 countries have abolished capital punishment. I doubt that the United States will join that list any time soon.

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