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Bin Laden’s Legacy: We Are All Americans, Once Again

Nearly 10 years ago, days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I drove home to the Washington, DC suburbs from Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a long, long trip, some 28 hours of driving over two and 1/2 days, but an experience like no other.  There was a special sense of community, of shared loss, of egalitarianism that pervaded the highways. Flags and signs hung from overpasses. Everyone listened to the same news alerts.  People made eye contact at rest stops and restaurants, nodding knowingly about the inner rage, and determination, affecting the United States. In many ways, it was a highly spiritual experience and a unique time in this country.

Sunday’s special ops killing in Pakistan of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — mastermind, symbol and financial underwriter of the Al Qaeda network — produced much of the same feelings.  Twitter and social media were overwhelmed.  Young people, who have never known a United States without its current national security state apparatus, celebrated in front of the White House. CNN and the other television news networks served as a place of gathering for Americans of all races, backgrounds and socio-economic status.

Bin Laden’s theory was that Western democracies are weak and thus that direct terrorist attacks would splinter the citizenry and end Western involvement in the Middle East. He got it entirely backwards. The reality is that 9/11 united the United States. We debate and fight about tactics, long-term strategy and effectiveness, but since that day no American can look at the massive hole of ground zero in Manhattan’s financial district, or the new granite walls of the Pentagon, without recalling where they were and how they felt on 9/11. That’s a legacy that has already outlasted bin Laden.

bin Laden was special ops "double tapped" in the forehead. Guess AK-47 marksmanship training FAILED for that bastard. A fitting end.
Glenn Manishin

There’s another way in which bin Laden’s death has once again transformed this country from a nation of strangers to a shared community. This president, whose policies on healthcare, deficit reduction and the like are attacked from all sides, risked everything to get America’s most well-known terrorist enemy. If the operation had failed Obama would have been a crippled leader, like Jimmy Carter after the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue operation faltered in the desert sands, with re-election impossible. His was a balls-out call. For a Democrat, especially, to maintain secret, unilateral “black” intelligence operations in foreign countries has been all but anathema. Obama acted more like Ronald Reagan than either W. or Bush 41 ever did.

John Ullyot, a former Marine intelligence officer who served as a Republican spokesman on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the operation was “a gutsy call because so much could have gone wrong. The fact that Obama approved this mission instead of the safer option of bombing the compound was the right call militarily, but also a real roll of the dice politically because of how quickly it could have unraveled.”

Obama Finds Praise, Even From Republicans | NYTimes.com.

No one is criticizing the decision to assassinate bin Laden. That in itself is simply amazing, another sign of the feelings of community pervading this country. They will not last, of course. But today we are once again all Americans.

One difference is that although worldwide support for American spiked after 9/11, it seems even Arabs and other Muslims have now largely abandoned the anti-Western Jihad mentality that bin Laden fostered. The revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya re not being driven by radical Shi’ite imams, rather by middle class tech executives and students.  This year’s Arab Spring movement is secular and largely non-violent. American flags are not being burned and our government — massively out of character historically, and at long last — actually stood on the side of the protesters and against entrenched, repressive Arab governments. That’s another arrow in Al Qaeda’s coffin, and another way in which, in the instantly connected global community of today’s Earth, we really are all Americans.

Bin Laden was adept at convincing smaller, regional terrorist groups that allying with Al Qaeda and focusing on America were the best ways to topple corrupt regimes at home. But many of his supporters grew increasingly distressed by Al Qaeda’s attacks in the last few years — which have killed mostly Muslims — and came to realize that bin Laden had no long-term political program aside from nihilism and death.

The Arab Spring, during which ordinary people in countries like Tunisia and Egypt overthrew their governments, proved that contrary to Al Qaeda’s narrative, hated rulers could be toppled peacefully without attacking America. Indeed, protesters in many cases saw Washington supporting their efforts, further undermining Al Qaeda’s claims.

The End of the Jihadist Dream | NYTimes.com.

Pulse of a Presidency

It’s not a good political sign at all that liberals seem to be departing the president in droves. The more things “change,” the more it appears politicians give us more of the same.

As the Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His [NYTimes.com].

President Obama’s favorite word is “unprecedented,” as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies’ penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he’s getting out; and failing to capitalize on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.

1, 2, 3 What are We Fighting For?

So with Al Quaeda essentially not hiding in Afghanistan — and certainly not operating terrorist training camps any more — why should the United States care about the Talban and a political “insurgency”? Our role is not to maintain of support the “national security forces” of third-world countries. Civil wars are the business of those fighting them. President Obama set a deadline, but this deployment has no defined mission and no clear objective. And for centuries Afghanistan has been the graveyard of foreign armies, including the Soviet Union. This is a tried-and-true recipe for disaster.


US General McChrystal Vows to Take Battle to Taliban [The Guardian].

McChrystal drew a distinction between al-Qaeda terrorists operating in Afghanistan, who he said were few in number and largely limited to non-combat support roles, and insurgents such as the Taliban. “What we are actually going to do is degrade al-Qaeda and prevent them being a threat and build up Afghan national security forces so they can deal with it effectively and so they will need less help. “We can significantly impact Taliban capacity in the timeframe of 18 months. We need to convince them … that [the insurgency] is a losing proposition.”

Posted via web from glenn’s posterous

Congress Clips TSA’s “Virtual Strip Search” Wings

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives voted to restrict TSA from conducting what have become known as “virtual strip-searches.” House Restricts “Strip-Search Machines” [WashingtonWatch.com]. The bill provides, among other things, that:

Whole-body imaging technology may not be used as the sole or primary method of screening a passenger under this section. Whole-body imaging technology may not be used to screen a passenger under this section unless another method of screening, such as metal detection, demonstrates cause for preventing such passenger from boarding an aircraft.

Although promoted as less intrusive than x-rays, explosive sniffers and the like, this new technology presents a significant threat to personal privacy. As the sponsor (Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah) said, “Nobody needs to see my wife and kids naked to secure an airplane.” My colleague Chris Calabrese of the ACLU makes it graphically clear:

these machines produce strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies when they are utilized as part of the airport screening process. Those images reveal not just graphic images of “naughty parts,” but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags.

Privacy Screen Filter

"Privacy Screen" Filter

Privacy advocacy groups are, for obvious reasons, alarmed. It is very much like the “Tunnel of Truth” hypothesized in the 1990 sci-fi film Total Recall. That was scary indeed! Not unsurprisingly, on May 31, a coalition of advocacy groups including the ACLU, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Gun Owners of America, and the Consumer Federation of America sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to “suspend the program until the privacy and security risks are fully evaluated.”

That will never happen. It its zeal to “protect” Americans traveling by air, TSA has turned the check-in experience into the U.S. equivalent of the Star Chamber, where ordinary citizens are presumed to be dangerous just by, for instance, wearing shoes — now routinely x-rayed separately at every U.S. airport — or putting liquids into carry-on luggage. The millimeter wave and related strip-search technologies ratchet this up yet another level. Use of a “privacy screen” to cover intimate areas is hardly an answer.

Tunnel of Truth (1990)

Tunnel of Truth (1990)

In my view, TSA is out of control. Yes, there were security lapses leading to 9/11, but they did not arise from business or vacation travelers and, with a bit more diligence (like following up on middle eastern males taking flying lessons but rejecting landing practice) the government could target those likeliest to have real terrorist connections. Just as TSA’s “no fly list” was overreaching, so is virtual body searching. We do not need this and we do not need TSA. I say abolish the agency, something with which Jim Harper of the Cato Institute, the premiere libertarian think tank, agrees.

Blaming the Dead

I almost forgot about this little FBI fiasco from last week. Seems as if, seven years later, our wonderous federal forensic cops finally fingered the culprit in those Anthrax mail attacks against the Senate. Problem is, the perp committed suicide weeks ago. So the FBI’s “case” basically amounts to assertions that Bruce Ivins, a scientist with access to anthrax samples, could not “credibly” explain an alibi. F.B.I. Details Anthrax Case, but Doubts Remain [NYTimes.com].

No shit, “doubts” remain. Remember Richard Jewell from Atlanta, hounded mercilessly after being accused of the ‘96 Olympic bombings? He nearly bought the farm and was clearly innocent. The FBI’s disclaimer that “the many mysteries of the case meant an air of uncertainty would always surround it” is too little, too late. If American law enforcement can only solve cases years later by blaming dead guys, we as a society have mucho problemas.

Rules of War In Occupation

The Department of Defense is prosecuting a Marine Lieutenant, Ilario Pantano, for murder arising out of the shooting death, at an Iraq checkpoint, of two suspected “insurgents.” Allegedly, Pantano ordered other troops to remove the suspects’ handcuffs and look away, and then shot the pair in the back, vandalized their vehicle and hung a sign over their corpses bearing a Marine slogan: “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

Pantano protests that it’s impossible to differentiate between innocent civilians and potential terrorists in the environment of “post-war” Iraq. The problem, here, hoewver, is that both sides are at least partially right. As the 1968 Mi Lai scandal in Vietnam shows, a civilized society must have rules of behavior even in warfare. But the situation in Iraq is poised precariously between war and police-state security. More than 1,700 of our troops have been killed, the majority in car bombs and other “IED” attacks, after “major combat operations” ended in May 2003.

How in hell are these young men supposed to know who the bad guys are? Isn’t this just second-guessing combat decisions made in the fog of war? Genocide is one thing, but in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, this prosecution strikes me as one making a scapegoat of a solitary solider in order to offer a patina of legitimacy to the atrocious inhumanity of what’s really going on over there.

America decided long ago that we could not be the “world’s policemen.” Now the miltary is doing just that in Iraq. The “rules of engagement” need to be changed, fundamentally, so the troops can defend themselves and do their jobs without being blown up by rag-heads whose idealogy is to kill Westerners, not matter why, just because they are not Muslims. As long as America remains an occupying power in Iraq — which is what we are in reality — this problem will not go away by itself. Even worse, Pantano gave up a lucrative career as a New York investment banker to enlist in the Marines to defend this country. He deserves better thanks than a trumped-up murder prosecution.