President Obama announced this past Sunday evening that “al-Qaida's leader and symbol” Osama bin Laden had been killed, “Tonight I can report to the American people and the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden …” This is a good thing. President Obama can now fly onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and stand under the “Mission Accomplished” banner that his predecessor prematurely unfurled on October 29, 2003.
It has taken the United States ten years, over $400 billion and more than 2,421 US and coalition lives to get to this point. Since those who fail to understand their history are doomed to repeat it, it is imperative that we ask what lessons can be learned from Afghanistan as those such as Senator's McCain (R-Arizona) and Graham (R-South Carolina) call for greater involvement in Libya, and the US struggles to find common ground in Israel.
President Obama stated this past Sunday, “… the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al-Qaida – an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe.” This is a very important point. Had members of the Bush administration paid attention, 9/11 may have been avoided. As Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA bin Laden unit has written, “… unlike … 1941 (Pearl Harbor), there was far less reason for Americans to have been surprised … in 2001 … bin Laden repeatedly warned Americans – again, always in pubic – that he would incrementally increase the lethality of his attacks on U.S. interests …” The lesson here is, as field intelligence officer Robert Baer wrote, when Washington does not like pieces of particular intelligence, ” … it does everything in its power to discredit the messenger.” Also, Washington continues to avoid real analysis and action that would force changes in policy relating to Israel and consistent policy dealing with dictators in the Middle East.
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The New York Times recently reported that as a result of the changes in Egypt, the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are settling their differences in order to create an interim unity government. Having Palestinians speak with one voice could pave the way for real and constructive dialogue with Israel. What do the Israelis say? “The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas …” Instead of recognizing that peace with Hamas could lead to lasting peace with Israel, the Obama administration says that Hamas is a terrorist organization unfit for peace making.
In Libya, Senator McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for more military support – including arms – to the TNC rebels, even though by his own admission he does not clearly know who is backing them. This logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is what led the US to train and support the Mujahideen and work with Osama bin Laden as they rebelled against the incumbent pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. This is the logic that led the US to support, arm and train Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as he fought against Iran. This is the same logic that led the US to support Hamas as it developed as an alternative to the then nationalist objectives of former Chairman Arafat's PLO.
On October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He stated, “On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.” What does America have to show for all of this? What else did America get? America got the suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, a historic abuse of signing statements and an imperial presidency.
In his closing remarks, President Obama said, “The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens.” That is true, but what America did choose was the illegal and immoral response to the fight. After ten years, over $400 billion and more than 2,421 US and coalition lives lost, President Obama was able to kill Osama bin Laden with human intelligence sources (CIA and others), four helicopters and 40 well-trained Navy Seals. This is how it should have started.
President Obama also stated, “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims … So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.” Again, he was correct.
Hopefully America has learned the lessons that will enable it to believe in peace and human dignity as well.