15 Years, And An Eternity

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  On this quiet Sunday, many Americans will recall the horror of that awful day, the nightmarish quality of the footage of crashing planes and burning, collapsing buildings, and the heroism of those who responded to the worst attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor.

dsc03553Fifteen years is not a long time, but it’s long enough to begin to assess the historical significance of 9/11 — and it is becoming clear that our world was dramatically changed, and probably permanently, on that fateful day.  In the years since, terrorist attacks on America and the rest of western world have, unfortunately, become commonplace.  An enormous security apparatus has been created to try to protect us from future assaults, and in our zeal to achieve such protection we’ve authorized incursions into our personal liberties that would not have seemed plausible during the carefree ’90s.  We’re routinely scanned, videotaped, patted down, and probed these days.  And the threat of terrorism and security issues also have created new perspectives on formerly run of the mill political issues — like immigration.

When 9/11 happened, it was a terrible shock, but we did not know what the future would bring.  There was resolution, of course, but also a sense of hope — hope that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda could be defeated, and hope that the world could return to what it was.  Now we have 15 years of history under our belts, and it seems that such hopes will not be realized.  Even as the fight against terrorism has killed bin Laden and decimated al Qaeda, new groups like ISIS, fueled by a hateful perversion of the Islamic faith, have sprung up and become committed to destroying western culture and imposing violent, intolerant, medieval policies in its place.  With each new shooting, bombing, and attack in San Bernardino, or Paris, or Brussels, all committed by people radicalized by their indoctrination into dark ideologies, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is not a fight that can be conclusively declared to be won, but instead a long, constant struggle against loathsome groups, cells, and individuals that just want to inflict harm and are perfectly comfortable with killing innocents to achieve their twisted goals.  America and its western allies simply need to continue that desperate fight against the forces of evil.

Fifteen years later, we are dealing with a sobering reality.  Fifteen years is not a long time, but the world of 9/10 seems like an eternity ago.

The Afghan Ingrate

Boy, that Hamid Karzai is a real peach, isn’t he?  The United States frees his country from the grip of the repressive Taliban, restores democracy to Afghanistan, and supports Karzai during long years where he doesn’t seem to be interested in much of anything except trying to line his own pockets and dodge responsibility for everything that happened in the country he was supposed to be governing, and he can’t leave office without taking a few parting shots at the U.S. of A.

After 13 years as president, the jug-eared Karzai and his trademark cap are finally leaving office with the same class, intense gratitude, and willingness to accept full responsibility that have characterized his years in power.  In his farewell speech, he blamed the United States for the ongoing war with the Taliban and said “that the Americans did not want peace because they had their own agenda and objectives.” 

We didn’t spend the blood of our soldiers and billions of dollars to prop up a tinpot like Hamid Karzai, we took out the Taliban to try to rid the world of safe haven for Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups.  We tried to rebuild Afghanistan after the depredations of the Taliban and create a democracy in hopes of preventing terrorism from taking root again.  That’s why we ended up with Hamid, the corrupt hack — and now it’s galling to have to listen to the criticism of “leaders” like Karzai, who never would have been in a position of any influence but for the United States.

Hamid Karzai is a good example of the old adage that if you lie down with a dog, you get up with fleas.

Sy Hersh Speaks Out

Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War.  Ever since, he’s been the scourge of presidents and press officers, not afraid to speak his mind about America, journalists, and politicians.  He’s an equal opportunity gadfly who launches withering criticism at Republican and Democrat alike.

Recently Hersh put reporters and the Obama Administration in his gun sights.  According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, Hersh ripped American journalists, chiding them for their timidity, their refusal to challenge the story lines put out by the Obama Administration, and their willingness to temper their reporting to support the President.  He said that the Obama Administration story about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden is “one big lie, not one word of it is true,” and argued that journalists aren’t investigating the shifting depictions of the event as they should.  He called reporters “pathetic” and “more than obsequious” for their unwillingness to challenge the President, and he claims the Obama Administration “lies systematically.”  He singled out the New York Times and said the newspaper spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would.”

Hersh — like me — is a big believer in real journalism and reporters who ferret out the truth and let the chips fall where they may.  He thinks, however, that the existing managers of newspapers and network news bureaus will never return to the days of “shoe leather” reporting, where reporters find sources and stories rather than waiting in briefing rooms for press officers to give them handouts.  Hersh recommends firing 90 percent of newspaper editors and promoting new editors who can’t be controlled, closing network news bureaus, and starting over.

It’s interesting to hear a journalistic icon like Seymour Hersh speak out about the state of American reporting.  Newspapers are worried about why their circulation is falling, falling, falling.  Maybe if they stopped “carrying water” for politicians and started really reporting on what is actually happening, readers would return.

Getting Geronimo

The New Yorker has an exceptionally good piece on the mission to get Osama Bin Laden — codenamed “Geronimo” by the planners of the raid.

The piece is long, but well worth the read — chock full of interesting details on the intelligence and training that led up to the mission, a blow-by-blow account of the mission itself, and discussion of post-mission activities like the burial of Bin Laden’s body at sea.  I love this kind of reporting, where the journalist revisits an important event, interviews and reviews multiple sources and then painstakingly and comprehensively pieces together what happened.  The prose is clear and crisp, and the riveting story almost tells itself.

If you read the article, you can’t help but be impressed by the human and canine members of Seal Team 6 and the professionalism and careful decision-making of the various participants in the process, from President Obama on down.  I’m glad these people are on our side.

Osama’s Porn Stash

Could Osama bin Laden have been a secret porn freak — in addition to being one of the world’s most notorious terrorists?

Reuters is reporting that the U.S. Navy Seal raid on bin Laden’s compound not only produced a dead Osama, it also uncovered a cache of pornography.  The article quotes officials as saying that the stash consisted of “modern, electronically recorded video” and “is fairly extensive.”  The officials said they do not know whether bin Laden himself acquired or watched the porn, which may have been delivered by couriers.  There also was no information about what kind of pornography was involved — which could be instructive.  Was it Playboy-type T&A stuff or at the more violent, hard-core end of the pornography spectrum?

Interestingly, the American officials are quoted as saying that, in our investigations of other Islamic militants, it is not uncommon to find pornography.  What does that tell you about our terrorist foes?

Osama’s “Rights”

The BBC is reporting that some of the sons of Osama bin Laden have given a statement to the New York Times protesting that their father was not captured alive and put on trial.  They say that a trial was needed so that “truth is revealed to the people of the world.”

Sorry, boys, but you’re not going to find any sympathy for that position from this quarter.  Osama bin Laden himself was a mass killer who showed no regard for international law or the rights of the innocent victims of 9/11 who were killed in cold blood for no reason — or the rights of any of the other victims of the many terrorist acts that al Qaeda planned, bankrolled, or executed over the years at bin Laden’s direction.  Nor do I think old mumble-mouth was much known for “truth.”  For his many confessed crimes, Osama bin Laden deserved to die.  I’m not among those who are squeamish about the circumstances of his death or the way in which his remains were disposed of.

There’s not only a silly double standard at play here.  I suspect that many of those who argue that the United States should have engaged in heroic measures to take bin Laden alive and should have put him on trial are simply sorry that bin Laden, ever the egoist who enjoyed watching himself pontificate, did not get a final chance to occupy the world’s stage in a protracted trial that would become a circus and a forum for his violent, anti-western philosophies.  I’m glad that he didn’t get that opportunity, and that he left this world without so much as a whimper.  It was a fitting end for a bad, bad man.

Taking a Different Direction

I too agree with President Obama and Bob for that matter regarding the president’s decision not to release the photos of Osama bin Laden. The president made a number of very good speeches early in his presidency that have led me to continue to be supportive of him and his efforts.

This speech was given by the president at the National Archives back on May 21, 2009 a few months after his oath of office. I am not as articulate in my writing skills as Bob is, so I thought it best to let the president speak for himself.

If you scroll to 32:18 in the president’s speech below he discusses his campaign pledge of government transparency and his decision making approach when that transparency conflicts with our national security.

“Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our men and women serving in harms way”. I could not agree more !

Don’t Disclose The Photos

Normally I am a proponent of full disclosure of government documents, government meetings, and government decisions. In the case of the bin Laden death photos, however, I agree with the President that the prudent course is to not release them to the press and public.

I don’t agree with the President that releasing the photos would be like “spiking the football.”  It is a close question, and I don’t think the people who favor of disclosure (or most of them, anyway) are doing so because they want to rub bin Laden’s death in the noses of terrorists and al Qaeda sympathizers.  Instead, the three main pro-disclosure arguments seem to be that (1) doing so will avoid conspiracy theories about the fact of bin Laden’s death, (2) disclosure favors legitimate interests in transparency (and the photos are sure to be leaked eventually), and (3) there is no reason to treat bin Laden differently from mobsters who were gunned down and whose gruesome death photos have long been part of the public record.

I understand these reasons, but I don’t agree with them.  There is no need to release the photos to avoid conspiracy theories.  Members of bin Laden’s family have confirmed that he was shot and killed.  We’re kidding ourselves if we think releasing the photos is going to prevent nuts from developing nutty scenarios; they will just claim the photos were Photoshopped or use the photos to spin some other web of conspiracy.  Nor should the call for transparency trump everything else; the government has a legitimate interest in keeping some things secret. And bin Laden’s situation is different from that of a gangster — the St. Valentine’s Day massacre didn’t pose a risk of inflaming the sensibilities of millions of people in faraway parts of the world where American soldiers are currently engaged in hostile operations.

The short of it is, we don’t need to release the photos, and there are reasons of military advantage and good taste not to do so.  It is not as if the government hasn’t disclosed the facts of bin Laden’s death — it is just withholding one particularly gruesome piece of the record in the interests of decency.  Years from now, perhaps, when the furor has died down and soldiers are out of harm’s way, the photos can make their way into the public record.

Au Revoir, Osama

UJ and I don’t agree on a lot politically, but we agree that the news that U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden is very good news, inceed.  Osama bin Laden was a bloodthirsty zealot whose creation of al Qaeda and terrorist machinations caused thousands of innocent people to lose their lives on September 11, 2001.  He deserved to die to pay for his heinous act, and the fact that he was finally caught and killed means that justice has been served.

I give credit to President Obama and the U.S. military and intelligence forces who never wavered in their hunt for bin Laden.  The American political system often seems broken, but it says something positive that we kept our focus on bin Laden through two different administrations — one Republican, one Democrat — over a ten-year period.  It is nice to know that Americans can still stick to important goals and see them through to completion.

And I don’t want to hear right now about what this means for the 2012 presidential campaign, or why bin Laden was able to hide in the capital of Pakistan, or whether the administration should have announced the news differently, or any other second-guessing or political spinning arising from the death of bin Laden.  For now, let’s just quietly appreciate the fact that a horrible mass murderer has finally gone to his just reward.

Finally !!

I’m not sure if I am like most Americans, but I thought this day would never come hearing of Osama bin Laden’s death. I think it goes without saying that all of us on the Webnerhouse blog commend the navy seals who carried out this courageous mission and that hopefully this has given some closure to the families of 9/11 victims and military families who have lost loved ones wagering our war against Al Qaida. I think the President put it best in his remarks when he said “justice has been done”. God Bless America.

Fear Of Vietnam?

I’ve seen several articles raising the concern that President Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan is likely to result in “another Vietnam.”  This article from George McGovern, the anti-war candidate who was the Democratic standard-bearer in 1972, is pretty representative of the arguments that you see in such articles.  The points of comparison include propping up a corrupt local government, fighting an entrenched opposition that enjoys local support, and spending money on a war that would be better spent somewhere else.

I respect George McGovern, who served his country nobly and well in World War II and enjoyed a long career in the Senate, but I think his argument is fundamentally misplaced.  The essential difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that no one attacked the United States from Vietnam, whereas al Qaeda did attack the United States, on September 11, 2001, from bases in Afghanistan.  McGovern makes the point that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan but is in Pakistan.  Even if that is so (and no one seems to know precisely where Osama bin Laden and his number 2 are at the moment) McGovern neglects to mention that the only reason that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan is that the United States military drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and thereby eliminated al Qaeda’s safe haven in that country.  I question whether the other points of comparison that are cited really are comparable — for example, I don’t know that everyday Afghan citizens view the repressive Taliban as favorably as Vietnamese viewed the populist Viet Cong — but those points of comparison really are irrelevant and ancillary.  The main distinction is that our activities in Afghanistan are defensive, not the result of abstract Cold War geopolitical considerations.

I have no desire to see American soldiers fight and die on foreign soil, but we cannot quit until we capture or kill Osama bin Laden and render al Qaeda powerless to attack us again.

Lessons Learned From A Day That Will Live In Infamy

Sixty-eight years ago, the Imperial government of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  The surprise attack on America’s main Pacific Ocean naval base was just one of many attacks launched by Japan that day, but it is the one that Americans remember most.  President Roosevelt called it a day that will live in infamy, and he was right.  Americans still remember the attack, still burn inwardly at the iconic photographs of tilting, sinking battleships partially obscured by smoke, and still visit the Arizona monument and think somberly of the sailors below, trapped forever in their watery tomb.

I mention Pearl Harbor not merely because today is the 68th anniversary of the bombing, but because I think our national response to the attack is worth remembering.  Under President Roosevelt’s leadership, America — which was horribly unprepared for war — geared up for an enormous struggle, fought a two-front war that featured bloody battles on virtually every continent, and eventually forced its enemies to accept unconditional surrender.  America did not ask for war, but when war was thrust upon it, it accepted that burden, made the necessary sacrifices, fought the war, and won.

I recognize that fighting an elusive terrorist network like Al Qaeda is not like fighting the Japanese Empire or Nazi Germany.  Al Qaeda’s minions do not wear uniforms or fight conventional battles.  Instead, they hide in remote, lawless areas, like the wild, mountainous territory along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wage war through suicide bombers and other terrorist devices.  Nevertheless, Al Qaeda attacked our country just as surely, and with results as devastating and deadly, as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The only appropriate response to that attack is to find our enemies, engage them, and ultimately kill them on the field of battle.

This seems self-evident to me.  The first obligation of any nation must be to ensure its own security, and no nation can be secure if it allows deadly attacks to occur without finding and defeating the attackers.  The United States therefore must find and defeat Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  If, as our government currently suspects, they are in Afghanistan, then that is where we also must be.  For that reason, I support President Obama’s decision to send in more troops, and I think we should stay in Afghanistan — or wherever Osama bin Laden and his terrorist gang is found — until we get the job done.  This is not a war that America asked for, but it is a war that we must win.