Obama and the End of Al-QaedaThis is an excellent and well-informed summary of the current situation. A reader will be amply rewarded by carefully reading the whole post.
An American president, himself the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, has taken down notorious terrorist Usama Bin Laden. Despite being a Christian, Obama, it seems to me, had a personal stake in destroying someone who had defamed the religion of his birth father and his relatives. His 2007-2008 presidential campaign was in part about the need of the US to refocus on the threat from al-Qaeda. He said that the Bush administration had taken its eye off the ball by running off to Iraq to pursue an illegal war and neglecting the eastern front, from which the US had been attacked, and where riposting was legitimate in international law. Obama began threatening to act unilaterally against al-Qaeda in Pakistan in August 2007, during the early period of the Democratic primary.
Ironically, Obama had to admit that Pakistani intelligence helped the US develop the lead that allowed the US to close in on Bin Laden. So the operation was not unilateral, and young candidate Obama was too over-confident. The US story that the Pakistanis were not given prior notice of the operation is contradicted by the Pakistani news channel Geo, which says that Pakistani troops and plainsclothesmen helped cordon off the compound in Abbotabad. CNN is pointing out that US helicopters could not have flown so far into Pakistan from Afghanistan without tripping Pakistani radar. My guess is that the US agreed to shield the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asaf Ali Zardari from al-Qaeda reprisals by putting out the story that the operation against Bin Laden was solely a US one. And it may be that suspect elements of the Pakistani elite, such as the Inter-Services Intelligence, were kept out the the loop because it was feared they might have ties to Bin Laden and might tip him off.
Usama Bin Laden was a violent product of the Cold War and the Age of Dictators in the Greater Middle East. He passed from the scene at a time when the dictators are falling or trying to avoid falling in the wake of a startling set of largely peaceful mass movements demanding greater democracy and greater social equity. Bin Laden dismissed parliamentary democracy, for which so many Tunisians and Egyptians yearn, as a man-made and fallible system of government, and advocated a return to the medieval Muslim caliphate (a combination of pope and emperor) instead. Only a tiny fringe of Muslims wants such a theocratic dictatorship. The masses who rose up this spring mainly spoke of “nation,” the “people,” “liberty” and “democracy,” all keywords toward which Bin Laden was utterly dismissive. The notorious terrorist turned to techniques of fear-mongering and mass murder to attain his goals in the belief that these methods were the only means by which the Secret Police States of the greater Middle East could be overturned.
I especially enjoy this bit of personal details that Juan Cole includes in his post:
Hence the horrific attacks on the US of September 11, 2001.That last paragraph is the damning judgement which history will make of the idiot George Bush and his perversion of US law and international law. Bush might have been successful as a cheerleader at university, but he was a disaster for the American people. Sadly about 40% of the American people have not yet realized this fact. It will take another generation before most of this 40% will pass from the scene and their children and grandchildren will open their eyes and make the judgement of history. The wheels of justice do turn slowly, ever so slowly.
It was those attacks that created Informed Comment. I started it in spring of 2002 initially to cover al-Qaeda and to present analysis about how to defeat it. Like all Americans, I was personally devastated by September 11. I was depressed for a year. I felt it in distinctive ways because I had lived nearly 10 years in the Greater Middle East. Most of that time I was a student or, later on, academic researcher. But although I studied history, I was living in the present. I had been in Egypt in the late 1970s when Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad began becoming notorious. I lived in Pakistan off and on in the early 1980s and went up to Peshawar and talked with Mujahidin.
I supported the first phase of the Afghanistan War, which involved a light Western footprint in that country. There were 40 al-Qaeda training camps, which produced thousands of potential terrorists, and if they had not been destroyed they would have gone on manufacturing threats to the US. I discovered that there was a lot of good information on the Arabic internet about al-Qaeda, and I paraphrased the reports I thought significant. I began being invited to private security conferences in Washington, sponsored by think tanks at the request of government agencies, where the audience was typically inter-agency. There, I presented my analyses of al-Qaeda along with other academics and security experts. I hoped that the insights might be useful to State Department, Pentagon, CIA, DIA and other officials on the front lines of dismantling al-Qaeda. I had opposed the Vietnam War, something that had been painful for my father, who was a 20-year man in the army. But if the US government could benefit from my studies of al-Qaeda and other radical fringe movements trying to hurt Americans, I was just delighted.
(Just a note: I often challenged Washington orthodoxies, the honoraria were small, and I was only invited a few times a year, so the suggestion of some of my detractors that I sold out by doing these presentations is frankly silly. I just want my government to be as informed as it can be, and I’ll tell them the same things I tell the peace groups who also invite me to speak. If I had wanted to sell out, I could have formed a consultancy and purveyed the party line and made big bucks).
I was deeply dismayed when it became apparent that the Bush administration intended to use September 11 as a pretext to launch an illegal invasion of Iraq. I thought it was most unwise, and would be seen as an act of neo-imperialism and resisted. I told friends that if the UN Security Council voted against it, and Bush proceeded, I’d be out in the streets protesting. But then the UNSC never really was given a chance to vote, and Bush ran off to war. I prefer peace to war, but am not a pacifist. I don’t believe the use of military force is always wrong or counter-productive. I am from an army family after all. But I do believe that wars should be like abortion: rare and legal. The UN was established after the horrors of the Axis in WW II in an attempt to deploy collective security to stop the practice of aggressive wars of conquest and annexation. President Dwight Eisenhower invoked the UN Charter when he made Britain, France and Israel withdraw from Egypt in 1956-1957. By waging a war that was neither in self-defense nor authorized by the UNSC, in contravention of the UN Charter (a treaty to which the US is signatory), W. and Dick Cheney were throwing away the achievement of the founders of the UN, and returning us to the international jungle, where the strong fall upon the weak with no framework of law.
Here is the truth about the mis-guided Bush years:
What pained me most of all, aside from the sheer scale of destruction in Iraq set off by Bush’s illegal and ill-considered adventurism, was that the Iraq War clearly gave al-Qaeda an opening to grow and expand and recruit. I think if Bush had gone after Bin Laden as single-mindedly as Obama has, he would have gotten him, and could have rolled up al-Qaeda in 2002 or 2003. Instead, Bush’s occupation of a major Arab Muslim country kept a hornet’s nest buzzing against the US, Britain and other allies.And here is the reality on the ground in the Middle East:
The Arab Spring has demonstrated that the Arab masses yearn for liberty, not thuggish repression, for life, not death and destruction, for parliamentary democracy, not theocratic dictatorship. Bin Laden was already a dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War and the age of dictators in which a dissident such as he had no place in society and was shunted off to distant, frontier killing fields. The new generation of young Arabs in Egypt and Tunisia has a shot at a decent life. Obama has put the US on the right side of history in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya (where I see crowds for the first time in my life waving American flags). People might want a little help from a distance, but they don’t want to see Western troops deployed in fighting units on their soil.Juan Cole is more optimistic about the role of Obama in history than I am. I am more cynical than Cole. I would be more than happy to be shown to be wrong. Time alone will tell.