Following the track of events in America’s governmental and political life these days is like reading Pravda in the heyday of Soviet Communism. This should come as no surprise in an era when the executive branch of the U.S. government is dominated by a faction whose figurehead sports a biography steeped in his ideological affinity for hard-line leftist associates (not excluding the kind of terrorist affinities for which Obama mentor Bill Ayers is justly infamous).
The ostensible decapitation of the al-Qaida terrorist network (otherwise known as the takedown of Osama bin Laden) has just the sort of pretzel twists that beg for an informational Rosetta stone and an expert to make good use of it who is well-versed in the many arcane languages of political intrigue. The sequence of events, like the characters, words and phrases of an unknown language, have what seems to be a familiar structure. But every translation runs into contradictions that disturb the complacent assumption that we are dealing with familiar terms.
According to the straightforward story line, the U.S. government developed and confirmed information as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, leader and inspiration for terrorist enemy No. 1, the organization responsible for the death and destruction America suffered on Sept. 11, 2001. After due deliberation, Barack Obama, always the intrepid CEO, adopted the more risk-laden method for going after bin Laden – sending in a strike team to take custody of his body (dead or alive). (This by contrast with a bomb strike that would, along with its target, obliterate corroborative evidence that bin Laden was in fact at the scene.) In the event, Obama’s well-known trust and confidence in the prowess and integrity of America’s military forces proves correct. In the firefight that takes place between the U.S. team and bin Laden’s defenders, he is slain. The victims of 9/11 are revenged. Justice is served. And even Rush Limbaugh thanks God for Obama.
If this were the synopsis for a movie, we might buy the ticket, opt for the requisite suspension of disbelief and enjoy the thrill ride that ensued. We might even sit still for a little casting against type that stretches the artistic prowess of the well-known actor in the leading role. But when dealing with actual events and people, a counterfactual performance may be “good acting,” but it is also quite possibly deceptive action. In this instance, for example, Barack Obama is not known as someone who esteems the prowess and integrity of the U.S. military. Also, in at least one significant detail, corrected reports of the action that took place suggest that bin Laden and perhaps a woman shot while trying to shield him were unarmed.
Back chatter is also coming to the fore that suggests that both the timeline and substance of the decision-making process were hardly as straightforward as this story line makes them appear. Did the U.S. government know of bin Laden’s whereabouts for weeks or even months? Was there a tussle over the decision to act against bin Laden, one in which considerations of political risk, joined with politically correct concerns about offending Islamic sensibilities to make Obama and his White House associates act the part of timid politicos, rather than intrepid executives with a righteous zeal for justice?
The story line portrays the decision to eschew bombing in favor of an elite strike force as one driven by the desire to make sure the world would not doubt the finality of bin Laden’s fate. Why, then, was no effort made to make sure people unconnected with the U.S. government could view the body, so that their accounts could verify bin Laden’s demise for the contemporary and historical record? Instead, photos and videos are supposed to suffice, along with the familial corroboration provided by DNA. But in this day and age video-gaming children know that photos and videos can be doctored. And to add to the propagating fog, the videos are officially withheld, leaving supposedly purloined copies floated on the Internet as the basis for whatever convictions people may form about the events.
Instead of avoiding the mystification of bin Laden’s fate, one would be forgiven for thinking that these actions are purposefully meant to encourage it. Add to this that nagging question that must occur to anyone even a little familiar with the paramount imperative of all anti-terror activities – effective intelligence. From an intelligence viewpoint, given a choice between having a live terror kingpin or his dead body, which would you choose? Given his likely knowledge of people and events connected with the terror enterprise, the answer is obvious. But what may not be as immediately obvious is that, in the best of all counter-terrorist worlds, you would want to have him alive while everyone in the world (including his terrorist cohorts) believe him to be dead. That takes the cake and keeps it good and fresh for purposes of consumption.
If you had such an intelligence asset, what would drive your decision to liquidate it? Does it serve an intelligence purpose? Is it driven by political considerations? In this case, the story of Obama’s intrepid takedown of the terrorist kingpin draws attention away from the rising influence in the Middle East and North Africa of the fanatical Islamic fundamentalist forces that spawned al-Qaida in the first place. It draws attention away from the pressures now being brought to bear against Israel to accept a practicing terror organization (Hamas) as an interlocutor in the so-called Middle East peace process. And of course, it provides at least a temporary reversal of the American people’s distrust and loss of confidence in Obama and his faction.
All which thoughts suggest now more than ever the relevance of Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim – trust, but verify. Perhaps in these parlous times, we must add a codicil: Distrust, but do not despair.