Getting Bin Laden

When’s the last time you talked U.S. foreign policy? The merits of the Afghanistan mission? Our increasing use of drones to kill from the sky? Famine in the Horn of Africa? Syria?

Most people are preoccupied with making ends meet and related challenges in their daily lives. When afforded a little free-time, they discuss the stock market sell-off, the return of the NFL, Justin Timberlake’s newest movie, and maybe the debt ceiling limit.

Has there ever been a time when U.S. citizens have paid less attention to things foreign? Props to you for getting this far in a “foreign policy” post.

Getting Bin Laden is the title of a New Yorker essay by Nicholas Schmidle.

Reading it, I couldn’t help but think my hawkish, conservative friends who have zero respect for Obama, would probably finish it with a modicum of begrudging respect for him. In contrast, for me, it was somewhat disillusioning. It’s increasingly obvious he’s cut from very similar cloth as the Republican and Democratic Presidents before him.

He’s authorized eight times more drone missions than Bush. Apparently, he pursued Bin Laden with greater zeal than Bush. When asked, he told the military brass responsible for planning the Bin Laden mission that it was okay if they had to kill some civilians in the process.

The first person killed during the 38-minute long mission was Bin Laden’s courier who, in the months prior, unwittingly led the U.S. military to the compound. The second person was his wife, standing near him, unarmed. It’s unclear to me, from the description in the essay, why she was shot.

Hawks will say what they almost always say, heat of the battle, collateral damage.

If our drones and daily Abbottobad-like attacks are making us safer in the short-term, what about the medium and long-term?

The GalPal has a marine biologist friend whose master’s fieldwork took place on an island off the coast of Mexico. Her team’s goal was to rid the island of non-native animal life. The first specie, rats. Apparently the challenge is getting every last rat because rats have a built-in reproductive instinct that kicks in when being culled. The more you kill, the more the survivors speed up their reproducing.

What types of lives do children who watch their parents killed by the U.S. military end up living? China is close to developing drones. What are we going to do when that technology spreads to other countries, some that we’ll likely meet on the battlefield?

Counter the prevailing isolationist mentalilty and read The Looming Tower. Iman al Zawahiri was an Egyptian revolutionary intent on overthrowing what was in his eyes the too secular Mubarak government. Imprisoned in a crack down, he was tortured mercilessly for a few years; consequently, he left prison deeply radicalized. Watching your parents get killed must be torture.

When it comes to military might, where is the point of diminishing returns? Was Ghandi right, eventually, does an eye for an eye make the whole world blind?

Religion and Politics

History suggests you can’t get elected to high office in the U.S. without at least marketing yourself as a practicing Christian. Yet, once elected, Christian principles often take a backseat to Realpolitik. Why do Christian constituents seemingly give a pass to faux politicians like Sarah Palin for subverting the “turn the other cheek” challenge of the gospel by advocating for “a punch for a punch” on children’s playgrounds? Much more importantly, why do Christian constituents give a pass to real live politicians like Barack Obama for greatly increasing the use of drones to kill people in Afghanistan?


Post title most likely to drive away traffic?

Despite following global politics closely, a bachelors degree in history, doctoral coursework in international studies, and extended experience in developing countries, I’m relatively uninformed about the “stans”. Lately though, I’ve begun to educate myself. I found the recent PBS Frontline documentary titled “Obama’s War” an interesting introduction that nicely outlined the complexities. Last night I finished David Rohde’s five-part series on being kidnapped by the Taliban and held hostage for seven months. I found his story utterly riveting and am completely baffled by the commenter on the Times website that wrote of his story, “I’ve learned nothing.”

Next, I’m turning to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on drones titled “The Predator War”.

I still don’t know nearly enough for you to justify continuing to read, but then again, every U.S. citizen should be thinking it through since it’s our military (and tax dollars) at work. So here are my initial thoughts.

First, like in Iraq, the military campaign is too much of an American enterprise and not enough of an international coalition. If the premise is that the West’s security could be threatened by a victorious Taliban that empowers Al Qaeda, then Western countries should work in concert to defeat the Taliban. Going it mostly alone guarantees that with each civilian death antipathy towards the U.S., instead of the West more generally, intensifies.

Second, we should make a commitment to additional troops dependent upon other western countries contributing more. If other western countries refuse to commit more troops, we should adjust our plans downward.

Third, we could gain the upper hand against the Taliban in the next few years (win the military battle), but still compromise our medium-long term security if collateral death and destruction leads to even greater anti-Americanism (lose the  hearts and mind war). Sons will avenge their fathers’ deaths.

Fourth, if Pakistan’s top intelligence agency props up Taliban commanders and if Afghanistan’s national election was rigged, what are the odds that any of our efforts to stabilize the countries, let alone improve their “medieval” infrastructure will pay dividends?

Fifth, in our efforts to avert another 9/11 terrorist attack, we must not add to Afghan and Pakistani civilians’ suffering. On that note, here’s a particularly disturbing excerpt from Rohdes story:

A stalemate between the United States and the Taliban seemed to unfold before me. The drones killed many senior commanders and hindered their operations. Yet the Taliban were able to garner recruits in their aftermath by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties. The strikes also created a paranoia among the Taliban. They believed that a network of local informants guided the missiles. Innocent civilians were rounded up, accused of working as American spies and then executed. Several days after the drone strike near our house in Makeen, we heard that foreign militants had arrested a local man. He confessed to being a spy after they disemboweled him and chopped off his leg. Then they decapitated him and hung his body in the local bazaar as a warning.

At present, I can’t support committing more troops or money to the war effort because the military campaign is too much of an American enterprise, we risk even greater anti-Americanism in the medium-long term, we don’t have dependable political partners, and the plight of Afghan and Pakistani civilians will most likely worsen.