Monday, May 2, 2011

The Black War: Thoughts on bin Laden

The back-story of locating and killing Osama bin Laden brings to mind several thoughts.  Buried in all the descriptions of the movie-like assault is a story of civilian and military cooperation on a large scale and over a significant time period.  It will also bring out the worst in some people, both American and otherwise.

First, the effort was largely led by the Central Intelligence Agency.  Apparently, with a small bit of information gained from one or two individuals held at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA was eventually able to determine the identity of one person who was close to Osama bin Laden.  By following that person over years, the hideout in Abbottabad was finally identified and targeted.  Apparently, some thought had gone into just bombing the house, but the decision was made to send in a team of commandos to ensure bin Laden was identified and killed.

Second, the actual assault, under planning for some months, was a combined CIA-military operation.  The new “fifth branch” of the U.S. military is the Joint Special Operations Command.  These operators, coming from all the services, receive their own funding and are able to train and function at a level unheard of in the regular military.  These are the people who are fighting the hidden, black war, that will be necessary to eventually control the world-wide assault by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

Third, we must not conflate bin Laden’s death with the end of the conflict.  Islamic extremism remains widespread and will not be ended by the cutting off of its symbolic head.  However, his killing in such a dramatic fashion will embolden and encourage those who want to resist the violent extremism advocated by bin Laden and his followers.

Fourth, the conspiracy theorists have already begun work and will not be quieted.  Twitter comments of a lie and cover-up began almost immediately.  There are people who will want to believe that he remains in hiding and will eventually reappear at the appropriate moment in the future.  Those who want to refuse to believe that he is dead will not be convinced by any evidence .  Therefore, we should not attempt to convince that crowd.  The people who need the evidence are the more reasonable among us who just want to be rid of the fear that he and his organization brings.  Presenting reasonable evidence of his death will be sufficient for those people.

Fifth, the jubilant reaction by many in our country is both understandable and regrettable.  This country is tired of war and wants another VE or VJ day along with the celebrations.  We have been holding our breath for nearly ten years since the events of September 11, 2001, and the death of bin Laden permitted us to exhale.  The celebrations observed around the country are understandable in that light.  However, it somehow over-simplifies and trivializes what has been going on for the past decade.  Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, not to mention the other tens of thousands who have been injured both physically and mentally by combat.  I am not just talking about Americans here, but other innocents who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sixth, the American military personnel who have been fighting this battle for the past decade, deserve more than just cheers.  They deserve a serious understanding about what they actually did for their country.  Whether one believes the war was just or not, these people did what their country asked of them.  Some died.  Many more were injured, some seriously.  The care of these personnel and their families will be with us for decades to come.  At a minimum appreciation is required.  Better yet, would be palpable, effective, and meaningful actions by the over 99 % of our population who do not serve in uniform.  Make real changes to veteran law.  Make real changes to how military children are educated while having to move from state to state, from school district to school district.  Make real changes in how military personnel are enfranchised (or more accurately, disenfranchised) to vote. 

Yes, the death of Osama bin Laden is a good thing.  However, do not confuse that event with closure of the real problem of dealing with extremist organizations, aggressive foreign policies, and a very real penchant in the United States to use the American military to solve all our problems.  Just because the military can do so many things, seemingly so well, does not mean it is efficient or even the right thing to do.  Over a decade ago, before 9/11, a group of senior officers at the Navy War College recommended major cuts in DOD funding to enable a more robust funding of the State Department and intelligence programs.  We still need to do that.  The demilitarization of foreign policy will solve much.  Leave the fighting of extremists to police departments (domestically) and to the CIA and JSOC (internationally.)  That Black War will be largely out of sight, but in the long run cause less damage than bombing strikes and invading countries.

Exhale, but then breathe in deeply and get on with the next stage of work.