Loose Canons

Post-OBL SGO

It's been a week. Now what?

By 5.9.11

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It's been a week since the SEALs raided his Abbottabad, Pakistan compound, and I'm pleased to report that Osama bin Laden is still dead.

But as our president pivots from killing bin Laden back to killing our economy, there's a lot of Post-OBL SGO. And -- as usual -- most of it is either politically motivated or just plain wrong. (For those just joining us, "SGO" is the comprehensively useful acronym for "s*** goin' on" invented by my friend and former SEAL Al Clark.)

It does appear that President Obama has finally created a job, or at least opened one up. But in the week since OBL was transformed from terrorist to fish food no one has stepped up to claim the top job in al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's #2 guy, and Anwar al-Awlaki (the American-born terrorist cleric hiding in Yemen) are obvious but flawed candidates. Al Qaeda needs someone with bin Laden's power to raise money and inspire violence, and Zawahiri is a stay-in-hiding sort of guy, apparently on the outs with some of his cohorts. Al-Awlaki, may have the star power but not the acceptance among al Qaeda's shrinking hierarchy and is at last report, ducking Hellfire (missiles) and brimstone.

Al Qaeda's temporary disarray shouldn't be perceived as the death of the terrorist group. They will be back, soon, because their backers in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia will see to it. As RAdm. Ed Winters, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, said in a May 1 e-mail to his officers and men on the death of bin Laden, "Today, we should all be proud. That handful of courageous men, of strong will and character… have changed the course of history. Stand tall -- more importantly, be humble, be the quiet professional. This is what makes our organization special. Be extremely careful about operational security. The fight is not over. VR/ed winters."

The fight isn't over but the 2012 campaign is begun. So we will from now until Election Day be deluged with stories and campaign commercials telling us that President Obama is a warrior prince. There will be more photos taken in the situation room, videos of the president and his team debating the raid and watching it unfold.

Of the various accounts of the raid, there are many details that seem to conflict. But that's what has to happen. Operating in pitch-dark with night vision gear and other sensors, charging through rooms and sporadically under fire, each of the SEALs will have slightly different recollections. We'll have to await the HBO mini-series to learn what Obama and the media want us to believe really happened. And we'll see all the pictures from the situation room again, in many campaign commercials.

The president's decision to refuse to release the OBL death photos is, of course, political. As Jay Leno said, "The White House says there's no chance they'll release the death photos. Unless Obama starts to slip in the polls." The photos will be leaked, probably a few days before the election.

Equally political, and probably even more unwise, is Obama's trumpeting of the huge intelligence cache the SEALs apparently seized in the Abbottabad raid. As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in a radio interview, "I thought to myself, why in the world would they be talking about that. It ought not be talked about, there ought to be…just go about their business, gather any intel you can, and leave in doubt the people out there who feel vulnerable as a result of this."

To the UN and other pecksniffs who want to investigate the legality of the Abbottabad raid, to those useful idiots in the media who decry the "assassination" of the terrorist, we should pay no attention. Just as the April 1943 shoot-down of Japanese Adm. Yamamoto was not only right and proper but entirely consistent with the law of armed conflict, so was the SEALs' killing of OBL. There is, contrary to what one faux-conservative columnist wrote, something to celebrate in some men's deaths.

Too many in the media and Democratic political circles -- not that they are separable -- are trying to conflate the death of bin Laden with the supposed drive for democracy across the Middle East. They want to create a narrative that these events may not be the end of terrorism but are at least the beginning of the end. It's utter nonsense for two reasons.

First, in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, the Palestinian territories and the other Arab states, the anti-government protests aren't mounted by Jeffersonian revolutionaries. The despots who support terrorism now will not likely be replaced or if they are, their successors will be of the same ilk. Just ask Muammar Gaddafi, whose forces are still shelling the Libyan rebels in Misurata, despite a months-old NATO air campaign against him.

Second, though OBL is dead, the ideology that propelled him and all those like him -- Islamic fundamentalism -- is as healthy as it was on 9/11. We have not fought the ideological war. Unless and until we do, we cannot defeat the terrorists and those nations that sponsor them. It's precisely as the Economist's cover says this week: we killed bin Laden, now we have to kill his dream.

Some non-Arab Islamic states, Pakistan in particular, are moving farther into terrorism, not away from it. It is inconceivable that the Pakistani ISI -- their powerful intelligence agency -- didn't help bin Laden hide in Abbottabad for half a decade. The Pakistani government is now threatening to oppose by force any further U.S. raids into Pakistani territory. But the raids and drone strikes must not stop, even after we leave Afghanistan.

The Washington Post, alone among liberal media outlets, seems to understand that we lack the power to compel Pakistan to become a nation that will support us in the ongoing ant-terror fight. But in WaPo world, the facts drive the wrong conclusion. In a Sunday editorial, WaPo seemed to excuse Pakistani duplicity writing that Pakistan's "double game" is "…likely to continue because Pakistan's own war over its identity is far from over. By cutting off aid -- in particular economic aid -- Congress would only weaken the pro-American side in this fight."

There is no internecine Pakistani war over their national identity. That identity is based on Pakistan's founding, which split it from India and left the border region -- the Muslim-majority and incredibly rich province of Kashmir -- in India's hands. It's impossible to talk to a Pakistani about any political subject without the Kashmir conflict coming up. The Pakistanis long ago chose war and terrorism as the means of fighting India's possession of Kashmir. It is not within our power to change that. The Obama administration's calls for Pakistan to "investigate" who provided OBL with safe haven will be laughed off in Islamabad.

The only means of reducing Pakistan's support for terrorism is for us to ally ourselves, closely and with specific purpose, with India's fight against Pakistani-sponsored terrorism. We should end all aid to Pakistan and tell the Pakistani government -- really, the ISI -- that as long as they sponsor terrorism against us or against India, we will tell the Indian government that they can keep Kashmir with our blessing.

Let's give Obama credit for what he did. Perhaps he answered Hillary's "3 a.m. phone call" with wisdom and decisiveness. Perhaps he dithered, as he usually does, and let events decide for him. No matter. It happened on his watch, and to him will go the historical credit whether he deserves it or not. It diminishes us to try to deny Obama his success in getting bin Laden.

But how do we go on from here? Obama will begin withdrawal from Afghanistan this year, and the Iraq withdrawal will be completed. Obama is politically stronger now than he was before OBL was killed, but he's not politically invulnerable by any means.

The danger in Obama's success is that people may now see this war as a sort of video game, with Predator drones striking terrorists wherever they lurk and special operations forces raiding their hideouts.

Obama and his administration believe terrorism is a crime, not an act of war. Some Republican who gets it -- and is willing to say that we have to attack the ideology behind Islamic terrorism -- can beat Obama. Will any have the courage and skill to say that? We await such a candidate, without confidence he will arise.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.