Last year, John Brennan, while repeating the Obama administration’s view that Osama Bin Laden was practicing a false version of Islam, said that “jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.” Yet the Obama administration ended up burying Bin Laden as a real Muslim, according him Islamic burial respects.
The administration was at pains to show that it had treated his body gingerly. As White House press secretary Jay Carney read from an official narrative, his body was not dumped into the sea but “eased” into it after proper washing and prayers.
The gesture, designed to mollify Muslims, naturally didn’t. Among others, a cleric in Lebanon, Omar Bakri Mohammed, was quoted as saying, “The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don’t think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration.” Another cleric said the U.S. had needlessly invited “fish to a banquet.”
The silence from the Muslim world — official praise of Obama for killing Bin Laden was nil a day after it — undermines the rosy media talking point that Bin Laden’s death comes as a new Islam committed to “democratic reforms” has been born in Egypt and elsewhere. Many commentators enthusiastically pointed out that Bin Laden had nothing to do with the recent Arab revolutions, as if to suggest that an emerging new Islamic order will not contain elements of the old one. But it will, and the post-Bin Laden silence foreshadows that.
Meanwhile, Obama has not been served well by staff after his moment of well-earned glory. Brennan introduced into the story of Bin Laden’s capture and killing several pieces of misinformation. Perhaps eager to promote a female-friendly Islam, he announced that Bin Laden had cravenly used one of his wives as a shield. It turns out that she had voluntarily lunged at one of the Seals.
More confusion followed CIA Director Leon Panetta’s acknowledgment that information leading to Bin Laden’s capture came through detainees who had undergone “enhanced interrogation.” This complicated matters for some of Obama’s supporters, who, like MSNBC pundit Lawrence O’Donnell, speculated hopefully that any crucial information might have come “before or after” the techniques had been used.
Still more confusion followed Panetta’s confident statement that photos of Bin Laden’s dead body would be released. Other administration officials contradicted Panetta and now the press is reporting that Obama is set to say that he will withhold them.
Card-carrying ACLU Democrats may have also winced at the post-Brennan press conference correction that Bin Laden was unarmed, a fact which requires a level of sympathy from them for those operating under the “fog of war” that they don’t normally show soldiers or police officers. The New York Times, however, was up to this task, quickly putting the White House correction into the appropriate context: “Several experts on the rules of engagement in combat said that in a raid on a target as dangerous as Bin Laden, the Navy Seals team would be justified to open fire at the slightest commotion when they burst into a room.”
Obama’s moment of effective leadership comes as an ideological shock for followers who wanted a war without Patriot Acts, unilateral actions, and commando raids. But for Obama, it is a boon. He can now claim plausible distance from the Nancy Pelosis when needed, thereby enjoying one of the paradoxes of American politics, that the success of one party usually follows its perceived implementation of the other party’s agenda.
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