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Osama Bin Laden
Thursday, 2011 May 5 - 1:01 pm
It's been four days since the big news that a U.S. Navy Seal team had entered Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden, in the mansion in which he'd been hiding. Unless you've been living in a cave (ha!), you have probably spent these last four days thinking and talking about the event.

By and large, Americans have been celebrating. In Washington D.C. and New York City, crowds gathered outside and celebrated all through Sunday night. Both Democratic and Republican politicians have hailed this as a great achievement for the country.

But then there are the critics. There are always critics. In this case, there are criticisms from both the liberal and the conservative side, and I wanted to take the chance to talk about a few of them.

1. Was Bin Laden's death worth the price of two wars? This has been brought up by a few of my liberal friends. I have a few different responses to this point.

First: the wars are sunk cost; we cannot undo those decisions now. If I had to choose between an extremely expensive war campaign with nothing to show for it, or an extremely expensive war campaign with a result in justice being served to the country's number one enemy, I choose the latter.

Second, I would agree that we went into Iraq under a false pretext... but the need to eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroy al-Qaeda's safe harbors, that was real.

Third, I think it is a false comparison to weigh the "value" of Bin Laden's death against the cost of the wars we have waged along the way. Did anyone similarly question the cost of World War II against Hitler's death? (No, because Hitler's death was not the sole purpose for waging that war.) Do people question the cost of a police force when they bring a criminal to justice? The wars have been tragic and expensive, to be sure; but the merits and the faults of Bin Laden's death can and should be evaluated independently of those wars.

2. Should we celebrate anyone's death, even a terrorist and mass murderer? There's a quote from a person named Jessica Dovey going around that has been widely mis-attributed to Martin Luther King: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." While I understand the sentiment, I think we have to consider the practical implications of the alternatives. We could have let Bin Laden go without punishment, or maybe we could have taken him alive and brought him to trial.

I think letting him go would obviously have been a mistake: whatever your feelings on 9/11 being a false pretext for war, we can't allow criminals to kill thousands of people with impunity. And as for bringing him to trial... would we have really wanted that circus show, giving Bin Laden a chance to speak publicly and making him into even more of a martyr in the eyes of his followers? There's a pretty good opinion piece from CNN on that point. And besides... a trial would have, in all likelihood, resulted in Bin Laden being executed anyway, but only after we'd spent millions of dollars in the legal process. I'm all for due process of law and all that, but does anyone really think Bin Laden had any chance of escaping the death penalty?

3. Does President Obama deserve credit for this accomplishment? It is true that it's ultimately a brave group of elite soldiers who carried out the operation, and years of intense intelligence-gathering efforts that made it possible... but the decision-making came from the President himself, and he at least deserves some of the credit.

If you're one of those people who say "no, Obama doesn't deserve credit for this", then ask yourself who you would have blamed had the operation failed. Would you have said "It's not Obama's fault; it's the Navy Seals who botched the operation?" Of course not. The attempt to deprive Obama of credit for the operation is purely a partisan sentiment, and I find it childish.

4. Is Bin Laden really dead? There are the conspiracy theorists who question why we're not releasing photos of the body, or why we dumped the body into the sea so quickly. To these people I say this: we are not going to make unsound national policy decisions just to satisfy your paranoia. There are extremely good reasons why we wouldn't want a public grave site that could be made into a shrine to Bin Laden, and why we wouldn't want to inflame the Muslim world by parading around his body or photos of it. I fully believe Bin Laden is dead; if the government were not sure of it, would they really risk the embarrassment of announcing it, only to have him show up again later?

So, America: let's stop the hand-wringing and the second-guessing. This is a good thing that happened. 9/11 was the worst day in American history, and our inability to punish Bin Laden for it has weighed heavily on our national psyche for a decade. With his death, we have achieved a bit of closure. It does not bring back the thousands who have died, but it is still justice, and it is okay to celebrate that.
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Posted by Ken in: commentarypolitics


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