A Game Of Misdirection

Jeff Goldstein has a fascinating piece on our long-term goals in the Global War on Terrorism. He notes a very insightful comment by Ric Locke:

“Catching” Osama, in the Dragnet sense you and a lot of people seem to be calling for it, requires above all information. When Joe Friday ask for “Just the facts, ma’am” the system requires that he receive facts, even if they are misleading or inaccurate; there must be at least data. Ask an Afghan villager or an Arab where Osama might be, and you will not, as a rule, receive data. Those ill-disposed toward us will lie as a matter of course, even those who are neutral will see it as improving their status if they mislead us into failing, and that’s not even counting the likelihood of Osama’s supporters seeing the giving of information as an offense worthy of revenge against the informers—which is an absolute certainty.

If we can’t win, we shouldn’t play. What Bush and his advisors are trying to do is change the game. We don’t want to kill Osama; we don’t even really want to catch him. We want to discredit him, to establish him as impotent, unable to hurt us in any way that matters. So we don’t chase him except in a casual way, as part of other operations. We certainly don’t go clanking through the mountains in division array, blowing dust, HE, and dieselrauch in a futile chase for one sick man, with the onlookers laughing behind their hands and pointing in random directions.

There’s a lot to that. If we capture bin Laden, it will invite terrorism and give him a platform to spew his hateful ideologies – just look at the circus that the Saddam Hussein trial has become. Clearly, that isn’t the sort of thing we want to do, especially given the very real risk of it attracting major terrorist attacks. No American city is going to want to host that trial.

If we kill bin Laden, he becomes a martyr. Granted, martyrs tend not to plan terrorist attacks given that they’re dead, but in terms of the ideological aspect of this war, a martyred bin Laden could serve as a powerful symbol to rally al-Qaeda. Not only that, but doing so would be exceedingly difficult given that he’s one man who doesn’t communicate via electronic means and is in some of the most desolate territory on the planet. As Locke notes, we can’t expect much help from the locals either.

In the end, I think Locke’s right. The best way to deal with Osama bin Laden is to have him sitting isolated in a cave somewhere, impotent and powerless. What has Osama bin Laden been able to do since 9/11? There have been no successful attacks on the United States. Bin Laden has been calling for a truce with the United States – hardly something one does from a position of strength.

What would the death of bin Laden achieve? He’s not in operational control of al-Qaeda – that has fallen on his subordinates who can still communicate by electronic means without fear of detection. The fact is that even if bin Laden were lying dead in an Afghan cave right now, the war wouldn’t be over. This war is bigger than one man.

Isolating bin Laden is, in the end, probably the most sensible strategy. Our interests are best served by an enemy rendered impotent whose grandiose threats ring hallow in the ears of his supporters. Creating a spectacle or a martyr doesn’t advance our cause all that much, and while the moral victory of having the butcher’s head mounted on a pike in the middle of the Rose Garden would be great, it must also be weighed in with the costs.

One thought on “A Game Of Misdirection

  1. Bad news for the GOP….

    Yesterday’s Illinois primary turned out exactly the way Republicans did NOT want it to, at least in the Sixth District Democratic primary. Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth emerged victorious in the primary, ready to fill the open seat of Henry Hyde with a compelling personal story and plenty of free and adoring national media coverage on the horizon. In this less-Republican-than-it-used-to-be district, Duckworth has to be considered the frontrunner here, meaning the Dems could be well be on their way to securing one of the fifteen seats they need to takeover the House.

    What a heartbreaking development for the party of Lincoln in the Land of Lincoln.

    On the other hand, the GOP scored a victory despite itself last night when Judy Baar Topinka edged past a crowded field of wingnuts in the GOP gubernatorial primary. If the GOP has any chance of beating Blagojevich in November, Topinka is the candidate who can do it as she is part of the increasingly endangered species of Republican Noncrazius.

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