Afghanistan, War On Terror

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead

It’s official… Osama bin Laden is dead, killed in a missile strike daring Special Forces raid just outside the capital, Islamabad.

More information as it arrives.

11:52 pm

The government is stating that bin Laden’s body will be treated according to Islamic customs. Which I hope involves having his head mounted on a pike at the top of the new Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan while the rest of his body is slathered in pig fat and fed to a pack of dogs. Sadly, he will get far more respect from his enemies in death than he ever showed in his life.

11:42 pm

The Pakistani government was not informed of the raid before it took place. That’s not surprising – Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, has long been suspected of being in bed with al-Qaeda.

It is also being said that the compound where bin Laden was hiding was constructed five years ago and was made specifically for him. That strongly suggests that at least some elements of the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding in their country.

It was never really doubtful that bin Laden was in Pakistan, but it’s surprising that he was so close to the Pakistani capital. Then again, there were always rumors floating about that bin Laden was hiding in an urban area rather than the desolate mountains and rivers of the Afghan/Pakistan border.

11:36 pm

Allegedly, this was the location of bin Laden’s hideout. It seems too close to the center of town to be right, but it does match the general description of the site.

11:22 pm

Marc Ambinder is reporting that the former Seal Team Six performed the operation with help from unmanned drones and helicopters.

Bin Laden was hiding in a large walled estate 80 miles outside Islamabad in the town of Abadabad.

11:16 pm

Reports are that President Obama received several briefings over the past few weeks on bin Laden, and gave the go-ahead for the operation on Thursday, April 29th.

11:14 pm

Sources are saying that Navy SEALs were involved with the operation near Islamabad.

11:11 pm

Thus also demonstrates that despite all of our impressive technology, the deadliest tool in the American arsenal is the US soldier.

11:09 pm

If bin Laden was so close to Islamabad, it does suggest that he had a great deal more operational control of al-Qaeda than previously thought. His death could be more momentous than just a moral victory against al-Qaeda.

The other good aspect of this is that what’s left of al-Qaeda has got to be running scared. Now Ayman al-Zawahiri is the most wanted man in the world, and if we can nail bin Laden, he’s certainly not safe.

11:00 pm

I never would have predicted that bin Laden would have gone down like this. That we’d actually get him in a firefight, face-to-face. I always figured that we’d have taken him out in a drone strike or he would have died in a cave somewhere. To know that he died knowing that the US was closing in on him is utterly fitting.

I hope he died in abject fear.

10:57 pm

Another thought: according to the President, the US had intelligence that Osama bin Laden was near Islamabad since August. It’s shocking that Osama would not have moved in eight months. It’s a sign that he was getting sloppy, and that undoubtedly helped us finally get him.

10:54 pm

The story of how this was pulled off has got to be incredible. The sheer amount of skill needed to pull off a covert op in the middle of Pakistan and kill the most wanted man in the world without a single casualty is just amazing.

10:53 pm

From one of my Facebook friends: they should take bin Laden’s body back to the US and charge to kick him in the balls. Budget deficit solved. I’d be in line for that.

10:47 pm

The President’s speech faltered at first, but he found the right voice and the right tone at the end.

10:45 pm

The President’s speech ended on a wonderful note of American unity. A very strong end to a historic speech.

10:44 pm

“Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of the American people.” Very much so.

10:43 pm

There’s nothing more just than an evil man meeting his well-deserved end.

10:42 pm

The President is striking the right tone now. “Justice has been done.” Indeed it has.

10:41 pm

No US casualties in the operation that led to bin Laden’s death. Damn good work.

10:40 pm

Apparently the killing of Bin Laden occurred today, and was accomplished by US Special Forces.

10:39 pm

President Obama’s speech is not reaching the Churchillian heights I’d hoped for. It sounds like a policy speech, and Obama is stumbling on some phrases. So far not a line that’s worth remembering.

10:35 pm

Obama is speaking now.

10:34 pm

There are hundreds of people outside the White House now. Remember the “Arab Street?” This is the American street.

10:31 pm

Awaiting President Obama, expected to speak shortly.

10:30 pm

CBS is reporting that bin Laden was not killed in a missile strike, but was “shot in the head.” Exactly the ending the bastard so greatly deserved.

And to whomever pulled that trigger, thank you.

10:27 pm

This may be the most important speech Obama gives. He has a reputation for great oratory—now more than ever he’ll have to live up to it.

10:26 pm

Politically, this helps Obama. But the political calculation doesn’t really matter now. This is a good day for America. This is a good day for civilization itself.

10:25 pm

There is a risk that this event may destabilize the Pakistani government. And because Pakistan is a nuclear state, there’s a huge risk of nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands. Hopefully the military and intelligent community have been preparing for this announcement.

10:23 pm

Sources are saying that Osama was killed in a “ground operation.” The CIA’s fingerprints are all over this.

10:20 pm

They’re singing the national anthemn outside the White House… beautiful.

10:16 pm

Time for celebratory glass of Scotch…

10:13 pm

Outside the White House, chants of “USA, USA!”

10:12 pm

President Obama was to speak an hour ago, but hasn’t appeared yet. On a momentous occasion, finding the right words can’t be easy.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Politics, War On Terror

Liveblogging Obama’s Iraq Address

I’ll be liveblogging President Obama’s address to the nation on the topic of Iraq. This will be a new kind of liveblog for this site. Updates will happen automatically, there’s no need to refresh the page. Don’t forget to read about Obama’s record on Iraq. After the speech, I’ll be assembling some commentary from around the blogosphere.

You can also follow the liveblog on my Twitter feed if you are so inclined.

6:24 pm I’m ending the liveblog for now. Click here to see some post-speech reactions from across the blogosphere.
6:20 pm This was a speech that sounded very much like something Bush would have given. Again, I mean that as a compliment.
6:19 pm “Our troops are the steel of our ship of state.” I love that line.
6:18 pm Obama seems to be getting a bit emotional describing the casualties of this war. As anyone would be. It’s very humanizing.
6:17 pm The stuff about a new GI Bill is nice, but how to pay for all of it?
6:15 pm The economic stuff seems tacked on and artificial. The Iraq section was quite good, but this part doesn’t live up to the tone that Obama set earlier.
6:13 pm Obama’s transitioning to the economy. This makes sense, to a point, but it’s a jarring transition.
6:12 pm The problem with Afghanistan is that it’s much less developed than Iraq was. Afghan civil society is nowhere near what Iraq’s was, even after decades of Ba’athist rule.
6:11 pm This is a speech I could see Bush giving. And I mean that as a compliment.
6:09 pm President Obama gives a nice tribute to President Bush. That’s quite classy, but will piss off the left to no end. I like it for both.
6:09 pm So far this is one of the most Presidential addresses that Obama has given.
6:08 pm “Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war.”
6:07 pm All U.S. troops to leave by the end of next year, pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement.
6:06 pm “Our combat mission is ending. Our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” Let’s hope that’s true.
6:06 pm The emphasis on the Iraqi people is good. This wasn’t just a victory for us, it was a victory for the people of Iraq. We did this together.
6:05 pm No, Mr. President, this wasn’t your campaign promise. The withdrawal date was set before you became President. It was in the 2008 SOFA.
6:04 pm “Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.” Operation Iraqi Freedom is over.
6:04 pm The President’s tone in regard to the troops is exactly what’s needed here. He came close to blaming Bush, but didn’t do so directly.
6:01 pm Will talking about Iraq now make Obama seem out of touch? By focusing on Iraq, does it make the President look like he’s not concentrating on the economy?
6:00 pm The speech should begin shortly.
5:58 pm I’m guessing that ratings will be low for this speech. It’s the middle of summer, and people are more concerned about the economy than Iraq.
5:53 pm This is only the second time Obama has addressed the nation from the Oval Office. The first time was in response to the Gulf oil spill.
5:52 pm ABC News has excerpts from tonight’s speech on Iraq. President Obama will be speaking from the Oval Office.
5:46 pm Just a reminder, you don’t need to refresh this page. You should be able to get updates automatically. Obama’s speech will begin in about 15 minutes, at 8PM EST/7PM CST.

Post-Speech Reactions

This was a workmanlike speech that was delivered well. What’s striking about the speech is how much President Obama sounded like President Bush. Some of the rhetoric was downright stirring. I’m (obviously!) disinclined to like the President, but I found myself mostly liking this speech. But the weakest part was the part discussing the economy. For one, it was a digression from the topic of the speech. And for another, it was too generic to mean anything. What does Obama intend to do about the economy? Because what’s been done so far hasn’t exactly done much good. Stephen Green drunkblogged the speech and found it rather bland, other than some stirring rhetoric. I’m not so sure that it was that bad—the President let himself show just a crack of emotion, which helps him. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) found Obama’s speech to be “awkward”. Apparently Rachel Maddow is positively livid that President Obama had anything good to say about President Bush. I have to admit, if Obama’s pissed off Maddow, that makes me like him more. Lawprof William Jacobson distills Obama’s speech into one sentence. At The Daily Kos, praise for the economic section of the speech. What’s interesting about that section is how mushy-mouthed it really is? Exactly what is meant by the President’s desire to “strengthen the middle class?” It’s a boilerplate phrase, which is probably why some want to read more into it than is actually there. Off-topic, but tonight’s liveblogging was brought by this great liveblogging plugin for WordPress. It’s a great plugin, and the Twitter integration was a definite plus. I highly recommend it. In speaking of Twitter, the speech wasn’t even one of the trending topics. I’m not sure very many people were paying attention to it. Jonah Goldberg found much of the speech to be “offensive.”

Afghanistan, Campaign 2008, Iraq, Politics, War On Terror

Deconstructing Obama’s Foreign Policy

Barack Obama has given his first major foreign policy speech, and while trying to sound tough on terrorism, he’s demonstrated exactly how much of a foreign policy neophyte he is. (The full text is available here)

In a strikingly bold speech about terrorism scheduled for this morning, Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will call not only for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but a redeployment of troops into Afghanistan and even Pakistan — with or without the permission of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

“I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges,” Obama will say, according to speech excerpts provided to ABC News by his campaign, “but let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”

In other words, the second Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office, the Pakistanis can know that they have no reason to continue the support they’ve given us during this war. Obama’s comments will probably end up creating a diplomatic row with potentially grave consequences, all because Obama wants to sound tough.

Obama forgets that a “democratic” Pakistan is all too likely to be an Islamist Pakistan. Obama also seems to forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and not all that long ago there was a real concern of an Indo-Pakistani nuclear exchange that would leave millions dead. The price of going after one man is not worth the risk of inflaming regional tensions or risking the Pakistani nuclear arsenal going into the hands of terrorist groups — or even secular Pakistani ultra-nationalists who are willing to provoke a fight over Kashmir.

One of the diplomatic success stories of the Bush Administration has not only been in securing the help of Pakistan in fighting this war, but in also defusing the tensions between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. Those tensions nearly sparked a devastating war.

What Obama would do would be to signal to President Musharraf that the US is willing to violate Pakistani territory and give support to Musharraf’s political opponents — some of whom have direct ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Pakistanis would have no reason to assist the United States and would be likely to turn against us. The specters of Musharraf’s government failing, increased tensions over Kashmir, or worse are all likely scenarios under a President Obama. It was always the Democrats who claimed to be the party of nuanced diplomacy — now Obama is threatening one of our allies in a bid to make himself look strong on national security. It’s a foolish and dangerous thing to do, and Obama’s irresponsible comments demonstrate precisely why he’s not wise enough to lead.

Obama also gets it wrong about Iraq:

By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

The problem with that especially silly arguments is that the terrorists themselves don’t see it that way. Bin Laden believed that the US would respond to the September 11 attacks in the same way that we responded to al-Qaeda’s previous provocations — by launching a few cruise missiles and nothing else. Why did he believe that? Because he saw how the US reacted in Somalia in the early 1990s — how after just a few casualties we ran away from the fight. Bin Laden is famous for his statement that people fear and respect a strong horse but feel contempt for a weak one.

Obama has it backwards — a withdrawal from Iraq would prove to bin Laden and the rest of the terrorist networks that America does not have the stomach for a fight against the mujihadeen. Just as America’s weakness after Mogadishu, Khobar Towers, the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, the African embassy attacks, and the bombing of the USS Cole told al-Qaeda that they could launch yet bolder attacks, so to would a withdrawal from Iraq signal to al-Qaeda that they could freely escalate their attacks against the West without fear of long-term reprisal. Obama fails to understand the psychology of terrorism, and his signal of weakness would be seen for what it is.

Moreover, Obama gets al-Qaeda’s fears in Iraq wrong. While we’re feeling the strain of the war in Iraq, al-Qaeda has an even worse time. We know based on captured communications that al-Qaeda fears the rise of democracy in the Muslim world. As Ayman al-Zawahiri himself wrote, “Democracy is coming, and there will be no excuse thereafter.” The radical Islamists of al-Qaeda have every reason to fear — the recent Anbar Awakening demonstrates that one of al-Qaeda’s worst fears is coming to pass: al-Qaeda is losing popular support. As another Zawahiri letter attests, once that happens, al-Qaeda’s situation rapidly becomes untenable.

Senator Obama is apparently unfamiliar with these communications, as they show in the enemy’s own words precisely why his arguments don’t match the reality of the situation in Iraq.

Obama further demonstrates his lack of understanding with this statement:

Ending the war will help isolate al Qaeda and give Iraqis the incentive and opportunity to take them out.

Again, Obama’s assertions can be easily disproven. Iraq’s Sunni population is ~ 20% of the total Iraqi population. Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias such as the Jaish-al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) have been attacking and killing Sunnis for some time now. The US is one of the only forces strong enough to prevent these attacks. Without our support, who will the Sunnis turn to?

Obama has it exactly backwards — Iraq’s Sunnis, facing a deadly threat from Iranian-backed militias would have no choice but to ally themselves with al-Qaeda, who also oppose the Shi’ites. A premature withdrawal would leave the Sunnis with few choices — either be ethnically cleansed into submission, become refugees elsewhere in Iraq, or join with al-Qaeda and attack the Shi’ia before they can complete the job of killing Iraq’s Shi’ites. The argument that a US withdrawal would give the Iraqis any incentives to attack al-Qaeda is little more than a delusion. There’s no logical argument which supports such a position. Obama’s comment is breathtakingly non-sensical, a triumph of ideological naivete over any logical thought. If it were just a stupid political comment it would be one thing — the thought that such blindness could be shaping policy is downright frightening.

It’s ironic that later Obama states that “Above all, I will send a clear message: we will not repeat the mistake of the past, when we turned our back on Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal.”

Instead, he’d turn his back on Iraq, which would have even more dire consequences for the US than the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban did. But Afghanistan is the “popular” war and Iraq the “unpopular” one, and Obama is reading from a political script, not making reasoned and logically consistent arguments.

Obama’s rhetoric is good, but that’s all it is: empty rhetoric. Obama wants to argue that “hopelessness” and “poverty” are the root causes of terrorism — when it’s generally the middle class that ends up being members of al-Qaeda. He promises more foreign aid — foreign aid that invariably ends up fueling corruption rather than fighting it. He promises to reach out to the Muslim world and show them the best of American culture — forgetting that it was the founder of the modern Islamist movement, Sayyid Qutb who travelled to American, saw its culture, and believed it to be evil. “America Houses” are one of those programs that sounds good on paper, but ends up being little more than a rhetorical flourish with little actual value. Obama promises to share intelligence — yet opposes the measures like the Terrorist Surveillance Program that allows that intelligence to be gathered.

Barack Obama is a gifted rhetorician, that is to be sure. His speech sounds like it is a strong new direction on terrorism — but peer beyond the surface and there is nothing there. It’s the same old empty promises directly contradicted by Obama’s actual policy prescriptions. In this critical time in American history, we cannot afford a President who says the right words but has no idea of their meaning. We cannot have a President who fails to understand the basic psychology of terrorism. We cannot have a President who will turn his back on our most crucial allies in this fight.

Obama’s speech is ultimately what Cicero, the great Roman statesman and orator, would have called a triumph of oratio over ratio — rhetoric over logic. For all its eloquence, it truly says nothing.

Afghanistan, War On Terror

Is Anyone Surprised?

Already some Democrats are saying that we need to surrender in Afghanistan as well.

Of course, the Democrats will say that they’re really for the war, that Afghanistan was the “right” war, etc. Then again, that’s precisely what they said about Iraq as well.

The enemy knows we’re weak, and if they can force our hand in Iraq, they’ll put the same pressure on us in Afghanistan. The Democrats have taken the anti-war side, and that side is based fundamentally on a revulsion with any use of American military power. The second Afghanistan dominates the headlines like Iraq does now, the political momentum will start to shift there as well. Al-Qaeda knows that a significant fraction of the American people don’t have the guts to fight this war.

Al-Qaeda, sadly, knows us better than we do. They cannot defeat the American military on the battlefield, but they can get America to defeat itself.

Afghanistan, Campaign 2008, Iraq, Politics, War On Terror

You Can’t Change The Channel In War

Mitch Berg notes Rudy Giuliani’s latest address on the global war on terrorism. Giuliani pulls no punches in elucidating just what the stakes are in this conflict:

The former New York City mayor, currently leading in all national polls for the Republican nomination for president, said Tuesday night that America would ultimately defeat terrorism no matter which party gains the White House.

“But the question is how long will it take and how many casualties will we have?” Giuliani said. “If we are on defense [with a Democratic president], we will have more losses and it will go on longer.”

“I listen a little to the Democrats and if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense,” Giuliani continued. “We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we will be back to our pre-Sept. 11 attitude of defense.”

Giuliani is right. The Democratic position on the war is to try and avoid dealing with anything but the political consequences at all costs. The reality is that their idea of how to “win” the war on terror is ultimately counterproductive. As an example of this, Michael Totten spoke with Kurdish leader Mam Rostam. Rostam gives us a prescient warning of what would happen if the US pulls out of Iraq:

“If America pulls out of Iraq, they will fail in Afghanistan,” Mam Rostam said.

Hardly anyone in Congress seems to consider that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan might become much more severe if similar tactics are proven effective in Iraq.

“And they will fail with Iran,” he continued. “They will fail everywhere with all Eastern countries. The war between America and the terrorists will move from Iraq and Afghanistan to America itself. Do you think America will do that? The terrorists gather their agents in Afghanistan and Iraq and fight the Americans here. If you pull back, the terrorists will follow you there. They will try, at least. Then Iran will be the power in the Middle East. Iran is the biggest supporter of terrorism. They support Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Ansar Al Islam. You know what Iran will do with those elements if America goes away.”

Rostam is right. What would happen to the thousands of foreign jihadis who are now in Iraq once the US pulls out? Some of them may stay to wreak havoc with the Iraqi government — but many of them would continue to fight the United States. We have roughly 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. If the Taliban got the level of support that al-Qaeda has been putting into Iraq, Afghanistan would be the next domino to fall. It’s much more difficult to fight in the mountainous and rugged terrain of Afghanistan than the largely flat desert of Iraq. The jihadis are not going to give up and go home if we leave Iraq. They will continue to fight us until we leave Afghanistan and then they will continue to fight us wherever we are — including the United States. If the Democrats want to make the argument that Afghanistan is the “real” war on terrorism, they don’t get any benefit there by pulling out of Iraq.

The Democrats don’t want to face reality. We’re facing an enemy that is determined to kill as many of us as possible. Diplomatic negotiations with hostile regimes such as Iran and Syria are pointless. They know we can give them carrots, but they have no reason to fear any sticks — certainly not from a Democratic Congress. Groups like al-Qaeda have bet their future on the idea that Americans can be pushed around and forced to retreat. The Democrats would play right into that hand.

Giuliani is absolutely right. The Democrats would make us less safe. We cannot win this war by playing defensively — all it takes is one lucky hit and the terrible events of September 11 would be nothing more than a prelude. We have to offensively deal with the infrastructure and ideology that feeds terrorism. That requires a sustained, vigorous, and unyielding commitment to fighting terrorism on all fronts, political, economic, and military. The Democrats do not wish to do that, and while the Bush Administration has done a poor job in many areas, the Democrats have already shown that they are not only inept, but dangerously inept. We can’t afford a party that lives in a September 10 world, and every day the Democratic Party proves that they’re not cognizant of the realities of the world we live in today. Whether Mr. Giuliani is the right leader or not is a subject for debate, but one thing is certain: whoever leads this country in 2009 must not shirk their responsibility in fighting this war. If they do, the consequences to this country and the rest of the world will be severe.

Afghanistan, War On Terror

How The War On Drugs Hurts Afghanistan

Anne Applebaum notes that efforts to eradicate the opium crop in Afghanistan is feeding the Taliban as poor farmers lose their livelihood thanks to US eradication efforts. Applebaum wonders why this has to be: already in Turkey the opium poppy crop has been used to make legal painkillers – of which there is a major shortage in both the developing and the developed world.

The opium eradication program in Afghanistan is an incredibly poor policy choice. Applebaum’s proposed alternative is one that US policymakers should embrace: adding Afghanistan to the already-existent poppy production program in India and Turkey and buying Afghan poppies to make legal painkillers. There can be local oversight to make sure that the product isn’t diverted, and the money can go towards fighting the Taliban rather than enriching them.

There’s no doubt that the drug trade is the Taliban’s most lucrative venture, allowing them to purchase weapons and ammunition and kill American and coalition soldiers. We can’t simply eradicate the Afghan poppy crop — it’s too lucrative and each time we do we alienate the Afghan people more. We have to provide them with a safe and legal alternative — and using Afghan poppies to create legal narcotics that can alleviate pain rather than cause it is the smart policy option. Sadly, smart policies are decidedly lacking when it comes to drug control these days. Even when these crops can be used for legal means, the fear of the heroin trade causes politicians to take steps that only harms the future of both the US and Afghanistan.