We shouldn't celebrate the death of any person. We should, however, celebrate what stopping Usama represents. These two things are separate concepts. Usama bin Laden had 10 years of opportunities to surrender or disappear completely. He had to be stopped. He died in a firefight. We can relish the fact that he was stopped, while simultaneously knowing it was unfortunate that it came to his - and so many others' - deaths.
But yes, let's celebrate the broader context.
9/11 was a catalyst for Luddite thinking despite gross incompetence being the cause of 9/11.
9/11 catapulted the US into a different age. The stock market was waning, but the subsequent crash and loss of confidence in technology ushered in radical changes to business and technology. The world was changed in a fundamental way, immediately. In the years that followed, we discovered the sheer gross incompetence of our government in how it dealt with it:
- The mastermind behind the attacks escaped, and took 10 years and a trillion dollars to catch
- We invaded a totally unrelated country and spent a trillion dollars and over a hundred thousand civilians died as an indirect result.
- In the Iraq war, a series of gross mistakes were made, including the reliance on tens of thousands of mercenaries that were not under the rule of US military law, Abu Graib, the loss of billions of dollars in cash, creating a breeding ground for more terrorist training when Saddam considered Al Quaida a threat, and the destruction of Iraq's main museums that housed irreplaceable items dating back to the dawn of written history.
- The main reasons given for the Iraq invasion were all debunked. The "yellow cake" uranium that supposedly Saddam was buying from Africa had nothing to do with Iraq. The aluminum tubes that supposedly were for nuclear centrifuges? Completely wrong dimensions for that, but perfect for SCUD missiles that Saddam employed en masse. The satellite photos of "chemical weapon trucks"? They were pictures of rectangles and could have been anything. Our chief inside source? Turns out to be Sadr, a man the US military would be fighting in Southest Iraq for control, and had an axe to grind against Saddam.
- Our last administration invented legal loopholes to approve torture of combat prisoners. It was argued that since GITMO was not US soil nor another country's soil, and since combatants had no uniforms, and since the head of the Justice Department said it was okay, we could waterboard, strip people naked, sexually molest them, and
- The US had run drills of using jets as weapons, but could not organize itself with an hour's warning to scramble and intercept.
- Agencies that had info never talked to each other, sometimes because of bureaucracy, sometimes because of competition between agencies.
- Our President had been warned specifically about bin Laden, and ignored it, despite the previous successful attacks in Kenya, the World Trade Center, and the USS Cole.
- Luddite-ism was given room to breathe and knee-jerk, anti-technology rhetoric paved way for anti-science rules. We witnessed the devastation of New Orleans because no one listened to the reports about the imminent danger of a Class 4+ hurricane, when our President indicated that "No one *ever* imagined the levee would break". We had the greatest ecological disaster with BP because our regulators weren't doing their jobs. We had reversal of other environmental regulations by executive order. We had a head of the EPA who whitewashed the dangers of the toxic smoke from Ground Zero. Climate Change Conspiracy wackos were given airtime to cite incidental evidence against an overwhelming avalanche of scientific data. The list goes on and on.
Change, and Perhaps Intelligence
Electing Barack Obama for many is about the rhetoric of change, which is, of course, every non-incumbent's platform. But considering his team understood social media, and placed a priority on things like clean energy and innovation as a driver for the US economy, many of us understood that this is a fundamental shift in policy. Surely enough, after getting into office, Obama immediately put scientists back in charge of our environmental policy, started the Open Government initiative at the federal level, and put dealing with climate change back into energy policy.
So when I read that Usama bin Laden had been intercepted, it was one more testament that the age of sheer incompetence in the White House is ending. How was Usama caught? According to CNN, in 2006 they had a nickname for someone who was a protege of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), a high profile member of Al Quaida. KSM had made the mistake of being captured and sent to GITMO. Under duress, Mohammed lied and revealed nothing about this protege, because as all law enforcement agencies tell you - you don't get reliable information from people you torture. However, because KSM denied knowing this person that the CIA knew was his protege, they believed that made him a high profile person. As it turned out, this was one of bin Laden's couriers. KSM was waterboarded over 100 times more after this. But after, they still didn't have a name or location.
4 years of intelligence gathering later
Skip forward to recent months, and they finally had circumstantial evidence that this protege might be someone really important. Skip foward to a week ago, and they confirmed that this courier lived in Pakistan in a building with one of Usama's wives and some children. They rated it as 60 - 80% chance of it being Usama's hiding place. As it turned out, they were right, and then they were sure that this protege was his courier.
What did torture get us? A denial - nothing we couldn't have gotten without torture. Instead, America caught Usama because of diplomacy with other countries, deep intelligence gathering, and careful military strategery. I mean, strategy. Strategery is invading a country that had no connection to terrorism and no Weapons of Mass Destruction.
It's hard to believe Pakistan had no idea bin Laden was hiding there. Really hard to believe. I wonder if Pakistan called up Obama in the Winter, and they've come up with a cover story for the whole thing so that Pakistan could play ignorant. This would make sense because the Taliban have already called for retribution against Pakistan, and they'd want to make it seem like they had no involvement.
I suppose if this alternate story is true:
1. Anyone alive that isn't part of the operation and isn't a future President will never know the truth.
2. It was diplomacy with Pakistan that scored bin Laden, in which case, again, diplomacy and counter-terrorism are much more effective than invasions.
So, I'm celebrating May 1's accomplishment. And, I'm sad that we had to assassinate Usama instead of being able to capture him. I'm sad there were others killed. I'm also very sad at the thousands of soldiers, civilians, and even enemy soldiers that all had to die, because we had cowardly extremists send others to blow themselves up, and the fallout from proxy wars fought against the USSR. There's a whole lot to be mournful about. I'm not glad Usama was killed, but I'm glad he's stopped. And I'm glad our country is being run in a manner that isn't so incoherently bungled with reckless incompetence.