“We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a ‘suspect’ but uncontroversially the ‘decider’ who gave the orders to commit the ‘supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole’ (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region…
“Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.'”
“There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.”
“If this were a movie, the crowds cheering ‘USA! USA!’ outside the White House would be right: The bad guy is dead! We win! The End. But the big picture is bigger than Hollywood convention. In the great sweeping narrative, the death of Osama bin Laden is barely a ripple, while the courtesies afforded to him by the Pakistani establishment tell us something profound about the superpower’s weakness and inability to shift the storyline. Bin Laden famously said that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse they naturally prefer the strong horse. Putting a bullet through his eye is a good way of letting him know which role he’s consigned to. But the strong horse/weak horse routine is a matter of perception as much as anything else. On Sept. 12, 2001, Gen. Musharraf was in a meeting “when my military secretary told me that the U.S. secretary of state, Gen. Colin Powell, was on the phone. I said I would call back later.” The milquetoasts of the State Department were in no mood for Musharraf’s I’m-washing-my-hair routine, and, when he’d been dragged to the phone, he was informed that the Bush administration would bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if they didn’t get everything they wanted. Musharraf concluded that America meant it.
“A decade later, we’re back to Sept. 10. Were Washington to call Islamabad as it did a decade ago, the Pakistanis would thank them politely and say they’d think it over and get back in six weeks, give or take. They think they’ve got the superpower all figured out – that America is happy to spend bazillions of dollars on technologically advanced systems that can reach across the planet but it doesn’t really have the stomach for changing the facts of the ground. That means that once in a while your big-time jihadist will be having a quiet night in watching ‘Dancing With The Stars’ when all of a sudden Robocop descends from the heavens, kicks the door open, and it’s time to get ready for your virgins. But other than that, in the bigger picture, day by day, all but unnoticed, things will go their way.
“This week we have shuttled from an atmosphere of congratulation, even muted celebration, over the killing of OBL to what Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and High Priest of the Chattering Classes, describes as a ‘very uncomfortable feeling’ about the killing of OBL. Those who dare to celebrate his death – mainly young American jocks – have been denounced as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘sickening’, and now the main way you advertise your decency, your membership of the civilised, upstanding, oh-so-unAmerican classes, is by wondering out loud if poor old OBL shouldn’t have been arrested and put on trial rather than having a bullet planted in his head.
“This pity-for-Osama lobby, this bishop-led congregation of ‘uncomfortable’ moral handwringers, might pose as radical, denouncing America’s military action in bin Laden’s compound as ‘Wild West-style vengeance’. Yet in truth it is fuelled by self-loathing more than justice-loving. These critics are not opposed to Western intervention in principle – indeed, most of them have demanded ‘humanitarian’, political or legalistic intervention in other states’ affairs at one point or another. No, it is a discomfort with decisive action, a fear of what such action might lead to in the future, and a belief that people in the West should douse their emotional zeal and learn to be more meek, which motors the creepingly conformist anti-Obama and pro-Osama (well, almost) brigade. There is little, if anything, in this outburst of concerned liberal moralism that is worth backing…
“This is really a call to elevate precaution over action, meekness over passionate political feeling, staying at home over taking risks, all in the name of protecting ourselves from any possible future action by a hot-headed Islamist. In this sense, the disdain for America and its people is really an expression of angst about what America is perceived to represent: confidence, cockiness, self-possession, a willingness to take risks (little of which is actually accurate). The post-OBL ‘uncomfortable feeling’ is really a quite craven sentiment, a fear-fuelled desire for self-preservation over anything else, which is dolled up as a principled critique of American militarism.”
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