Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on the Death of Osama Bin Laden

It was rough justice, but it was justice indeed. United States Special Forces operatives have killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani compound.

Credit goes to the Navy Seals and to President Obama. When you are in charge of a successful operation you receive the credit.

Happily for everyone, bin Laden was not shipped off to Gitmo, and he did not receive a trial in lower Manhattan. No one read him his Miranda rights or called in the John Adams project.

But the best part, from my perspective, is that the Seals disposed of his body at sea. An ignominious end to a man who deserved nothing more. It leaves a good taste in your mouth.

Bin Laden was dishonored in death. As of now, all indications are that bin Laden’s body was fed to the sharks. I am hopeful that he did not have a formal funeral ceremony.

There will be no burial place, no tomb, no shrine for aspiring jihadis to visit.

It’s a good, strong step away from multiculturalism. Thanks to that warped ideology we have been told that we must give terrorists all respect and consideration. We must treat them with the rights reserved for American citizens. We must read them their Miranda rights and afford them due process.

After all, we have been told that we need to respect other cultures. Unfortunately, that means that if certain peoples murder their daughters for holding hands with a boy or mutilate their daughters for being daughters, then we are supposed to respect their local customs.

If people are that sensitive to dishonor, then we must not do anything which might offend their sensibilities.

If only we respect all cultures as equal, then they will return the favor.

It was a bad idea when it was first hatched and it remains a bad idea. You know that honor killings and female genital mutilation and suicide murder are morally reprehensible. If you want them to stop, one very good way is to shame the people who do them, to treat them with disrespect.

Terrorists, in particular, have no claim on respect. Their cause is depraved; their tactics are depraved; and they ought to be treated as such.

We call such people monsters, and that means that their behavior is so far beyond the pale that they can no longer lay claim to the normal respect we would accord our fellow human beings.

When we call them monsters we are saying that we will not treat them as human.

Terrorists terrorize to gain respect. It would be a respect borne out of fear, a respect for the culture they are affirming. If we are going to win a psychological war against these terrorists, we should withhold that respect. It is not enough to kill them; we need also to humiliate them, to show them to be miserable failures.

It would counteract their recruiting efforts. Young men join the jihad because they believe it will give them respect. They believe that every successful terrorist attack enhances the respect that they enjoy. Killing such people is one solution; humiliating them will show them that being a terrorist does not grant you anything resembling respect.

In the world of psychological warfare,  you never want these jihadis to become martyrs. You do not want their memory to be honored. You can do so by not treating their bodily remains with respect.

Now, we are going to enjoy a few days of triumphal boasting. The death of bin Laden may or may not be a milestone in the war on terror, but it certainly removes a millstone from around America’s collective neck.

Is this really a turning point in the war on terror? I do not know. Stratfor has been suggesting that we do well not to exaggerate its significance from an operational standpoint. They are probably right. Bin Laden's death matters more for the symbolism than the reality.

Islamic terrorism is not going to go away any time soon. And the Middle East is still embroiled in chaos and conflict.

As I say, if the death of bin Laden is a turning point, the primary reason will have been the fact that the body was thrown off the boat with the trash.

It should not be surprising, but the media will make the death of bin Laden into an iconic moment, a victory for Barack Obama.

For the past couple of years, Obama’s supporters have been hard at work explaining away his failures. Here, now, they have a successful operation, and they will surely use it to proclaim Obama the man of the hour. They will also use it to affirm that their own judgment of him has been vindicated.

Coupled with last week’s “reveal” of Obama’s birth certificate and the weakness of the Republican field, the death of bin Laden seems, for now, to make Obama’s re-election far more likely than it seemed a week ago.

This brings us into the realm of political psychology. How will bin Laden’s death effect Obama’s political fortunes?

Writing on the Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner explains the psychology:

“Think back to high school. The quarterback on the football team had a legendary game over the weekend, and made everyone associated with the school so proud they could split their pants. On Monday, he’s treated like a hero.

“But, interestingly, people find themselves thinking better of him not only for his athletic exploits. Suddenly, everything about him seems a cut above.

“His English teacher, who never saw the QB as being particularly bright, or interesting, wonders if maybe his paper on The Merchant of Venice was actually pretty insightful.

"The devout non-jocks who feel alternately superior and intimidated by the QB reassess his past behavior and decide he’s not such a jerk after all.

“The girl who brushed him off last month — he’s got a bit of acne, and he slouches sometimes, and he swears — finds herself strangely attracted to him.

“The QB is the beneficiary of what’s known as the halo effect.

“President Barack Obama has just notched what might arguably be seen as the biggest victory of his presidency: the killing of Osama bin Laden. I am curious as to what sort of halo effect this might generate. How will Obama’s positions and abilities be reassessed — whether on the budget or taxes or gas prices or health-care reform or one of 100 other topics — in light of a military/intelligence victory that took place on his watch?

"The halo effect is often short-lived — but will it, in this case, live long enough to power Obama through an election cycle?” Link here.

Dubner is quite correct. Obama’s electoral fortunes rest now on how long the “halo effect” is going to last. I am sure that Obama’s political operatives wish that bin Laden had been killed in October, 2012.

I suspect that the state of the economy will have more influence than the death of bin Laden, but, as I am told, I’ve been wrong before.

To sum up: the death of bin Laden is great for America and great for Barack Obama. But the re-election of Barack Obama, in my humble opinion, would be bad for America.

That’s called a mixed blessing.


Malcolm said...

I think we need to see pictures and proof of him dead. Otherwise Muslims will say he is not dead and this will strengthen their belief in Allah. Allah will become more powerful

Stuart Schneiderman said...

We will probably see pictures at one time or another.

I tend to believe the news, mostly because if it is untrue, it would be very easy for OBL to put out a tape of himself alive and demolish the credibility of the American government. I don't think that our government would take that much of a risk.

Malcolm said...

I believe he is dead , I worry about the muslims who don't.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I was just reading some a piece in the New Yorker about the general conversation in Cairo about Bin Laden's death.

It's by Wendell Steavension. Here's a link:

I think that my reaction echoed hers: one wonders how you can ever get through to people who think such things.

Unless Al Qaeda announces the death, I'm afraid that a lot of Muslims will go on believing that he isn't.

Soviet of Washington said...

I'm going to be contrarian and suggest that getting OBL won't make any difference on the 2012 election. The Democrats/Independents who'll be swayed by this were going to vote for Obama anyway. "Events" or the state of the economy will have way more election import.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I hope you're right. And I suspect you will be proven right. For now we are going to have to watch the "halo effect" work itself out as the pundits and commentators insist that Obama can do the same magic for the economy.

Philippa said...

Well, I do not really imagine it is likely to have effect.