Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hey, Hey, Goodbye

I congratulate our military, our intelligence services, our national security team, and our Commander-in-Chief for the brilliantly successful attack into Pakistan which killed Osama Bin Laden and brought his body out to verify that result.

He was killed in "a firefight", as President Obama announced. I had imagined that an act of justice would've been to incinerate him with a flamethrower. I'm sure that our forces didn't do that, as retrieving the body would have been a priority, but I think bringing him back dead was the best outcome. Not just an anonymous drone strike, but our forces had the chance to look him in the eye and take him down once and for all. No need for offshore detention, vulnerable trials, interrogation (what would he be able to tell us anyway, now that we had him?) "Shot while resisting" is better than "shot while trying to escape".

Clearly the government and military of Pakistan must have allowed our helicopters to enter their country and conduct this operation, which was in a small city not far from the country's capital. We need to recognize that at this critical moment, the mission was not compromised and the necessary permission for passage was given.

I have called for President Obama to bring to an end the "Global War on Terror" in his administration: it is premature to declare victory and an end to the struggle against terrorists inspired by religious extremism, but I do think this is the singular highlight of that effort and an important psychological triumph.

A Time to Review, and to Make Changes

Before this extraordinary event, I had been considering a posting on the idea that now, for the first time since September 11, 2001, it was becoming politically possible to consider major reductions in our military posture and our military expenditures.

Two or three recent developments prior to the Osama operation had led me to this conclusion. One is the major reorganization of the intelligence and military leadership, with CIA head Leon Panetta recently named to be the next Defense Secretary and Gen. Petraeus coming to CIA. Current Defense Secretary Gates has done great service to the US in his job (under both the Bush and Obama Administration), and he has broached the idea of cuts in spending. Now Panetta--a hero of the Bin Laden mission, which was run by the CIA--will be a savvy civilian leader who will continue Gates' efforts to trim the military, and he will also be politically in tune with the Administration and responsive to the political need to continue reductions in overseas troop commitments.

Another fascinating development has been the semi-anonymous publication of an article by a pair of high-ranking military officers. Under the name "Mr. Y"-a clear reference to the famous article outlining the strategy of containment of the Soviet Union by George Kennan, in the early days of the Cold War--their article makes a far-sighted appeal for America to change our focus toward investments, education, and a foreign policy based more on values and less on sheer military force. I encourage all to read it. If Mr. Y realizes that we need to move from empire-building and overdevelopment of the military-industrial complex for the future of our country's security, then the usual bureaucratic impediments to military spending reductions should not be operative.

In order to reorient our military strategy, it will be necessary to ramp down our military forces abroad, and in particular the major ground forces engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iraq adventure is finally coming to a conclusion, in full cooperation with the Iraqi government, and withdrawals are promised to being this year in Afghanistan. In this regard, I would recommend reading a second article, by an accomplished investigative reporter named Ahmed Rashid, in a recent Financial Times. Rashid reports that there are now real negotiations going on, with the cooperation of Pakistan and Afghanistan, to engage the Taliban, with the aim being an eventual agreement to bring the war to an end.

Then, of course, there is the running battle over government expenditures, and especially the need to set a series of stakes in the ground to mark expected levels of revenues, spending, and within them the amount committed to various government priorities. Any success we can make now in lowering the trajectory of future military spending--based on rational security needs, not pork-barrel considerations of local basing desires--will make it easier to develop multi-year budget plans that fit within the overall framework of $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade.

Finally, there are the incredible developments of the Arab Spring--the successful overthrow of dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, and the uprisings in Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and elsewhere. Not all of these are going to end well, some are running into vicious resistance from the powers of the status quo, but there is a feeling that is ultimately unstoppable in these countries. To the extent that Mideast peoples feel they can accomplish changes in their authoritarian regimes, that will cut the legs right out from under al Qaeda and its rationale for violence.

Osama's killing is one more, huge piece of evidence of historic change. We need to adjust our strategy to new realities, and doing so will help us by reducing global tensions and will make possible needed reductions in our level of military spending.


Chin Shih Tang said...

Monday, 11:30 a.m.--about 12 hours after the initial announcement, I need to make one correction: Pakistan did not give any prior approval to the raid; they were notified soon afterward, and may have provided some intelligence assistance in the months leading up to the attack. It's amazing that their air defenses didn't detect the helicopters' entering their territory.

For some additional background, here is the text of a briefing for the press by two unnamed senior Administration officials late last night:

Chin Shih Tang said...

This isn't a correction, exactly, but you may notice the date on this post is April 24, whereas the Bin Laden operation was conducted on May 1.

This goes to one of my complaints about the Blogger software, that it dates a post by when it was opened, not when it was published.