Obama vs. Osama
"Obama Now Unbeatable," "Bin Laden Death Will Be Republicans Waterloo," read two of last week's headlines, juxtaposed to "Boost Likely to be Fleeting."
Frankly, I cannot think of a sillier expenditure of mental energy than speculating about the impact of killing Osama Bin Laden on President Obama's re-election chances. That is not to say it will have no effect. But presidential politics should not be treated as a sports event, with everyone toting the odds?
For short-term stock investors the behavior of other investors is relevant – psychology is often more determinative of short-term stock prices than underlying value. But how one's fellow citizens will vote should be irrelevant to general election voters. The only relevant question is: Who will make a better president, or senator, or governor?
So first one might ask: Does the president's authorization of the hit on Osama reveal previously unknown qualities? If one previously believed that Obama is incapable of ever making the right decision or that he is the Manchurian candidate of a secret Islamic cabal, then the answer is probably yes – though those in the latter category have probably already concocted an elaborate conspiracy theory of how the cabal sacrificed Osama to boost Obama.
But most of those who oppose the President's policies do not deny his intelligence or good intentions, or ever doubted his eagerness to rid the world of Osama bin Laden. It is never a good idea to deny the positive qualities of one's political opponents. For instance, when Gen. Amram Mitzna ran for prime minister of Israel on the Labor Party ticket, I tried not to forget his heroism in 1973 tank battles across the Suez, when he jumped from one disabled tank to another tank despite being seriously wounded, as much as I disagreed with his political platform.
Another relevant question: Has bin Laden's elimination made the world safer? Yes and no. Al Qaeda has long since been a highly decentralized franchise of disparate terror groups. Bin Laden, holed up in a compound, with no phones or computer connectivity, was no longer an operational commander, if he ever was. His value was as an icon.
Ironically, it was Osama who provided the best evaluation of the significance of his demise. He famously declared, "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they naturally prefer the strong horse?" With his killing, Islamism, at least temporarily, does not look like such a strong horse, and the United States appears less the weak horse of which many accused it of becoming.
Bin Laden was a major promoter of the narrative of Islam ascendant. After the mujahedeen defeat of the mighty Soviet empire in Afghanistan, he proclaimed that the United States would prove a far softer adversary than the Soviets. That narrative has taken a blow.
But there is a danger of making too much of Osama's welcome passing. A single military operation doth not a foreign policy make. Its successful execution does not give retroactive coherence to American Middle East policy or the Libyan intervention, and it will not eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat.
The increasingly addled Peter Beinart pronounced the end of the war on terror. But our war has never been with "terror" -- a tactic -- but with Islamism – a doctrine calling for the restoration of the caliphate, the universal rule of Sharia, and jihad to achieve these goals. Al Qaeda was not a criminal syndicate, with Osama bin Laden as its Al Capone. Rather it was one expression of the Islamist impulse around the world, and it is far from clear that the Arab Spring, still in process, will not result in dramatic gains for the Islamists, most ominously in Egypt.
One salutary result of Osama's execution has been to return the focus for a time to foreign policy. As important as the American budget deficit is, including for the United States's continued viability as the chief bulwark against chaos in the world, foreign affairs have far more potential to blow up the world in the short run. Republican presidential candidates are now forewarned that it will not be sufficient to talk only about Obamacare, the budget deficit, and high gas prices. If they aspire to be president, they will also have to articulate a vision of America's world role and how to attain it.
Rav Chaim Refutes European Sensitivities
Bless those European feinshmeckers, with their revulsion at American euphoria over Osama bin Laden's long overdue departure from the world. Nicole Baharan, a French scholar of the United States, ruefully described her compatriots to Steven Erlanger of The New York Times: "Whatever happens, we need to prove we are different or better, that we are so much more refined and delicate and have such respect for the law."
One conservative German lawmaker condemned the "medieval, vengeful way of thinking," in celebrating Osama's death, and a French editor decried the "base joy" seen at Ground Zero. "To cry one's joy in the streets of our cities is to ape the turbaned barbarians wo danced the night of Sept. 11," wrote another French editor.
I beg to differ. Anyone who did not experience joy upon learning of Bin Laden's fate is morally deficient. We are not speaking here of rejoicing at the misfortune of someone by whom one feels aggrieved, but rather of the Divine vengeance described by Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz in his famous talk on nekama (vengeance).
"Great is vengeance," say Chazal (Berachos 33a), "because it is placed between two names of G-d," as it says, 'The L-rd is the G-d of vengeance' (Tehillim 94:1)." With only one exception, the word nekama appears in the Torah in conjunction with Hashem's name.
Those who witness clear examples of Divine vengeance – e.g., Haman hanged of the gallows he prepared for Mordechai; the agony of the drowning Egyptians at the Sea, each according to his cruelty towards the Jewish slaves – experience a righting of an imbalance in the world and a strengthened awareness that there is a Judge, Who metes out justice. "A righteous man rejoices when he witnesses vengeance. . . ." (Tehillim 58:11).
The only thing lacking in Osama bin Laden being turned into fish food is that the mere taking of his life can never be commensurate with his crimes and the blood of thousands on his hands.
Europeans did not experience 9/11 in their major cities, and they live in constant terror of angering the millions of Muslims in their midst. But, above all, the different reactions in America and Europe, reflects the latter's loss of belief in justice as anything more than a relativistic construct.
Double Standards about Targeted Assassinations
"This was a kill operation," one U.S. national security official told Reuters. Everything that we know about Osama bin Laden's last seconds confirms that description. He was unarmed, and there is no reason to believe that a team of highly-trained Navy Seals would have had much trouble subduing a 54-year-old man.
Yet no European government has accused the United States of having engaged in an "extra-judicial" execution, as they routinely do after every Israeli drone attack on a known terrorist or those engaged in terrorist actions. NATO's attempt to extract itself from the Libyan quagmire by delivering a coup de grace to Gaddafi by bombing his headquarters helped spare the United States from hypocritical criticism. But it would never have helped Israel.
The possibility of live capture rarely presents itself to Israel. Israel cannot sweep into Gaza to pick up those targeted from the air. Certainly, it could not do so in Somalia, where it recently eliminated Hamas's top arms dealer, or Sudan, where a drone-fired missile destroyed a Gaza-bound weapons caravan. Moreover, Israel is much more circumspect about its use of targeted assassinations than the United States or its NATO allies, even when dealing with a terrorist threat on its borders, not half a world away. The use of targeted assassinations is carefully monitored by the Israeli Supreme Court.
By contrast, President Obama has ordered 1,500 drone attacks in terrorist-invested areas of Pakistan, a sovereign nation. Such a large number of such attacks cannot possibly be based on the type of specific information Israel obtains before targeting terrorists, and the number of civilian casualties have, as a consequence, been higher.
The terminology of "extra-judicial execution" is no more applicable to Israeli actions than to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda effectively declared war on the United States by bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa and again on 9/11, as has Hamas has done by rocketing of Israeli cities. In war, the object is to kill opposing soldiers, at least until they surrender, not put them on trial. Osama did not surrender and the terrorists in Gaza never would either.
There is one more issue raised by the killing of Osama: Why didn't the United States want him alive? Because his capture would have provided an incentive to Islamists around the globe to kidnap U.S. nationals in order to secure his release. President Obama, rightly, had no desire to be faced with the choice of releasing Osama (impossible) and watching Islamist fanatics lop off heads of American hostages. Perhaps those same considerations should lead Israel to reconsider its policy of not executing convicted terrorists.