On Obama and Osama

So, after the better part of a decade the deed is done and the greatest manhunt in history is over. Finally, questions pertaining to whether bin Laden is dead or alive can cease and more substantive questions can be addressed.

How did the operation proceed? How could bin Laden have survived so long under the nose of Pakistani intelligence? What role did the Pakistani authorities play in the operation? What condition was bin Laden in when he was apprehended? Could he have been taken alive? Why the burial at sea? Expect answers to these questions in Bob Woodward’s next exposé.

No doubt the conspiracy theories will continue and be ramped up in the coming months. No doubt Donald Trump will be seeking publication Osama’s Death Certificate as he once sought Obama’s Birth Certificate.

This is a time for contemplation as to what this means on many fronts. It would be fantastic high upon which Defence Secretary Bob Gates could stand down. It does much to bolster the reputation of the US military and its Special Forces.

Domestically the timing is remarkable for President Obama. With numerous Republicans putting their toes in the water to test for a potential campaign in 2012, the timing could not have been better. This incident appears to have inoculated Obama against charges from the right that he is soft on Terrorism. How can they complain now that he has delivered what W. was unable to produce? With few Republicans focusing on domestic issues (except to overturn health care, something local courts will no doubt manage without them) there appears to be little incentive to run. As such the stage is set for a repeat of 1992, with potential opponents choosing to sit out the race in anticipation of an unbeatable incumbent. Clearly Bill Clinton proved that not to be the case, so it will be fascinating to see who chooses to enter the fray and who decides that Obama is a shoe-in.

Obama’s re-election odds are greatly helped by the news for another reason; it further removes any chance of a challenge from within his own party. The simple, salient fact is that incumbents who avoid a challenge from their own party go on to win re-election. Those who have to fight a rearguard action for their own party’s nomination, lose. What democrat could possibly challenge Obama now, having delivered Health Care and the head of Osama bin Laden? To do so would be to redefine the word ‘churlish.’

Let us be clear, however, this is not the end of the struggle against political violence. Bin Laden was the poster boy for international bad behaviour, but a bigger fish remains to be fried; Ayman alZawahiri. Incorrectly identified as bin Laden’s second in command amongst headline writers, alZawahiri’s capture would be far more detrimental to the operational capability of those who perpetuate political violence in the name of Jihad. For more on him and his place in the history of political violence, head straight to the work of Jason Burke. A potential down side to this is that with the death of bin Laden, interest in defeating proponents of political violence will wane until the next wake up call. Perhaps we should all heed the warning of history, that ‘Eternal Vigilance is the price of freedom.’

One death does not a victory make, but today’s news is a vital, symbolic step towards a goal that was established in the aftermath of the attacks of September 2001. Somewhere, George W. Bush can smile a little wider and sleep a little easier, as his legacy becomes easier to spin.

Mubarak and the Ghost of Pinochet

Today’s news stories regarding the detention of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak should remind readers of a similar event that transpired over a decade ago with regard to another former repressive leader. Then as now, the individual in question had ruled a nation for several decades, had a military background, and ruled with the full support of his nation’s military establishment, and importantly, with the full support and backing of the CIA. Then, as now the individual in question rose to power following an assassination and ruled with absolute power, imposing harsh penalties on his political opponents and being viewed with disdain by many in the international community, despite their having to do business with him due to the natural resources available in his country.

Both leaders would fall from power and be faced with the prospect of inquiries into their term in office. Then, as now, however, such inquiries are unlikely to materialise due to their past connections with the CIA, which will not permit such dealings to face the light of day.

The other leader I am referring, to is General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, whose term in office and fall from grace mirrors that of Hosni Mubarak. So to, it seems, do both leaders apparent collapse in health in the face of judicial investigation (dementia in the case of Pinochet, heart attacks in the case of Mubarak).

With the involvement of the CIA in Chile and Egypt, a pragmatic, realist interpretation suggests that as with Pinochet, Mubarak will never be allowed to see the inside of an Egyptian court for fear of what may be revealed. In the case of Pinochet fears focused on the assassination of Rene Schneider by the forces of the United Sates and CIA support for Pinochet as a bastion of anti-Communism in South American during the Cold War. In Egypt, the fear revolved around support for Mubarak’s regime, its handing of dissidents, allegations of torture and the Egyptian role in the Rendition policies of recent years.

Now, as in the case of Pinochet, it is almost certain that a former client of the CIA will escape ‘justice’ at the hands of his countrymen, predicated on ill-health, and be able to live out the short time he has left in relative isolation. The degree to which this is any sort of justice, I leave to you to decide.

Rendition, Justice and the American Way…. (Extract from Research Paper)

The election of Barack Hussein Obama was equated to a political ablution, designed to purge the electorate of the policies that had so offended the world for the past eight years. Yet whilst the overriding sentiments of anti-Americanism have clearly subsided, this has had little to do with a change in policy. Obama may well be the world’s president of choice, but Obama has not expressly repudiated Dick Cheney’s view of the world. Indeed, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch has denounced the Obama Administration for adopting policies that “mimic the Bush Administration’s abusive approach.” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner has lamented that Obama “has chosen to continue the Bush administration practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course.”

President Obama may have signed an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques, but his administration reaffirmed the rendition program, a move deemed to be ‘Extremely disappointing,’ according to the ACLU. The high rhetoric of Obama’s campaign, his inaugural address and first orders indicated a new direction for US foreign policy, but while this initially appeared to be the case, ‘there are a growing number of reasons to suspect that Obama will not be quite as liberal on these matters as his rhetoric might have suggested, his supporters might have hoped, or Dick Cheney might have feared.’ Indeed, all indications are that the Obama administration will try to find a middle road that will protect civil liberties without leaving the nation defenceless. The political risk is that it will leave Obama, as Clinton was before, fending off criticism from both the left and the right, for doing too little to change and for doing too much.

It is the former vice president who has done much to criticise the new administration. This is perhaps, not surprising since Obama ‘was elected partly to cleanse the temple of the Cheney stain, and in his campaign speeches he promised to reverse Cheney’s efforts to seize power for the White House in the war on terror.’ The reality, however, is not one of radical change, but rather of degrees. There have been more predator drone attacks in the first years of Obama’s presidency than under Bush; the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay remains open as of September 2010. Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who has been consulted by the new administration on these issues, says the change on rendition “is not a seismic shift in policy. Rather, it is that the United States will send individuals to other states, and, if those states have a questionable record on human rights, then we will not only seek assurances as we have in the past, but that we will be more rigorous on following up on those assurances.” It’s change you can believe in, just not the sort that many wanted.

It remains too much for Cheney, of course. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, he accused the new Administration of making “the American people less safe” by banning brutal C.I.A. interrogations of terrorism suspects that had been sanctioned by the Bush Administration. Ruling out such interrogations “is unwise in the extreme,” Cheney charged. “It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” It would be wrong, however, to imagine that this White House is staffed by, or under the guided by, those with an extreme liberal ideology. Many are from the tough political machine of Chicago politics, whilst others have returned to the White House having served as New Democrats under Clinton.

A prime example is DCI Leon Panetta. As the former Chief of Staff who brought a modicum of discipline to the Clinton White House, Panetta had a reputation as a leg breaker. When asked about Rendition at his confirmation hearing, he noted that suspects would no longer be kidnapped, sent overseas and tortured. However, he added, ‘Renditions where we return an individual to the jurisdiction of another country, and then they exercise their right to try that individual and to prosecute him under their laws-I think that is an appropriate use of rendition.’ Clearly the Obama administration has chosen to return to a public stance on rendition that is akin to the previous model exercised by the Clinton White House, where it began, ‘in a more carefully monitored form,’ before being ‘transformed into what John Radsan, former C.I.A. lawyer, called “an abomination.”’ Panetta says the Obama Administration will take precautions to ensure that rendered suspects are treated humanely; “I’ve talked to the State Department, and our people have to make very sure that people won’t be mistreated.” The Obama administration will sharply restrict “extraordinary renditions” in which the United States sends terrorism suspects to foreign countries for detention and interrogation. Of course, the Bush Administration professed to be taking similar precautions.

These issues raise serious questions pertaining to the American sense of mission and of exceptionalism. It is hard to ascertain how they do anything but undermine such aspirations. Obama entered the Oval Office with great hopes and aspirations and with the expectation of world opinion. It is hard to see how much of this remain intact on the world stage with so few major alterations from the Bush Strategy, regardless of stated intent. This is not necessarily Obama’s fault. As president, there is, paradoxically, only so much that he can do, but the world expects so much more. There is in addition the two great double standards at work: The double standard to which great nations are always held, of either interfering too much or not often enough; and the contradictory nature of American foreign policy, of oscillating between imperial designs and latent isolationism. Solving these dilemmas will not be rectified anytime soon.