On the blizzard of Osama bin Laden death narratives

Surpassing strange, the conflicting narratives of Osama’s demise — strange, but strangely comforting in an odd way. If the awesome United States government can’t even control the core narrative of its signature military success — can’t even keep the conflicting narratives down to two or three — then we are destined always to be ruled by men and women of middling incompetence who cannot properly be suspected of sinister designs.

In other words, embarrassing reality rules out intelligent conspiracy. Much like someone forgot to script the aftermath of Bush’s ill-fated “Mission Accomplished” banner, someone forgot to script the aftermath of Obama’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement. These are not nefarious people, these well-paid federal strategists who got excited about the death of Osama bin Laden and forgot to nail down what actually happened.

Was it a kill or capture mission? Was Osama armed or not? Did he resist or not? Did he use a woman as a human shield or not? We’ve heard it all.

The bungling of the narrative matters at many levels. This was a mission many months in the planning, and it was executed, so far as we know, supremely well. With all that planning, was no thought given to confirming what actually happened and being able to report what actually happened accurately? Was this really a mission planned with stupendous Navy SEAL excellence up to — and not a moment after — the death of Osama bin Laden?

Divided government? Were the Navy SEALS in charge of getting Osama bin Laden, and the clowns in charge of everything that happened thereafter? Is it really possible that our highest levels of federal government still haven’t grasped the importance of aftermath planning? Doh! [Head bonk.]

As I said, take some comfort in incompetence. It means, at a minimum, really scary smart people are not designing sinister manipulations of the American people. The folks in power are pretty much just like us.

UPDATE (May 11, 2011): Over at The Dividist blog, they don’t necessarily concur with my point, but they get it — with two pretty perfect quotes (that I wish I’d used):

The Dividist thinks that Kendrick is grasping for Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” or the more succinct Bernard Ingham English version, “Cock-up before conspiracy.

14 Responses to On the blizzard of Osama bin Laden death narratives

  1. I do take some comfort in incompetence. I’m reminded of the movies, “Wag the Dog,” “The Truman Show” and even “The Manchurian Candidate” with Angela Lansbury’s chilling portrayal of the scheming mother. Would I ever want this level of machination and artifice displayed by the administration? No. I believe we experienced this already during Watergate and Nixon. I gladly settle for the oftentimes haplessness of our leaders’ spokespersons and advisors, even our leaders’ ineptness as well. I need to know that people just like me are in charge – well, like me, but without all that spitting, shrieking and slapping.

    • See also Idiocracy (2006). :) A lot of very smart, targeted work gets done in the low-profile trenches of government, but the upper echelons can produce some amazing bone-headedness — which just reminds me, again, of the definition of an “expert” — one who avoids all the small errors and sweeps on to the grand fallacy.

  2. lbwoodgate says:

    “the awesome United States government “

    By premising your views around this you allow no wiggle room for error yet you can’t really believe the U.S. Government is so awesome that it is incapable of such inconsistencies, can you?

    Why create a flawed premise that clearly isn’t applicable in most any other take on government action, be it something you favor or not.

    It the heat of battle and the rise of passions at successfully killing bin Laden there will always be those who raise it to heroic proportions that may be as true as they are not.

    Again, time will correct the record when the dust settles and then we can better assess what was and was not exaggerated. Can anything on this scale ever be pulled off without some hitches and miscommunication? I think not.

    Being quick to judge that which you have most of us have no experience or background in leads equally to mistaken conclusions as those that are being bandied about by politicians and media types alike. Do we know for sure that those who report these inconsistencies correctly interpreted them or received them from authoritative sources?

    • The premise isn’t that the U.S. government is so awesome that it’s incapable of such inconsistencies — it’s more simply that power, by itself, doesn’t yield competence. The Soviet Union was a superpower, and the more we learn of its inner workings, the more mind-boggling incompetence we see. Ultimately, as I signaled in linking the incompetent blizzard of OBL death narratives to conspiracy theories, the premise is simply to say that things that may look “sinister” (if we falsely assume a coordinated and intelligent actor) are more likely the product of high-level bumbling.

      And yes, I “judge quickly” about the blizzard of narratives because it is a political certainty that no government (or any other concentration of power for that matter) could ever possibly wish the tattered image projected by multiple contradictory narratives about a military success so compelling that it warranted interruption of reality TV on a Sunday night.

  3. lbwoodgate says:

    pardon my typos in the third and last paragraphs

  4. bigdtootall says:

    “Just because you are paranoid don’t think they aren’t out to get you.” ~ Lenny Bruce

    I wished that I could comfortably believe that our government is unable to get the story straight simply because they are incompetent! But I suspect there is more to this mess. This whole thing is like going into a large day care right after breakfast. Something smells like a poopie diaper.. Just because you find one offensive diaper it certainly does not mean that you have found them all. Maybe I have been poisoned by the same water as Glenn Beck; but I am really starting to wonder if there is a man behind the curtain at the White House who doesn’t have Obama’s back. BO has successfully alienated folks from the left as well as the right by waffling back and forth. Nobody can be positive where our president will land until after all the polls are in. One of his guys says one thing while one of his gals says another. I suspect someone in his inner circle is not completely loyal to their Commander in Chief. My conspiracy theory nominates the Clinton Gang. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scourned.” And she has a very competent co-conspirator in Slick Willie! One thing is for sure though- UBL is dead! That’s the difference between a Navy seal and a Washington deal- the Truth.

    • Wild ideas there, bigd. I’m sure Obama has detractors even among his inner circle – I doubt it rises to the level of a conspiracy to ruin him. And the sexist comment? Wasn’t really necessary to make your point.

  5. bigdtootall says:

    Dear Ms. SDS, I apologize for the comment. I think this is indicative of how over sensitive folks are to being perfectly PC. The comment was not necessary to make my point so lets detract it and have a dialogue about the point. I t seems to me that Hillary is a bit bedraggled with trying to “cover the bases” for the inconsistent statements coming from the WH. I think there are others too who are tired of playing damage control. This administration seems to be reactive rather than proactive. This naturally will lead to some extra second guessing. In fact the WH has done their fair share of second guessing, retractions, flip-flopping, and avoiding taking definitive positions that can be substantiated by the facts.

    “Hell hath no fury like a person scorned.”

    • But it wouldn’t be so very, very difficult to rid our language of these kinds of things, now would it? Would the English language be poorer if we found a better way to make our points? Would your point have been a bit more solid if you had chosen a different way to make it? The meaning I got from your comment is that Hilary, by virtue of her womanhood, would naturally react in an unseemly manner because she, the woman, didn’t win the election. Would you have said that of a man in the same situation? Perhaps, perhaps not. Frame it as “Perfectly PC” if you want, but I’d rather we just aim for making our points without indicting a sex.

  6. I apologize, bigd. I didn’t mean to come off so harshly and pedantic. I must have been a bit on edge there. I do understand what you were getting at in your original comment. I wonder how often harmonious interaction actually occurs in any presidency.

    • I don’t believe you came off harshly or pedantic at all. Bigd is a big boy, and a good and decent fellow, and he also knows his commentary prose can be edgy. I think the exchange you two had was constructive. Thank you both for weighing in well and civilly.

  7. Interesting. Now I’m glad the details are changing. In the future, if they wait until they give us the full story, maybe that story isn’t really what happened. I think I’m starting to like spontaneous vs. scripted. :-)

    • Thanks Spinny. That was exactly my point. There’s something vaguely comforting about bumbling — a weird kind of credibility we’re hard-wired to believe cannot come out of Washington DC. Think of it like a private market in political narratives — with competition and everything! :) It might be tricky to get to the truth — but we take comfort that no “narrative-monopoly” guarantees a permanent obscuring of the truth.

  8. mw says:

    I think you deserve some recognition for this novel new notion of “divided government ” – to whit a government divided between the competent and the clowns . It explains so much.. This may be a corollary to Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” or the more succinct Bernard Ingham English version “Cock-up before conspiracy”.

    In any case – this is just a courtesy comment to let you know this post was included in the latest edition of the Carnival of Divided Government – a periodic compilation of articles, posts, and great thoughts (or not) on the subject of divided government.

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