Conservatives have rightly applauded President Obama for the successful operation that finally ended the murderous ambitions of Osama bin Laden. How could we not? Any American with any misgiving about Osama’s status as Public Enemy #1 probably needs to find a more arid residential zone.

But there’s “rightly applauded” — and there’s “Rightly applauded, with carping.” President Obama’s speech announcing the successful operation, according to some commentators, was entirely too self-aggrandizing, taking too much personal credit, making fat with the first-person singular.

Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online, in a well-written carp about Senator and candidate Obama’s (then) opposition to all the policies that made the final operation against Osama possible, catalogued all of the president’s first-person references:

“Tonight, I can report … And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta … I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden … I met repeatedly with my national security team … I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. … Today, at my direction … I’ve made clear … Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear … Tonight, I called President Zardari … and my team has also spoken. … These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . … Finally, let me say to the families … I know that it has, at times, frayed…”

Other commentators take it a step further and contrast President Obama’s speech with President Bush’s speech upon the capture of Saddam Hussein. The speech was a gem. “All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side. The goals of our coalition are the same as your goals — sovereignty for your country, dignity for your great culture, and for every Iraqi citizen, the opportunity for a better life.” The president was gracious in his praise of others, sparing in the first-person singular.

But the contrast is unfair.

Republicans and Democrats have different things to prove to the American people. As to their military bona fides, their commitment to American security, their willingness to take controversial measures to save American lives, Democrats have much to prove — and naturally trumpet every initiative assisting that proof.

The corollary, the great maxim of world politics: liberals can do great conservative things, and conservatives can do great liberal things. Conservative Likudnik Menachim Begin could give away half of what was then Israel in exchange for peace with Egypt. No Labor prime minister could have done that. Labor prime minister Tony Blair could make a case for cleaning out the Middle Eastern cesspools of tyranny and oppression. No Tory prime minister could have done that.

That is why American wars have historically been prosecuted by Democrats. (Who can forget vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole’s snarling reference to “Democrat wars” in the 1976 vice presidential debate?) George W. Bush was a 21st-century Republican exception because of the shock of 9-11 and the seriousness with which America finally took its enemy. But Bush had no bona fides to prove. He could well afford to be (indeed, was well-advised to be) gracious and self-effacing at the moments of triumph.

But President Obama, being a Democrat who did in fact vocally embrace an ideological “humanist”/pacifist line in opposition to tribunals, renditions, Guantanamo, preventive detention, Predator-drone attacks, the Iraq War, wiretaps, and intercepts, yes, he had something to prove to Americans. And, wow, did he. One number: 180. And for gravy, on his own, without the advice or consent of Congress, he launched a military assault on Libya, with a NATO directive to kill the Qaddafi family. Now this is a president who timely figured out “whose ass to kick.”

The left isn’t calling him Hitler, as they did with the frankly kinder, gentler Bush, and the right is obliged to harrumph and say, okay, um, yes, well done. Most excellent 2012 plan.

So was there a bit of gloating, a tad too much self-aggrandizement in the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death? Yes, but that’s because a liberal was doing a great conservative thing.

Remember the shocker of the early 70s — President Nixon’s outreach to the Communist enemy China, still then governed tyrannically by the butcher Mao? The conservative Nixon was doing a great liberal thing. He was pretty proud of it.

Here’s how he announced it on July 15, 1971 — and if ever a thing spoke for itself, side-by-side with President Obama’s Osama speech, this Nixon speech surely does:

I have requested this television time tonight to announce a major development in our efforts to build a lasting peace in the world.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions over the past three years, there can be no stable and enduring peace without the participation of the People’s Republic of China and its 750 million people.

That is why I have undertaken initiatives in several areas to open the door for more normal relations between our two countries.

In pursuance of that goal, I sent Dr. Kissinger, my Assistant for National Security Affairs, to Peking during his recent world trip for the purpose of having talks with Premier Chou En-lai.

The announcement I shall now read is being issued simultaneously in Peking and in the United States:


Premier Chou En-lai and Dr. Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, held talks in Peking from July 9 to 11, 1971.

Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.

The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.


In anticipation of the inevitable speculation which will follow this announcement, I want to put our policy in the clearest possible context.

Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends.

It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation’s enemy.

I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

It is in this spirit that I will undertake what I deeply hope will become a journey for peace, not just for our generation but for future generations on this earth we share together.

Of course, there are huge teams behind the “I” of presidential politics — but the “I” is nowhere more conspicuous than when presidents do things that should please their most virulent opposition.


Obama’s Osama Killing Puts America’s Racial Narratives on Display

Singer Sheryl Crow, she reminds us, has met four presidents — and President Obama is “one of the most conscious people” she’s “ever met” — comparable to Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King (about whom she “knows a lot”). “He [President Obama] walks the walk.” This political and spiritual canonization, oddly, because Obama killed Osama.

This is fascinating — but first, here are her thoughts in full — speaking on the “Gayle King Show” on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network — when asked about her reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden, because they are illuminating in several directions.

“It’s fascinating times that we’re living in. I mean, the first thing I thought was, I think, I felt the same way everyone else did, mixed emotions about the fact that we killed someone. And I think in our spirits, we know that killing is not right. In this particular instance, we have such an association with this person for having dealt us such a heinous blow. So, you know, mixed emotions of finally justice has been served and, secondly, we’ve just killed somebody, so there’s not a celebratory mood that goes along with that, I don’t think.

“But really for me, and listening to the speech, watching Obama speak about it [last Sunday night], it’s just fascinating that we have a black man, who has Muslim ties with his father, even though he’s a Christian, it’s amazing how far our country has come, that that’s the man who took down Osama bin Laden.

“It makes you feel very patriotic, I mean, I’ve become very philosophical about it, and I do think that, um, if it were any other president, I might feel different about it. But, he’s one of the most conscious people I’ve ever met, and I’ve met four presidents now. And I know a lot about Robert Kennedy and the words that he spoke and a lot about Martin Luther King and the words that he spoke, and they always spoke in terms of consciousness and enlightenment. And he walks the walk.”

I wouldn’t ordinarily pick a pop singer as the vehicle for exploring America’s racial narratives (or any other matter of consequence — except for Rebecca Black, who rocks). But in this case, Sheryl speaks so sincerely and taps a vein that I believe representative, that it makes sense to spin off Sheryl.

First, her initial premise is sound. High-five, Osama is dead, okay maybe not the high-five. A person is dead, shot in the head by American forces. I get that checked reaction, and respect it. I also get and fully understand why the momentous event was celebratory in several circles — but our better natures can both understand and regret what is necessary in warfare.

Second, “a black man … with Muslim ties” “took down Osama bin Laden”? Really? We can talk that way now? About what “a black man .. with Muslim ties” does (as long as it’s praising what a black man with Muslim ties does)? On the one hand, a substantial percentage of Americans on the left are convinced that another substantial percentage of Americans on the right are sunk in the darkest, most bilious racism, and blindly opposed to Barack Obama because he is black — but it’s “amazing how far our country has come” because a black man with Muslim ties killed Osama bin Laden?

There’s a touch of confusion here. I won’t call it a double-standard (yet), but shouldn’t it be vaguely troubling that, according to a common narrative on the left, Americans must be racist for opposing President Obama — even without ever mentioning his race — but we can mention, indeed applaud, his race, and his Muslim ties, if we’re praising him?

Third, the sincerity kicker from Sheryl is this: she feels “patriotic” because President Obama killed someone, but doubts she would feel the same way had it been any other president. (And she’s known four.) That’s one of the most honest statements from the left I’ve heard in a long time. That’s why I think it makes sense to take a more careful look at what Sheryl said.

There is a vitriol in leftist rhetoric, a very nearly religious condemnation of the gravest evil and venality, when a conservative does or espouses precisely the same thing that a “black man with Muslim ties” does and espouses. For prosecuting the war in Afghanistan (which President Obama continues to prosecute), for prosecuting the war in Iraq (which President Obama continues to prosecute), for keeping open the Guantanamo prison (which President Obama continues to hold open), for “enhanced interrogation techniques” (which Obama’s CIA Director, Leon Panetta, admitted contributed to intelligence that led directly to Osama bin Laden’s killing) — for all of these things the left reviled President Bush as Hitler incarnate.

Indeed, but for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Guantanamo prison — but for the Bush presidency’s concerted war on terrorism — the locating and killing of Osama bin Laden would not have been possible.

Am I nursing a grievance that President Bush does not get more credit for killing Osama bin Laden? Good heavens no. Quite the contrary. God bless America, President Barack Obama, the Navy SEALS, and the operation that brought straightforward justice to a mass murderer — who wanted to murder more.

But when the policies are so eerily similar, how does one go from Hitler Bush — to Saint Obama with “consciousness and enlightenment” who “walks the walk”? How does the left — generally troubled by killing — go from demonizing and Hitlerizing a decent man who sought to kill Osama bin Laden to beatifying another decent man who sought to kill — and did kill — Osama bin Laden?

Honestly, now I’m open-ended. Is this the programmatic Loyalty we were warned about in the Fifties? Or is it because President Obama is a “black man with Muslim ties,” and not incidentally, a liberal?

If the latter, then let’s open our eyes about our racial narrative. The vast majority of Americans have no problem with the fact that President Obama is black. Similarly, evidently, the rabid conservative voters in the straw poll about who won the first Republican presidential debate have no problem with the fact that Herman Cain is black.

The left gets to talk freely about “a black man,” even to say the simple fact that the president is black is a reason for a kind of “patriotism” that was virulent protest five years ago — and that’s fine. I applaud. The right can never mention “a black man,” and that’s fine. America can freely talk about the great things “a black man” does. Meanwhile, conservatives talk about some of the terrible things a liberal president has done. We do not say, and would never imagine saying, President Obama is doing some terrible liberal things and by the way he is a “black man with Muslim ties.” We just really dislike some of the liberal policies.

I happily concede the more luxurious space in the public square to the left — the ability to talk freely about “a black man with Muslim ties” (!) — if the left will stop calling conservatives racists.

In Germany, saying you’re “glad” Osama bin Laden is dead is a crime??

A German judge filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for saying she was “glad” Osama bin Laden was dead. (!)

He cites section 140 of the German Criminal Code, which forbids the “rewarding and approving” of crimes. In this case, Merkel endorsed a “homicide,” which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine. (!)

A month ago, I wrote that the UK, France and Egypt need a First Amendment. Desperately. Oh my must I urgently now add Germany.

Chancellor Merkel says she is “glad” Osama bin Laden is dead — and she faces criminal charges? Could political silliness get more profound? Has Europe gone completely bonkers?

Hang on — no problem insisting that the death of Osama bin Laden shouldn’t be an occasion to rejoice. Go with it. But… um… you say in Germany you’re glad Osama bin Laden is dead, and you’re looking at three years in jail??

This is an American gotcha’ moment. This is exactly how America’s First Amendment tradition confers adulthood on American political dialogue, while Europe languishes in childhood — for lack of a true free speech tradition.

On one thing Europeans enjoy agreeing: Americans are stupid.

But ask any American, should President Obama face criminal charges for welcoming the death of Osama bin Laden? Every American would sound profoundly intelligent. The First Amendment confers that intelligence on all Americans as a birthright.

Are Germans stupid?

No, Germans aren’t stupid — just a little behind Americans in recognizing the profound political value of free speech.

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.

How it’s reported…

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama ordered grisly photographs of Osama bin Laden in death sealed from public view on Wednesday, declaring, “We don’t need to spike the football” in triumph after this week’s daring middle-of-the-night raid. The terrorist leader was killed by American commandos who burst into his room and feared he was reaching for a nearby weapon, U.S. officials said.

Come on. I get the photographs play. “Grisly” might be, um, insensitive.

But really. Keep pushing an Osama-bin-Laden-shot-in-self-defense narrative? The world isn’t stupid. The mission was kill.

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Osama bin Laden

I passed a momentous day in silence. Monday was Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew). It was also the day America celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden.

Both are fitting reminders that there is such a thing as evil, that human beings can still do horrific things to other human beings, that a true conscience can never rest.

It was a day foremost of sadness. Sadness that we are still here. Sadness that we are still a species who wantonly kill our own, who slaughter for politics and power.

Genocide on the scale of the Holocaust may be truly past — but the genocidal impulse is shamefully alive in the human breast.

The death of Osama bin Laden is closure. Nothing more, nothing less. The man orchestrated a great evil. He did so, moreover, with perverted distortion of a great religion. He proudly killed innocents, and he sought to kill the humanity of Islam, to conscript the religion into a program of hatred, hostility and murder.

He failed to convert Islam into Islamism — but we still fight because his ideology of murderous hatred did not die with him. The horror of 9-11 now becomes an ever so slightly more bearable thing because its mastermind is dead. But evil is not dead.

If evil could die, it would have died when the light shone on the death camps after World War II. It did not.

That is why we must always remember.

UPDATE (May 9, 2011): To the proposition that evil did not die with the death of Osama bin Laden, Charles Krauthammer fittingly adds that “Evil does not die of natural causes.”

Our Honorable Engagement in Afghanistan

I’m doubling back to a subject that occupied me a week ago when I was in New Orleans.  At the airport on the way, I bought three magazines.  Almost only two, because I couldn’t look at the cover of one without physical revulsion.  The purchase required an extra cognitive step – I will buy this magazine because it’s exactly the kind of journalism I most admire.

I’m speaking of the cover of Time magazine.

She is Aisha, 18 years old, and victim of relentless domestic abuse.  She ran away.  She was caught.  For fleeing, the Taliban sentenced her to having her nose and ears cut off.  Her brother-in-law held her down.  Her husband did the deed.  They left her for dead.

Aisha agreed to permit her disfigured portrait on the cover of Time, despite the danger to her from such a high profile, because “she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan.”

In the aggregate, there is more Muslim courage in this world than courage of any other type.

No other religion currently confronts a civil war for its soul.  That is one reason we fight.  The finest thing our nation can do, the thing that will make our great-great grandchildren proud of us, is to side with history, to side with Muslim courage in the teeth of tyrannical abomination.

I try very hard to see the other side, the reflexive rejection of war, of any projection of American power.  I sift through my best baby-boomer sympathies:

1. “Give peace a chance.”  Check.  Did that.  Then, 9-11, and a dozen other terrorist atrocities that slaughtered innocents, and a hundred thousand additional atrocities that cost innocents their noses, ears, limbs, and lives.  And by the way, giving peace, capitulation, and accommodation a chance got America described by an emboldened Osama bin Laden as a “paper tiger.”

2. Quaker sign near my house: “War is not the answer.”  I agree when the question is what’s a fun thing to do when you’re bored.  If the question is what are your options when an ideology of aggressive hatred inspires its adherents to kill your children, and to brutalize any people over whom they acquire power – then war may be an answer.

There will be a day when the gravest evils we have perpetrated as a species are vanquished.  We are not there.  We haven’t even managed to vanquish genocide.  What makes anyone believe our species is sufficiently civilized to take war off the table?

3. “We’re hypocrites because we permit tyranny some places but not others.”  This is the formula for Western paralysis and slow capitulation to the more determined.  It is flawed logically, morally, and strategically.

That we cannot achieve every possible good does not disqualify us from pursuit of some good.  The fact that we cannot, or choose not to, save sufferers in Syrian, North Korean, Iranian, or Somalian jails and killing fields, does not mean we cannot strive to save the next Aisha from the brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  No force for good ever achieved total good.  It is sufficient that a force for good advances some good; it is sufficient that some standard-bearer for good persists in the field.

The reflexive and categorical rejection of war – or the predictable and precipitous withdrawal from its unpleasantness – is the strategic equivalent of playing poker with only your cards face up.  If enemies without our democratic transparencies can reliably predict our distaste for military confrontation, then our massive military superiority on paper is indeed no more than bin Laden’s “paper tiger.”

Essential to America’s projection of soft power is America’s capable exercise of hard power.  Sun Tzu in The Art of War: “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  It sounds like a celebration of pacifism, but commends the opposite.  Sun Tzu further: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

Subduing the enemy without fighting, therefore, requires keeping deception in your arsenal – declining to play poker with only your cards face up – which means not being predictably pacifist.  Predictable pacifism emboldens enemies, who become comfortably ugly in their ambitions, and then must either be fought on the battlefield, or permitted their conquests, or most ignobly, both.  Conversely, the enemies’ perception that you might commit your blood and treasure to fighting their predatory ambition could deter them from ever pursuing their ambition.  And that is Sun Tzu’s subduing the enemy without fighting, the acme of skill – which requires our unpredictable willingness to use hard power.

Whatever else one believes about George W. Bush’s presidency, he responded with remarkable courage at a decisive moment in American political, military, and diplomatic history.  With fatalistic grumbling from virtually every institutional corner in America about the Iraq war, including the military itself, his own political party, and certainly the media, George Bush announced the opposite of prevailing conventional wisdom.  He was brilliantly unpredictable.  We would not shrink away, we would not concede that all foreign wars must end like Vietnam; instead, we would power up and commit to the victory.  It worked exactly as Sun Tzu would have predicted.  The Iraq surge is an historic contribution to American military capability and, derivatively, American diplomatic capability.

The war in Afghanistan requires just such a courageous reckoning.  What was once the bipartisan “good war” has become wearisome, a war without a steady victory trajectory (surprise) and therefore, being “a war,” something to jettison (for the sake of the troops of course).  That would be horribly mistaken.

Like most folks from states that were part of the Confederacy, I am uneasy with General William Tecumseh Sherman.  The deliberate devastation he wrought – what surely seemed at the time gratuitous destruction and mayhem, including many non-military targets – makes him, still, in some parts of the South, the most hated man ever.  Yet I am constrained to say, General Sherman did exactly what was necessary.  He resolutely crushed the enemy, and brought the Civil War to a swifter end.

Permit the enemy no illusion of residual power.  If we believe we are right vis-à-vis the Taliban – as the Union believed it was right vis-à-vis the South and the Allied powers in World War 2 believed they were right vis-à-vis the Axis powers (hence resolving to accept nothing short of unconditional surrender), then the Taliban must be crushed.  And that must be our unrelenting and righteous resolve.

To give them negotiating latitude, to dignify the thugs with ceremonial second thoughts, would guarantee a surge of unspeakable brutality against mostly women and children, and any men with the courage to protest.

Are we right vis-à-vis the Taliban?

Aisha is not an outlier exception.  The Taliban has long made a sport of torturing and killing women.  According to a United Nations report, the Taliban is currently responsible for 76% of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan – and women and children are bearing the brunt of the Taliban slaughter.  In its desperation, the Taliban recently announced open killing season on any civilians who cooperate with the Afghan government or coalition forces.

Not content merely to execute a pregnant woman recently accused of adultery, the Taliban subjected her first to brutal lashes, and then put a bullet in her head.  A medical team – eight Americans, a German, a Briton, and two Afghans –who devoted their lives to the kind of sight-saving eye-care that indigent Afghans would never otherwise receive – were slaughtered, and a Taliban spokesman proudly took credit.  “They were Christian missionaries [which was false], and we killed them all.”

We are right vis-à-vis the Taliban.  We are honorable to fight them, we are on the right side of history and Muslim courage, and we must finish the fight convincingly.

UPDATE 2-11-2011: The photo above on the cover of Time magazine won the World Press Photo award for 2010.