Saturday, May 7, 2011

Imperial Brain Damage: The Week in Review

by Michael K. Smith

The political assassination of Osama Bin Laden predictably triggered an orgy of media imbecility among U.S. pundits. The hit by heavily-armed Navy SEALS in the dead of night at a Pakistani military compound in Abbottabad was routinely described as "daring," though only a lone courier appears to have fought back, which makes it difficult to see much courage at work. But trust the U.S. media to praise to the skies any U.S. military effort to kill for an allegedly greater good (always), no matter whose national sovereignty is violated, how many innocent bystanders are killed, or how little legal or moral authority for the act is presented. "Justice has been done," intoned a clueless President Obama, who has attacked six countries in just over two years in office, without a shred of convincing legal or moral justification for any of the interventions. (The six countries are: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and Somalia.)

The Philadelphia Inquirer waxed psychoanalytic, saying that Americans could at last overcome the sense of pessimism and failure they "felt - but rarely acknowledged - in not being able to apprehend bin Laden for so long." Our country continues to face "huge challenges" in Afghanistan and Iraq, the editors went on, but with Bin Laden dead "it's easier to envision a day not too long from now when the wars are over, the troops come home, and optimism reigns."

It's difficult to know where to start with this. No sane person could possibly anticipate that the endless series of U.S. sponsored wars dating back to the colonial era are about to come to an end. As noted, Obama has attacked six countries in barely half a term of office, a rate that, if sustained, would yield 20 or more interventions should Obama last eight years in the White House.

Incidentally, the "huge challenges" we face in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently do not include presenting a credible reason for being in those countries in the first place. The Taliban offered to turn Bin Laden over to U.S. authorities after 911, but Washington turned them down. And most of the world is very well aware by now that the Iraq war was launched without even the pretense of a justification.

As for why it would be good for "optimism" to reign over the U.S.A., where twenty-five million people are out of work, a quarter of American mortgages are under water, a third of the American people are without savings to fall back on, and where there continues to be no sign of economic recovery three years into the Great Recession, the Inquirer's editors unfortunately do not indicate. Suffice it so say that the conclusion is something less than self-evident.

Meanwhile the Kansas City Star editorialized that America's resolve to pursue our enemies to the ends of the earth sends them an important message, to wit: "If you do what bin Laden did, the United States will find you no matter where you hide, no matter how long it takes." Apparently, the Star's editors have forgotten that Muslim terrorists of the Bin Laden variety do not fear death, and actually welcome martyrdom, which makes intimidation a poor strategy. Unfortunately, the U.S. media have the attention span of a two-year old, and regularly forget what it is most important to remember.

Shannen Coffin in said that Bin Laden was tracked down partly because of U.S. torture policy. When Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in 2003, "he was resistant to any form of interrogation, conventional or otherwise." But waterboarding and "other enhanced measures" made him more "compliant," and interrogators were able to deduce from his responses clues about the whereabouts of Bin Laden's courier.

Oh, happy day! Torture works after all. The fact that Bin Laden's death does nothing to make anyone safer, and in fact, has U.S. authorities redoubling their efforts to prevent expected terrorist revenge attacks, is beneath our contempt to notice. We're celebrating, after all, and we want no more of "pessimism" pointing out the cost of our suicidal recklessness.

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post weighed in with the judgment that for too long Obama has displayed a "counterproductive sensitivity for the sensitivities of the Muslim world," by deferring to U.N. approval (When? Where?). But by sending in a commando team to assassinate bin Laden, "whether or not Pakistan or anyone else liked it," Obama has broken free of the wimp factor.

In point of fact Obama has shown utter contempt for Muslims in Palestine, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. His sending in an assassination squad to kill Bin Laden is simply more of the same. There is nothing "manly" in this, and U.S. punditry's cheerleading for militarist machismo is a deadly plague leading the world to incalculable destruction. Only a juvenile delinquent could see anything to be happy about here.

Louis Klarevas in at least got a point half right: "Decapitating al Qaida will not stop those who feel it is their duty to strike against the U.S. and its assets in the name of bin Laden's twisted version of Islam." Right. The issue is not Bin Laden, but the adherents of his and similar ideologies, who can be counted on to strike back for this latest attack, killing yet more innocents. ["Terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him," said CIA Director Leon Panetta.] Why should more Americans die for Israel and U.S. Empire? And why should we be happy about a foreign policy that invites those deaths?

In any event, it is an open question as to how "twisted" Bin Laden's version of Islam is. Is it more "twisted" than Obama's Zionism, now laying waste to what remains of historic Palestine? Or more twisted than his Christianity (sorry for the repetition), which somehow allows his conscience to rest easy as he sets records for pilotless drone attacks, a particularly cowardly form of "warfare"? One very much doubts it. As usual, U.S. hypocrisy is boundless.

David Barno in the New York Times said that Bin Laden's killing reminds his followers that the U.S. is "a power to be reckoned with," which they were apparently unaware of when the U.S. was merely reducing one Muslim-dominant country after another to rubble. It is apparently inconceivable to the pundit class that a limitless willingness to kill does not make the U.S. respected in the world. Quite the contrary.

Juliette Kayyem in the Boston Globe commented that our government's formerly "excited" posture vis-a-vis terrorism has transformed itself into "resolute calmness" (an improvement?). The new watchword is, "Secretly kill. Publicly chill." Uncharacteristically, the Department of Homeland Security didn't even issue a new alert this week, since no new specifics about future attacks were uncovered to "warrant freaking everyone out." This is supposedly evidence that we're now better at coping with the "nature of the world we live in."

Secretly kill, publicly chill? Is this woman serious? Such comments bespeak a level of dissociation from reality that should make Ms. Kayyem certifiable. And we're better at coping with reality in the wake of killing Bin Laden? While the newspapers shriek that we "got our man" and citizen mobs besiege the White House with vulgar chants of "USA! USA! USA!"

If this is sanity, what is madness?


Quoted material from "The Week, "May 13, 2011

-----Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire," from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at


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